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The Council for International Development (CID), an umbrella agency for aid organisations within New Zealand, recently released a report: ‘The Challenge of Change: the State of New Zealand’s International Aid Sector’. This member survey overviews the state of New Zealand’s international aid sector and highlights that there is rapid change occurring in our world in how people connect with each other, and in people’s responses to global issues.

My responses to this report revolve around ‘change’: change in the way the public are supporting NGOs within New Zealand; change through increased collaboration between NGOS; and a change within international power dynamics. This report raises some fundamental questions which need to be asked within the development world. What compels people to ‘give’? Why are there multiple NGOs working on very similar issues? In terms of international development, who is helping who? The changes highlighted in this report, and the conversations they provoke us to have will eventually lead to positive outcomes but will not come without a challenge.

A major part of the ‘challenge of change’ highlighted in this report, relates to changes in the way the public are supporting NGOs. The report states that the New Zealand public contributes 55% of CID funding, the highest source overall. However, this support is still nearly 15% lower than it was a year ago. CID makes it clear that this is not due to New Zealanders lack of generosity. So, what is it? With trust in NGOs dropping globally from 75% in 2001 to less than 50% today, is it a reflection of damaged trust in NGOs? Or do reduced levels of support relate to people wanting to feel more connected to what they are assisting? I believe it is the latter. With a more connected world (the global ‘village’), aid and development are more accessible. There is now a level of transparency expected between the public and the NGOs. Donors are going straight to the local NGO or project in the area they are wanting to support. In this way, donors are making the whole process more direct, connected, and transparent.

Millennials feel connected to causes and generally wish to help identifiable people instead of having an attachment to an organisation. This connection to specific causes sees a decreased sense of loyalty towards any particular NGO (e.g. giving an unspecified donation to World Vision each month), instead tending to respond to events and issues to which they feel compelled to directly help (e.g. humanitarian emergency events).

While the increased need to feel connected to an issue is a positive reflection of how the public wants to engage in what is happening internationally, this change in focus also poses challenges around how NGOs should market and raise awareness of international aid. This challenge particularly relates to the need to continue to shift away from traditional North and South thinking. How do NGOs profile issues around the world in a way that promotes the publics feelings of connection, without undermining the people we are ‘profiling’? The current challenge considers how to highlight the need for donations in a way that emphasises the global partnership aspect of the development sector. How do you capture the public’s attention and need for a connection in a way that honours the two-way relationship with the countries we are supporting and in a partnership with? How do you facilitate a development programme which encourages a connection between two humans both in very different situations, and yet both with resources and capacities that can be mutually helpful to each other?

The publics increased need for connection has sparked a shift in how New Zealand NGOs interact with each other. There are currently less NGO partnerships overall compared to last year, however the ones that do exist appear to be deeper and of higher value than previously. NGOs are very aware of this shift in direct relationships, so are adapting how they relate with one another to create transparent, direct, and connected relationships. There is an existing sense of competition between NGOS within New Zealand, but a realisation that these are not always constructive has triggered a re-imagining of the development sector – one where partnerships between NGOs are common. There is a recognition that these partnerships need to not only exist nationally, but between local NGOs in other countries as well. This drive towards localisation supports the idea that local NGOs have a deep understanding about circumstances within their country.

So, how do you encourage NGOs to create these partnerships and reduce the amount of competition within the development sphere? The answer lies in the public, and their funding, being the real driver of behaviour change within NGOs. Directed funding towards collaborating NGOs will slowly push for large behaviour changes within NGOs, creating a space where deep and valued partnerships will be common. If these are between NZ and local NGOs, this will increase the amount of perceived connection between donor to aid, therefore creating a space where the public feel more comfortable to support these organisations.

To create a world environment where partnerships are a valued part of aid and development, certain views and power dynamics will need to shift. We need to de-attach from the traditional donor-recipient model. The current ‘reset’ which New Zealand NGOs are waiting for the government to announce, provides us with an extremely valuable opportunity in terms of resetting the way we think about our relationship with the Pacific. We have a lot that we can learn from the Pacific, and it is important that we do not get stuck in the old paradigm. How can New Zealand use this reset in a way to distance ourselves from the view that the Pacific is some sort of welfare scheme? New Zealand needs to accept that we are one unit within the Pacific, and move away from a foreign affairs model – we are as much a part of the Pacific as smaller (in geographic size!) Pacific countries are.

With the whole development sector space changing and shifting as our dynamic world is changing and shifting, there is a lot of hope in what is to come. The public want to help, give, and feel more connected to what they are giving to. Increased partnerships in turn means increased understanding of one another, and the move away from the traditional view of development opens a whole new way of thinking about development as more of a UE model – friends helping friends.

So, while there are challenges  to change, I suggest that these challenges provide N Z NGO organisations with the opportunities to continue to adapt to a changing development landscape. What an opportunity!

Ella Martin

Ella Martin is a student studying development at Victoria University. She is volunteering as an intern with Banzaid, so see some practical examples of how development works. She has written this blog post with her response to the figures in this year’s CID survey of development organisations in New Zealand

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