An open letter to International NGOs who are looking to ‘localise’ their operations

Our plea is that you work with us, not against us. We need to be supported, not competed with.



This letter, which originally appeared on Open Democracy and has since also been translated into French, Portuguese and Spanish, is the product of a protracted, heated, angry and passionate discussion that took place on the #ShiftThePower WhatsApp group in early March. Several people on the group had been approached separately by International NGOs who wanted to learn about their experiences in local fundraising and building community philanthropy, but in ways that all felt were ‘extractive.’ These interactions point to the growing trend for INGOs to look further afield for resources to fill the funding gap that many are experiencing.


March 5th 2020

Dear INGOs:

Thank you for taking an interest in our countries. We represent a wide range of national and subnational organisations based in countries – mostly in the global south – where you often work. We have probably even been in meetings together or have been represented in the success stories you give to your supporters.

We appreciate that over the years, many of you have sought to help deliver much-needed services, and have helped to elevate some issues of concern, like debt relief, gender or climate change, to the world stage.

But times are changing. And you have (rightly) been facing a number of critiques in recent years – around your legitimacy, your ‘whiteness’ or the fact that far more aid money ultimately ends up in the pockets of northern organisations’ headquarters than it does in the Global South.

We see that you’re trying to respond to these critiques by ‘localising’, as we’ve been asked to meet with your highly paid consultants on numerous occasions. The strategy is pretty common: usually you start by creating a ‘local organisation’ with a local board. A next step that we’re seeing is that you enter the world of DRM – ‘Domestic Resource Mobilisation’ – to raise money from within our countries. This latter aspect is probably also down to the fact that your traditional incomes from the rich North/West are starting to diminish, so this has the added bonus of replenishing lost incomes.

In theory, this probably sounds great to your northern ears: local middle-income people should indeed ‘own’ their civil society, especially as a response to growing concerns around closing civic space and authoritarian governments. We couldn’t agree with you more on this principle.

But there are things we object to and some suggestions about how you can use your international muscle to help us more effectively than through this misguided localisation agenda.

What happens in practice is that these efforts only serve to reinforce the power dynamic at play, and ultimately to close the space for domestic civil society. This can be illustrated quite simply: a multi-million-dollar INGO, with an entire marketing, communications and fundraising team, whose project budget for this endeavour probably outstrips that of most of our national organisations for a year, then comes into the South to raise money ‘domestically’.

Perhaps the board has set a target of raising 30% of total income directly from the South. That’s not an additional million dollars, that’s a million or more dollars taken away from local civil society. And worse still, most of this money will be siphoned off to pay for their own inner workings, rather than be invested on the ground.

All of this serves to weaken us locally. It keeps us in a master/servant relationship continuously begging for grants from your institutions, while we remain bereft of core funding ourselves. This is not what we need or want.

Instead, here’s how you can be more helpful with your ‘DRM’ investment: if you are serious about ‘shifting power’ then reduce your footprint and brand and use your fundraising machinery to help grassroots organisations create the structures to fundraise for themselves and sustain their work.

We need the infrastructure for people to raise money domestically and from diaspora, not to be competing with big global INGOs. What is ultimately needed is to strengthen and scale up southern civil society, not to be pushed out of our own communities and markets.

Do you need to exist in every country with your brand? No. There are often local organisations, like ourselves, who work effectively on the ground, with better connections to the local community. And many of us also have the skills and capacity to represent our issues on the world stage.

We represent an eclectic mixture of organisations, but we are, increasingly, uniting under the banner or hashtag of #ShiftThePower and its “Manifesto for Change.”

Our plea is that you work with us, not against us. We need to be supported, not competed with, and certainly not replaced.


  1. A Mile Away (AMA), Zambia
  2. Abibiman Foundation, Ghana
  3. ACPDH/FS-DDH, Burundi
  4. Activate Labs, Mexico/US
  5. ADESO, Kenya
  6. Advocacy Core Team, Zimbabwe
  7. Africa Health and Nutrition, Kenya
  8. African Diaspora Relocation Agency
  9. African Network of Youth Policy Experts, Botswana
  10. African Philanthropy Network
  11. AFroIDEA, Kenya, Uganda, Swaziland and Nigeria
  12. Agency for Peace and Development, Kenya
  13. Airavati Organisation (Hlaing Tsp), Myanmar
  14. AJSA, India
  15. Albanian Society for All Ages, Albania
  16. Alliance for Holistic and Sustainable Development Communities (AHSDC), India
  17. AMO Programme, Ghana
  18. Approche Participative, Développement et Santé de Proximité (APDSP), Cameroon
  19. Arusha Municipal Community Foundation, Tanzania
  20. ASDA, Chad
  21. Ashake Foundation, Nigeria
  22. Assembly of Social Mobilization, Sri Lanka
  23. Association Cri de Cœur pour l’Equité et le Développement (ACCED), Burkina Faso
  24. Balance Promoción para el Desarrollo y Juventud AC, Mexico
  25. Bala Vikasa Social Service Society, India
  26. Bangladesh Internet Governance Forum, Bangladesh
  27. Bangladesh NGO Network for Radio and Communication, Bangladesh
  28. Burundi Child Rights Coalition, Burundi
  29. Butterflies, India
  30. Care for Nature Zambia, Zambia
  31. Caring Volunteers Network (CAVNET), Ghana
  32. Caucus of Development NGO Networks (CODE-NGO), Philippines
  33. Center for Development Support Initiatives, Nigeria
  34. Center for Economic Development – Cameroon
  35. Centre for Peace and Democracy (CPD), Somalia
  36. Centre for Trade Policy and Development, Zambia
  37. Centre Résolution Conflits (CRC), Democratic Republic of the Congo
  38. Child Care Center, India
  39. Children and Youth Development Society, India
  40. Civil Society Empowerment Network, Afghanistan
  41. COAST, Bangladesh
  42. Comite Regional de Solidarite des Femmes pour la Paix en Casamance, Senegal
  43. Community Care for Emergency Response and Rehabilitation, Myanmar
  44. Community Foundation for the Western Region of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe
  45. Community Self Reliance Centre, Nepal
  46. Community Transformation Foundation Network (COTFONE) , Uganda
  47. Community World Service Asia, Pakistan
  48. CORAFID Centre for Innovation and Research, Nigeria
  49. Councillors for Development & Trainings, Pakistan
  50. Coxs Bazaar CSO/NGO Forum, Bangladesh
  51. Dalia Association, Palestine
  52. Dalit Community Foundation, India
  53. Dalit Women Fight, India
  54. Development and Justice Initiative, India
  55. Development Expertise Center, Ethiopia
  56. Development Research and Advocacy, Ghana
  57. Dr Meheret Ayenew, Research Fellow FSS and Adjunct Faculty, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia
  58. East Africa Philanthropy Network
  59. Ecumenical Commission for Human Development, Pakistan
  60. Emma Crewe, SOAS University of London, UK
  61. Equality for Growth, Tanzania
  62. Family for Every Child
  63. FemPlatz, Serbia
  64. Firelight Foundation
  65. Foundation for Civil Society in Tanzania, Tanzania
  66. Foundation for Social Transformation, India
  67. Free Expression Myanmar (FEM), Myanmar
  68. Friends, Bangladesh
  69. Fundaçâo Micaia, Mozambique
  70. Fund for Congolese Women, Democratic Republic of Congo
  71. Gargaar Relief and Development Organisation, Somalia
  72. Ghana Philanthropy Forum, Ghana
  73. Global Fund for Community Foundations, South Africa
  74. Global Information and Social Resource Foundation – GISRF
  75. Global Peace Association, Ghana
  76. Golden Red Foundation, India
  77. Gramin Evam Nagar Vikas Parishad (GENVP), India
  78. Greenline Africa, Zimbabwe
  79. Greenfield Africa Foundation, Ghana
  80. Green String Network, Kenya
  81. HAQ: Centre for Child Rights, India
  82. Hard Rock Self-Sufficiency Foundation, Nigeria
  83. HEAPIDER-Concern, Inc., Liberia
  84. Help Foundation for Victims of Insurgency in Nigeria, Nigeria
  85. Helpers Social Development Foundation, Nigeria
  86. Hope for Young Girls and Boys, Zambia
  87. Hope Village Society, Egypt
  88. Horn of Africa Voluntary Youth Committee (HAVOYOCO), Somaliland and Ethiopia
  89. House of Consciousness (HoC), Zambia
  90. Inclusive Climate Change Adaptation for a Sustainable Africa
  91. Indonesia for Humanity (Indonesia untuk Kemanusiaan / IKA), Indonesia
  92. Initiative Pananetugri pour le Bien-etre de la Femme, Burkina Faso
  93. Instituto de Comunicación y Desarrollo (ICD), Uruguay
  94. International Foundation for Students and Youth Development (IFSYD), Ghana
  95. Jijenge Youth Organization, Kenya
  96. Joint – Liga de ONGs em Mocambique, Mozambique
  97. Kaalo, Somalia
  98. Keepers Zambia Foundation, Zambia
  99. Kenya Community Development Foundation, Kenya
  100. Kenya Pastoralist Journalist Alliance Trust, Kenya
  101. K & R Welfare and Placement Services, Papua New Guinea
  102. Lasphumakhona Community Development Projects (LCDP), South Africa
  103. L’Association CEDRE 17 pour Un Développement Inclusif et Durable (AC17), Morocco
  104. Les Jeunes Ambassadeurs de l’Environnement pour le Développement durable, Guinea
  105. Let Them Help Themselves (LTHT), Uganda
  106. LetsStopAIDS, Canada
  107. LifeLine ONG, Benin
  108. LIN Center for Community Development, Vietnam
  109. Majal, Bahrain
  110. Makutano ya Wajasiriamali (MAWA), Tanzania
  111. Mars Football Foundation, India
  112. Masila Ghana Foundation, Ghana
  113. Maurisante, Mauritius
  114. Mauritius Council for Social Services, Mauritius
  115. Mbao Ngula, Zambia
  116. Migrant Support Network, Guyana
  117. MILAP, Nepal
  118. Mizu Eco-Care, Zambia
  119. Mona Younis, Human Rights Advocate
  120. Multikids Africa, Ghana
  121. Nabadion Youth Alliance Southwest State, Somalia
  122. Ngetha Media Association for Peace (NMAP), Uganda
  123. Nigerian Women Agro Allied Farmers Association, Nigeria
  124. NZP+ Mufumbwe, Zambia
  125. Olive Luena Education Trust, Tanzania
  126. Orbeliani, Georgia
  127. PACT Foundation, Romania
  128. Pan African Positive Women’s Coalition, Zimbabwe
  129. Participatory Action for Community Empowerment Foundation (PEACE), Zambia
  130. People’s Action Forum (PAF), Zambia
  131. People’s Process on Housing and Poverty, Zambia
  132. Personal Initiative for Positive Empowerment (PIPE), Kenya
  133. Positive-Generation, Cameroon
  134. Professor Emma Crewe, Director, on behalf of Global Research Network on Parliaments and People, UK
  135. Rawa Creative Palestinian Communities Fund, Palestine
  136. Reaching the Unreached Tanzania (RUT), Tanzania
  137. Reality of Aid Africa Network, Kenya
  138. Reformed Open Community Schools, Zambia
  139. Reproductive Health and Rights Advocacy Initiative (REHEaRD), Nigeria
  140. Réseau des Organisations de la Société Civile pour le Développement (RESOCIDE), Burkina Faso
  141. Resilliance, Morocco
  142. Rita Thapa, Founder of Tewa – the Nepal Women’s Fund and Nagarik Aawaz, Nepal
  143. Romanian Foundation for Children, Community and Family (FRCCF), Romania
  144. Ruth Foundation, Zambia
  145. Sahakarmi Samaj, Nepal
  146. Sahara Advocates for Change, Ghana
  147. Salamander Trust, UK
  148. Sangama, India
  149. Save Somali Women and Children (SSWC), Somalia
  150. SEED Malaysia, Malaysia
  151. Selma Foundation, Ghana
  152. Sense, India
  153. Sera Thabiti, Kenya
  154. Social Life and Agricultural Development Foundation, Somalia
  155. Solidarité Féminine pour la Paix et le Developpement Integral “SOFEPADI”, Democratic Republic of the Congo
  156. Solidarity Foundation, India
  157. Somalia Humanity Support, Somalia
  158. Somalia Women and Youth Empowerment Initiative, Somalia
  159. STAR Ghana Foundation, Ghana
  160. Success Capital Organisation, Botswana
  161. Sustainability Leadership Kosova, Kosovo
  162. Sustainable Impact for Development in Africa (SIDAF), Cameroon
  163. Taakulo Somali Community, Somalia and Ethiopia
  164. Tanzania Community Foundation Network, Tanzania
  165. Thubutu Africa Initiatives, Tanzania
  166. Twerwaneho Listeners’ Club, Uganda
  167. UDYAMA, India
  168. Uganda National NGO Forum, Uganda
  169. UHAI-EASHIRI, Kenya
  170. United Social Welfare Society, Pakistan
  171. Usikimye, Kenya
  172. Vision Changers Kenya, Kenya
  173. Watershed Organisation Trust, India
  174. WASDA, Kenya
  175. Wajir South Development Association, Kenya and Somalia
  176. West Africa Civil Society Institute, Ghana
  177. Whole Planet Initiative, Nigeria
  178. Women Aspire Network, Ghana
  179. Women for India Foundation, India
  180. XOESE – Le Fond pour les Femmes Francophones, Togo
  181. Yayasan Usaha Mulia (Foundation for Noble Work), Indonesia
  182. You-Nik Children’s Initiative, Zambia
  183. Young Women Christian Association (YWCA) Mongu, Zambia
  184. Youth Development and Voice Initiative (YOVI), Ghana
  185. Youth Harvest Foundation, Ghana
  186. YouthNet Nagaland, India
  187. Zambia Alliance for Agroecology and Biodiversity (ZAAB), Zambia
  188. Zambia Council for Social Development (ZCSD), Zambia
  189. Zambia National Education Coalition (ZANEC), Zambia
  190. Zambian Governance Foundation for Civil Society (ZGF), Zambia
  191. Zamzam Foundation, Somalia

If you wish to add your name or organization to this list, please insert the details in a comment below, or email Wendy Richardson at the GFCF ( A version of the letter can also be downloaded in French, Portuguese and Spanish.

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Isaac MWAIPOPOGARGAARmira pirdeniGiovanna NegrettiAbdul Uyoob Alabdeen Recent comment authors
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Hamusunga George
Hamusunga George

Actually what is amazing is that some cooperating partners feel that local organizations lack capacity and therefore they can only perform if they partner with INGOs who can build their capacity. This is surprising because most of the staff working for INGOs actually come from local NGOs and vice-versa.

Barbara Nost
Barbara Nost

I cannot agree more, George.

Aboubakar Akilimali
Aboubakar Akilimali

Add my organization : Burundi Child Rights Coalition

Roselle Rasay
Roselle Rasay

Please add our organization – Caucus of Development NGO Networks (CODE-NGO), Philippines

Amanda Griffith, CEO of Family for Every Child
Amanda Griffith, CEO of Family for Every Child

Family for Every Child, a global alliance of local civil society organisations, is in complete solidarity with these statements. We were formed in 2014 to address exactly these dynamics in international collaboration and to demonstrate that local practitioners have a crucial role to play, an important contribution to make and a unique expertise to share not just nationally but internationally too.

Samson Lukwanda
Samson Lukwanda

Add our organisation Younik Children’s Initiative

Sophie Kange
Sophie Kange

I stand in solidarity to condemn that act of INGOs and onbehalf of my Organisation Uganda National NGO Forum we join the world to apend our signature on the statement. Please add my Organisations name- Uganda National NGO Forum.