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