More of the same old, same old?

Ever since we started thinking about FW i’ve noticed that there are more and more people like us trying to do the same or similar things. Helping people find good non-profits. Every time I come across one my heart sinks just a little. I know, why should i be sad? If i’m truly mission-driven, then i should be happy.  Someone else has done it, and we can spend time thinking about something else. Fede and I have constantly said we don’t want to be part of the problem and we don’t want to create something that already exists.

And yet….

What’s out there just still feels like the same old, same old – just polished a little differently, packaged a little more conveniently. But it perpetrates the same stereotypes and behaviours.

Why do i think we’re different (or “will be” if you want to really kick us while we’re down)? Most platforms focus on you the donor. Its about making you feel good about your donation and your desires. I’m not judging, i can’t say whether that is right or wrong. But this has created a power imbalance.

“Charities’ success with donors (i.e. at getting money) depends on how good they are at dealing with donors, not on how good they are at dealing with beneficiaries” (Caroline Fiennes)

We really should be focussing on what the NGO say they need, what their beneficiaries say they need and how we can help them access the resources to address those needs. Knowing what was / wasn’t achieved is important, but again ultimately it is not about you.

Many charity aggregator and crowdfunding platforms old and new, will tell you “their” NGOs are vetted. Some will go further and say they have a “star rating” from a “respected” accreditor. The issue, if you dig a little deeper is that the star rating or the vetting doesn’t include the beneficiaries’ or the charities’ partners’ opinion . Rather it is based on whether their governance and finance is transparent and up-to-date; or whether they were audited. An NGO could feasibly have eliminated water borne diseases where it works, but if it has missed an audit or its board doesn’t change regularly it might not get a gold badge.

Its a little perverse isn’t it that the system doesn’t reward the charity for serving the beneficiary?

Focussing on what’s right

We’ve thought, and are still thinking, hard on this. But for us a good NGO isn’t one where you get the great feel good story, or one which says they’ve reached a 1000 more beneficiaries than another one. It’s not even just about whether their systems and governance is good.

A good NGO is one that has a transparent and trusted relationship with their community. Where the community feels there can be an honest, reasonable discussion with the NGO. And where the NGO works collaboratively involving the community in all the stages of the “project”.

While many of you might be nodding your heads, think on this,…you’re not part of that bit of the equation.

If an NGO and its community have determined together what they want to do; and together they implement it; and together they monitor it, who are we to say that the solution they chose isn’t the right one and the NGO shouldn’t be supported?

We want to be able to tell you how good the NGO is at engaging with its community and whether it has the right structure, so you can just focus on whether the cause aligns with you. We’ve developed a way of measuring this. Some of you saw an earlier version based on integrity, impact, intent and inclusion, but this turned out to be too easily misinterpreted. So we have boiled it down to 6 attributes (still under testing); a good organisation

  • Is organisationally sound and minimises risk of corruption/nepotism, theft and fraud
  • Has as a clear vision/mission which is understood by its stakeholders, and its values are reflected in the way it works
  • Has a relevant governance structure that acts in its best interests and in accordance with its stated mission/vision and values
  • Achieves clear and outcome oriented impact and ensures outcomes are accepted and prioritised by its stakeholders (internal and external)
  • Includes target groups and stakeholders at all stages of its Programmes / Projects and holds itself to account to them
  • Its staff feel ownership of the organisation and are supported in the implementation of their work

It will require someone to visit the organisation and spend 6 days with its partners, beneficiaries, staff.  Its definitely not quick but we feel it’s the most correct with our current means.

There are few that we’ve seen and admire who really champion local NGOs, and if we become half-as-good as them we’ll have come a long way. But we’ve also set ourselves an additional challenge. We want to be a business, albeit a social enterprise, not a charity.

And business doesn’t necessarily always reward “right”.

So what next for FieldWorks?

The last few months have flown by and we have made forward progress. We’ve had some great help from Delphine on our “business model” which helped us crystallise our direction and vision. Friends like Louise at BlackRock and Stefaan at Global Heritage Fund have been invaluable advisers and used their networks to put us in touch with foundations such as Mulago Foundation and The Fore. We also explored a beneficiary feedback app with Olga Kruglova, UX designer extraordinaire, and developed some exciting wireframes from which to start discussions.

We’re now also at an exciting stage of development. With a new profiling tool to hand we’re in discussion with an organisation to help them with their profiling of local NGOs in Guatemala. This is great vote of confidence for us and we look forward to both doing it and telling you about it soon.

Over the next 6 months we’ll be looking for someone who can help us prototype design our platform idea and after which we’ll reach out to you for feedback. We’ll be refreshing our website so that it will focus more on what services we offer. Finally, if we are successful with our Guatemala project, we’ll use that as a launch pad to approach more clients.

FieldWorks is still shaping itself and finding its place in a very different world to the one we’re used to. If you have any ideas on how to help us, please feel free to email us!

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