Role & Sustainability of African Regional NGOs

Role & Sustainability of African Regional NGOs

Date: May 31, 2018
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Communique: Role and Sustainability of African Regional NGOs, 28-29 May

African Regional NGOs (RNGOs) ended a two day round table in Johannesburg with a call to their governments, regional economic commissions, and international co-operating partners to join hands with them in strengthening regional civil society organisations.

The self-funded dialogue began as a Southern African initiative but attracted participation from Pan African, East and Southern African NGOs[1] (see profiles at Annex A). These include networks that campaign for the prevention, treatment and care of HIV and AIDS, TB and malaria; promote sexual and reproductive health and rights; women’s rights and human rights more broadly, with a strong emphasis on ending poverty.

Reaching from community to policy level, the organisations have lobbied for regional norms and standards, such as the East African Gender Bill; SADC HIV and AIDS, Environment, Gender and Development protocols. They monitor government performance against these commitments, and have started strategic partnerships, for example working together to produce annual barometers that track progress in achieving gender equality. The RNGOs facilitate citizen participation; provide legal aid; lobby for the rights of migrants; miners and cross border traders.

 “What unites us is that we are African regional organisations that understand the local context and add value by linking work at the local, to the national, to the regional, to African Agenda 2063 and the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” said Bhekinkosi Moyo, outgoing Executive Director of the Southern African Trust, a co-convenor of the dialogue.

The RNGOS defined sustainability as the ability to endure through continual replenishment of financial, human, physical, intellectual, and natural resources. They recognised the need for accountability, particularly to the communities they work with, good governance, transparency, innovation and adaptability as key to the sector’s survival.

The second day featured a round table with international NGOs, foundations, bilateral, multilateral and private sector partners.[2]  The RNGOs expressed concern over a growing trend towards larger amounts of funding going to fewer NGOs, especially from the North, as well as the decline in support for institutional strengthening.

A rapid response survey of the participating organisations found that while these organisations vary in size and function, overall they have experienced a drop in funding, from $15.1 million in 2016 to $13.4 million in 2017. Although the group is not a representative sample, anecdotal evidence suggests that many RNGOs are under financial stress.  “We appear to be falling between the cracks: too small for the big funds and too big for the small funds,” noted Colleen Lowe Morna, CEO of Gender Links, which co-organised the gathering.

A worrying trend is that all four Women’s Rights Organisations (WRO) that participated in the initiative have experienced declines in their funding. “All the evidence shows that direct funding for women’s movements is critical for sustaining the momentum on gender equality,” noted Memory Kachambwa, Acting Executive Director of FEMNET which has launched a parallel campaign #FundHerAfrica.

Key challenges identified include:

  • Shrinking operating space for civil society; limited support for RNGOs by host governments (e.g. work permits for staff from neighbouring countries) and limited government financial support for local and regional NGOs.
  • Limited engagement between RNGOs and Regional Economic Commissions such as the Southern African Development and East African Communities.
  • Donor funds shifting away from advocacy to humanitarian crises; preference for funding a few large (mostly northern-based) intermediaries; shrinking funds for middle income countries where regional organisations are often based (e.g South Africa, Kenya and Ghana) and limited funding windows for RNGOs.
  • Competition for scarce resources from International NGOs (some decentralising and moving their head offices to African countries) as well as from UN agencies and governments, with only a tiny fraction of Overseas Development Assistance targeted at civil society.
  • Consortium funding requirements that require time and resources to access.
  • Pressure to diversify into income generation ventures in which the sector lacks experience and personnel.
  • High staff turn-over and capacity constraints as a result of funding uncertainties.
  • Inadequate coordination within the sector.

The round table called on governments to facilitate the work of RNGOs through enabling environments, including the provision of work visas for nationals of neighbouring countries. The RNGO leaders called on Regional Economic Commissions in particular SADC, the ECA and the African Union (AU) to create mechanisms for meaningful engagement with RNGOs, including formal accreditation.

The round table called on International Co-operating Partners (ICPs) to open funding opportunities to RNGOS, including those based in middle income countries; invest in the institutional strengthening of RNGOs; work in equal partnerships with them; and be inclusive and transparent in their approaches.

RNGOs pledged to:

  • Become more relevant in working with the RECs, for example mobilising citizen action on the big ticket issues like the SADC Industrialisation Strategy.
  • Improve transparency and accountability, including peer support for joining initiatives such as the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI).
  • Map and engage actively with the growing cadre of African philanthropists, and lobby for part of this funding to go to policy and advocacy work.
  • Create brokering platforms for joint ventures.
  • Create learning and sharing platforms on self- funding consistent with their visions and missions.
  • Continue this engagement through extending the partnership, and convening the #FudingforAfricanRNGO forum on a regular basis.

For further information contact: Marlon Zakeyo,; Colleen Lowe Morna,

[1] AIDS & Rights Alliance for Southern Africa; AIDS & Rights Alliance for Southern Africa; EASSI;

FEMNET; Gender Links; Mandela Institute for Development Studies; Southern Africa Cross Border Traders association (SACBTA); SADC Lawyers’ Association; SAFAIDS; Southern Africa Trust; WLSA – Regional Office; SADC -CNGO

[2] DFID; Diakonia; Finland; Ford Foundation; GIZ; Global Affairs Canada; Mott Foundation; NEPAD; SADC; SIDA – Zambia.

ANNEX A : Profiles of participating NGOs

4 thoughts on “Role & Sustainability of African Regional NGOs”

This was a very good initiative and timely. It has increasingly become very challenging to fundraise for Regional organisations. Regional organisations are competing with INGOs and National NGOs. At national level the development partners indicate that they only fund National NGOs, whereas at regional level the Development partners ask you to Partner with a “big” organisation because they are avoiding managing many small grants and most likely these are INGOs.So regional organisations are left in a dilema like Colleen said” too big for small funding and too small for big funding”

Netsai Njerere says:

Interesting read, and its goed that the discussions are happeningI think its about role clarification, sometimes its not really clear what the regional organisation is doing, as they also are super active at the national level where many NGOS are competing for space already.

That was a good initiative ( focusing on sustainability)indeed as many countries in Southern Africa, especially the kingdom of Eswatini are unconditionally advocating for the different key affected population with very little resources due to donor fatigue.
I would like to plead for a full the engagement to funding opportunities of CSOs/ NGO in low and middle income countries to eradicate poverty in readiness to attain the first world status by the year 2022.

I have been touched by “too big for small funding and too small for big funding”.But l will deal with “too small for big funding”.My experience has shown that, the so called “small ngo’s, cbo’s, initiatives etc. to me, they are the most expected ‘chapters’. these are the roots for the so called “big ngo’s.Firstly:Is because they were once called “small ngo’s, cbo’s, initiatives etc.Secondly:Is because,they have qualified to be big ngo’s, after they worked for the minority of this world. Therefore, l call upon the initiators who sit and think about the minority of this world, to give big funding to “small ngos” as they are the ones who need big funding, since they are working in difficult environment, taking into account majority are situated at grassroots areas even if they are in the cities.We all are aware, when we mention ‘grassroots’.These are the areas which most of the forests are spent to light homes. They don’t have permanent structures to host whatever, they plan to carry on. They are passing through difficult situations to reach whoever will be willing to listen to their concerns before the get one who could agree to give support even with a minimal start.In these situations, l call on those, who have something to donate, to first, think for “small initiatives” before embarking to “big” ones.

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