The old stereotype of the foreign NGO worker heading to Africa is slowly shifting, now that international NGOs are increasingly hiring staff who are based in offices across Africa. During the recent ‘Africa Business Club,’ two country directors of international NGOs shared how they go about this.
The Africa Business Club is a networking event regularly organised by the Netherlands-African Business Council, this time in cooperation with INTL FCStone. Mr. Niels van Duinen, of the Global Payments division of INTL FCStone, opened the event by explaining that for them NGOs are an even more important group of clients than companies. “We also believe that cooperation between companies and NGOs is crucial,” Mr. Van Duinen remarked, before explaining how important proper management of currencies is for both multinationals and NGOs.
There was a time when my organisation sent thousands of volunteers per year from Europe to Africa,” said Mr. Erik Ackerman, director of the Dutch office of VSO International. VSO stands for ‘Voluntary Services Overseas’, an NGO set up in 1958. “But nowadays it is very common to have volunteers from one African country to work in a neighboring country and we have a lot of local staff that is carrying out the work.” Monique van ‘t Hek, national director of Plan International Nederland, agrees. “We work with professional staff in African countries. Our offices in ‘the West’ are mainly to generate the resources that are needed to carry out the work in the field.” Asked how long it will take before VSO will send volunteers from Africa to Europe, Mr. Ackerman admitted not having thought about that yet but didn’t rule out the possibility.
The NGO directors agreed that cooperation with companies is crucial, certainly in light of the current views that Small and Medium Enterprises (SME’s) are the key to growth and job creation in Africa. “We have outstanding cooperation with companies. In fact, we have introduced the concept of ‘corporate volunteering,” Mr. Ackerman said. “Thanks to the corporate volunteering we can send out professionals to work in Africa temporarily, while their companies cover their expenses.” Also, Plan International Nederland cooperates with companies. “When it comes to programs that focus on job creation and economic growth, we see this as an essential form of collaboration. We do not simply ask for a bag of money, but we use their expertise when it comes to business.”
A final question the two panelists were asked by NABC’s moderator, former Africa correspondent Arne Doornebal, regarded the Dutch policy of having one minister responsible for both development cooperation (aid) and foreign trade. Although Ms. Van ‘t Hek strongly supported the ‘double hatted’ ministerial position, Mr. Ackerman wondered whether the old model wasn’t better. Under that system, one minister was fully focused on developing assistance, while another had the trade portfolio.
Most Dutch NGOs are members of Partos, the sector association. Partos, in cooperation with Endeva, concluded the Africa Business Club by presenting a new publication, called ‘NGO and company cooperation for inclusive business’, which contains practical information and case studies about successful cooperations between companies and NGOs. The publication is available online.