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This question popped up in my feed on Quora a few days ago. Had an interesting time thinking about it. Started with a number of areas and then realised that some of them were just minor irritants. Was left with four areas where charities could do with disruption.

Before I go into those but before that a caveat or two.

Charities are only part of the overall system. Individuals, private sector, academia, governments, international organisations all have a role to play in development.  Charities cannot and should not be charged with the responsibility of fostering development everywhere. That role and responsibility should primarily lie with the government. This role could be discharged by

  • creating an enabling environment for ethical businesses,
  • promoting dissenting voices to be heard
  • oversight mechanisms for the actors
  • accountability to its people.

Even as I list out the areas where charities could do with disruption, I must hasten to add that there are charities who are doing all this; just that it is not common enough and hence the need for disruption of routine.

  1. Innovation: Charities need to develop innovative solutions to core development issues. They surely cannot be content with delivering services that manicure the hedges and leave the roots untouched. Services no doubt help the poor in the short run but leave little lasting impression.  In this they would need to work with community institutions, others of their ilk, research institutions,  private sector and possibly governments too.
  2. Demonstrating change: Charities must take it upon themselves to produce evidence that the strategies they are using are actually causing sustainable change in lives of people. This means employing robust theories of change and having strong monitoring & evaluation systems in place. Of course in humanitarian responses, one does not necessarily look for sustainable change but more for saving lives or alleviating misery in the short term. That is not the case with the longer term programmes and campaigns. Demonstrating change is one way to ensure accountability to donors and communities and also lobby for change based on evidence.
  3. Being flexible: Charities often operate in a very complex and fast changing world. However, in case of some of the bigger ones their very size, which gives them leverage on one hand, causes problems. Their structures, systems and processes are often such that make it difficult for them to change their strategies rapidly to adjust and go with the flow; for instance tied-down donor funds demand that charities stick to pre-planned interventions even when the context has changed. Being flexible, even if it means revamping systems to make them smarter, taking the effort to ‘educate’ donors, will actually help charities deliver better on their aims.
  4. Raising voice: As space for civil society rapidly shrinks, charities need to go an extra mile to place raising voice of the voiceless. This is an aspect of governance that charities must be engaged with. Forced to choose, charities must prioritize raising voice over delivering service. It is not only about Northern-Southern voice. Movement is needed on all fronts. Some battles can be won locally, some need a global war. In the long run, raising voice results in a more accountable and responsible governance system where services are better delivered by government. 

Keen to know what you think. Are there other areas?