It is accepted knowledge that every human being is driven by their self interests. This being the case, then, I wonder; what are the real self interests of Non-profit organisations? I understand what they have made us understand – that they are very concerned about people’s well being so much so that they have dedicated their lives and resources to making the world a much more comfortable place for every individual to operate in. And that’s fine by me. What I don’t understand is, apart from what they tell us, what is the real motive behind all the work that they do?
I understand that NGOs get their money from donors. Donors may be governments, very wealthy individuals, groups of very wealthy individuals or companies. But bottom line, they are all people. Actual human beings like you and me. Human beings tend to have inclinations (biases) towards certain things, or situations, or other human beings. And these inclinations are incredibly complex in the way that they are layered. Some are imprinted on us by our parents, the community around us, religion, school, our experiences, the experiences of the people we interact with most etc.
Our biases cause us to make the decisions we make. They cause us to take the positions we take. They are the reason why, for example, we cannot seem to agree on what to do about the abortion issue. And donors are not exempted. They also differ in interests. Conservative donors and liberal donors will not necessarily support the same issues.
I may be wrong, but I am very much inclined to think that NGOs (or Civil Society Organisations) are the channels by which donors push their selfish interests. How I understand it in an example is that a left-wing billionaire will use his/her position as a ‘donor’ to share and exert their left-wing doctrines onto the rest of society. Through their foundations, they will find a social problem to tackle and embed their agenda in it. They will then choose to work with the organisations that knowingly or unknowingly align with their interests.
I presume that many people who are employed by NGOs do so with genuine intentions. Mostly a combination of earning a living, putting into use what they spent so much time learning in school, and/or to actually improve the living conditions of someone somewhere. I don’t suppose they ask themselves ‘why is someone spending so much money that they have worked for to do this’ enough times – in relation to the topic of self interest.
Many propositions have been made about what could be the real reason why NGOs operate (mostly in Africa). Some say that the wealthy donors use them as means to influence policies to favour their for-profit activities, others say that they are used to spy and gather intelligence for foreign governments and security agencies, it is not uncommon to hear others say that it is a way of the west to ‘apologise and make up for’ the injustices of colonialism etc. I don’t agree with any of these propositions. In fact, I don’t know the real reason why NGOs exist and why donors give.
May I say here that I am no ingrate. I appreciate the impactful work that donors through NGOs have done over the years. The world is certainly a better place than it was when their efforts were small or non-existent.
As I was typing this away, another random thought occurred to me: NGOs offer the services that, ideally, the government should be offering. Equal access to Health, Education, Clean water and sanitation among others are all in the domain of services that citizens should demand from their governments. Yet, because of the inefficiencies of the said governments, NGOs have had to step in. Has this not contributed to the inefficiency of government by way of laziness? If you ask me to do something, then I do it shoddily, then you notice that I have done it shoddily and instead of demanding better from me you come and do it yourself, are you not making me lazy? I will almost never do what is required of me because I know when I don’t you will step in, saving me time, energy and resources which I can in turn use to make myself comfortable.
I know this is thoughts needs to be refined, but I am convinced that should they be stretched out to their limits, they may hold some answers or better yet, inspire some more questions.