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I’m in need of a big hug after writing: The case against big NGOs

(Photo by Mette Koors)

It might seem odd to even dare to take issue with the brave crusaders against the evils of our world, but like the real crusaders in their quest to get to heaven, a path of destruction lies in their way.

But calm down! I’m not against all NGOs. Many of them provide valuable contributions to society, well…. to THEIR societies. And with this comes the first argument: how can an NGO help someone that it doesn’t know? I argue that it can’t.

Societies have identities, distinct problems, and virtues. All these distinctions are so varied that they can be seen differently from street to street, city to city, region to region, etc. These problems require a deep understanding of so many variables that it takes more than good intentions, and a western understanding of development, to solve them.

But this is not how big NGOs work. They need to constantly have projects – as many and as geographically varied as possible. True, change takes time, but it is quite difficult to raise money if, in their weekly newsletter, you see the same project over and over again.

Big NGOs burn a lot of money

What about the money? Big NGOs burn a lot of money. They are huge bureaucratic nightmares that need all the components associated with a traditional company. The brave man in the forest fighting off snakes and mosquitos is the image that they want us to see, but behind him there are accountants, directors and, of course, the marketing department.

Together, they create a perfect storm of guilt, sadness, and compassion that makes you send them money, even without knowing where it’s going. Only after all of this is paid for, can something reach its objective.

We all look at other cultures through the lens of our own culture, and that is perfectly fine. That’s what makes a trip to a foreign destination so exciting, knowing new realities, tasting different foods, etc.

But it is extremely patronizing, borderline racist, to believe that our way of life is the correct one and that all others should aspire to it.

I’m also in need of a big hug after writing this

Let me explain. NGOs tend to follow an agenda of westernization, often promoted by one of their biggest backers, western governments, leading to projects that seek to approximate the aid receiver to the western vision of a functional society.

This creates deep changes in a society at an artificial pace, which destroys parts of the functional status quo that existed. Implementing that requires constant care on the part of the foreign entity.

I know, it seems grim. I’m also in need of a big hug after writing this, but I believe there are other, better ways to channel our good intentions.

Think locally, no one knows better than a local, and every place has problems. Even a city like Copenhagen that consistently ranks at the top of the livability index has them, so why not invest your money in an NGO that addresses these problems? You probably have one, or more, in your area.

Think locally

If there is something that I find quite bizarre, it is that people are willing to give money to organizations that they barely know, but they pass homeless people without buying a Hus Forbi, a newspaper provided to the homeless for them to sell that allows them to earn an income without begging. A lovely example of an NGO.

But yes, there appear to be bigger problems abroad, so I understand if you still have the urge to address them, and for that, I give the same advice: Think locally!

You are only one, and there is only so much you can do, so choose what you want to do, choose a specific problem that you want to address, and then it’s easy. Just fly there and find a local NGO. No, just kidding, but only about the flying part. Use Google instead and search for an NGO that is devoted to a specific area, place and problem greater than finding the next great story for its newsletter.


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