How do you judge the success of an NGO? Well there are many types of NGOs/development programs and many ways to judge them (something I wrote about here at greater length). But for a livelihood/income enhancing organisation such as ourselves (and many, many others), try this rule of thumb on for size. Would a randomly selected citizen of the country or target area (in our case Kigoma) rather be a beneficiary of the program or an employee of the organisation?
I think about this a lot as there are many NGOs and development agencies in Tanzania – thousands possibly. And a general aspiration of a lot of Tanzanians is to work for one of them. I recently wrote a work reference for a truck owner-operator I know who was hoping to give up his business and instead work as a driver for the Belgian government development agency in Kigoma. Is this really the best net outcome for Tanzania? He didn’t choose to try and enroll in one of the Belgian programs (which admittedly may have been impossible) nor did he want to keep his (admittedly tough) small business up and running.
If a person would prefer to be an employee rather than a beneficiary, then arguably the program shouldn’t exist as you are more or less running a donor-funded Keynesian employment scheme. The employment directly created by the program is of better quality than the livelihood benefits created by the program. And due to fungibility, of money, it is a fair chance that the program funding money could be better used if it didn’t have to be used on salaries. You should convert your program to GiveDirectly, who use a minimum number of staff to give out a maximum amount of donor money. No messing about.
If a person would prefer to be a beneficiary rather than an employee, well then, different story. Your program is creating more value than the sum of its parts. I think you can see where this post is going. Yes, it’s true. People would prefer to be a beneficiary of Seed Change, rather than an employee. Well sort of. It’s actually that a bunch of our employees are using their hard earned salaries to buy Seed Change trees for their family farms. And they are also using their salaries to employee other people to work their farm rather than farming it themselves. So that’s another job created!
Obviously it’s a very rough metric. But it is nevertheless nice to see that a low-skill or semi-skilled job with a NGO is not the final ambition of Seed Change employees. In time the employees who have purchased trees may choose to leave Seed Change as their time could be of higher value cultivating their farm or re-investing their farming profits in other pursuits. Employee or beneficiary? More or less than the sum of our parts? I might be a bit biased but I’d like to think we are on the right side of that equation.