Development in the post Covid-19 era

By Nono Felix

Covid-19 has worsened incalculably the world’s socio-economic condition. The lives of the poor have never been more miserable and their livelihoods more uncertain. Nevertheless, the poor would have been in direr straits without development organizations or non-government organizations (hereinafter referred to as NGOs) working with governments. NGOs have mitigated the adverse effects of the pandemic on family well-being. These non-profits have been in the forefront with their respective direct assistance or relief work since the pandemic struck.

For almost a century now, NGOs have been sensational in mitigating the suffering of the poor in normal and abnormal times. The poor have been able to overcome no matter how hard financial shocks in the aftermath of calamities natural or man-made. But NGOs have been oblivious of this incontrovertible reality. It has been a blind spot since the 1944 Bretton Woods Conference instituted development assistance. This is despite the fact that they have fallen short in their avowed goal to help the poor help themselves in their own development. History is witness. The development road in the NGO world is littered with junked visions and missions, approaches, strategies, programs, projects, policies, advocacies, themes, systems, tools, methodologies, etc.

Most NGOs exist because of money from donors, sponsors, grantors, et al. It’s the end of the road for these NGOs without financial backstopping for which they need the poor. In contrast, the poor have always survived with or without aid from outside. After working with NGOs for a long time, the poor know aid is temporary, and they have to strike out on their own. And this is no more than truer than in the new normal amidst the pandemic and in the post Covid -19 era.

Why not then adapt to this reality of NGOs mitigating the suffering of the poor? As mentioned above, this has been their cup of tea or forte or what they do best for the wellbeing of the poor. This is bringing back NGO work to where it should have been a long time ago. And the implications are far-reaching. This will declutter the development landscape which is not wholly developmental anyway. This will render negligible unnecessary and costly processes and activities. In short, this will streamline and rationalize everything about NGO work.

NGOs international and national across the world will adopt the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as the global development template. Based on the SDGs, they will formulate an overarching goal statement on the mitigation of the ill-effects of poverty, discrimination, rights violations, disasters man-made and natural, etc. on the lives and livelihoods of the poor.

Voila! No need for hierarchical goals and objectives and intricate results chain or theory of change. No need for costly, complex and complicated processes and activities like the following:

• collection of primary data for baseline and end line (rely instead on secondary data from national and local governments, universities, and international bodies, etc.);

• development of monitoring and evaluation (M&E) results framework or theory of change (overkill of results most of which are unrealistic or not measurable); and

• formulation of goals and objectives at the program and project levels, establishment of indicators and setting of targets which are contentious anyway regardless of the development approach (e.g., why not increase/decrease by 10% instead of 5% and vice versa.)

Fancy and costly academies, advocacies, workshops, webinars, etc. are rendered negligible. Superfluous program and project documents, and communication materials are done away with. All of them are unread and unused after some time anyway.

Imagine the humungous savings in money, time and energy of NGOs. Money that should go to regular programs for the poor especially now Covid 19 has presented unforeseen immense challenges.

Inevitably, NGOs will overhaul the whole gamut of planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. Align the streamlined program and project development and management with the appropriate core business process of mitigation. And work on the new attributes or granularities of implementation.

Time for NGOs the world over to stop once and for all a self-imposed burden without compromising quality and impact. This finds more significance in the face of unprecedented uncertainties brought about by Covid 19. And advanced technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, etc., will come in handy. Thus, pivoting to this new paradigm, which is long overdue, will take place at the most opportune time. Of course, it is a huge challenge to sell to and get on board the NGO honchos or decision makers, donors and sponsors, and governments. Otherwise, it’s business as usual in the NGO world in the post Covid-19 era. It is ironical that NGOs have been outstanding in easing the suffering of the world’s poor from all kinds of adverse conditions, but mitigation is not their core business.