Barriers to African Civil Society
Building the Sector’s Capacity and Potential to Scale up
Our hopes and goals for this project are that it supports and accelerates the hard work that is already happening to achieve greater equality in philanthropy - while also sharing actionable new approaches through mutual, ongoing learning, dialogue, and action.
- Pre-existing structures of funding impact donor choices, creating a complex mix of systems, requirements, language, and reporting mechanisms.
- Donors find it more convenient to fund INGOs because they have the required skills, credibility, and resources to deal with donors’ architecture.
- Capacity building, skills development and sustainability are often not prioritised, or given core funding.
- Project funding is more common - which comes with tighter spending constraints.
- INGOs weaken local CSOs by moving their headquarters to Africa and registering as local organisations.
- Tight regulations and policies for civil society in most African countries - tensions between governments and civil society are rising.
- Certain African governments use legal and regulatory strategies to control, monitor and suppress NGO operations, through:
- Burdensome reporting requirements
- High taxation on international funding
- Permitting government officials excessive impromptu powers for searching and on-site visits without warning
- Restricting NGOs from receiving funding from certain donors or countries
- Limiting the scale of NGO’s international funding
- There is a lack of capacity to effectively absorb resources provided.
- Weaknesses in governance and renewal of leadership structures.
- Weak infrastructure and internal processes exacerbate a lack of trust, accountability, and transparency - so more funds are spent on audits and other compliance processes.
- A lack of highly skilled personnel, and retention of technically skilled staff for e.g., proposal writing.
- Further resources constraints result from failure to access big grants.
- Lack of technological investment in digital platforms hinders organisational agility.
Re-imagine relations, processes, and systems
To create a more level playing field international donors must rigorously reimagine their grant-making, guidelines, procedures, organisational norms, and management systems.
Balance core and project funding
NGOs need sufficient funding to develop long-term strategies and invest in non-programme critical issues, such as improving their financial management systems and approach to securing resources.
Accelerate digital transformation
Donors could provide financial and technical support focused on developing the digital technologies (i.e., hardware and software) available to CSOs as part of vital capacity building initiatives.
In addition to giving larger grants and providing more core funding, donors must make conscious efforts to strengthen the skillsets and capacity local CSOs need to sustain themselves managerially and financially.
Leverage domestic funding sources
Growth in African sources of funding provides new revenue streams, so more collaboration should be developed between local CSOs and African foundations, individual givers, and high net-worth individuals.
Leadership development and succession planning
Local CSOs must invest in and take ownership of improving their own governance and leadership, which donors could support by creating a leadership institute in an African university, for example.
Create an Enabling Regulatory Environment
African governments should proactively support CSOs and promote policies (e.g., tax incentives) that facilitate rather than hinder their operations. CSOs must also transparently self-regulate their own activities.
Enable diverse voices
Donors, including INGOs, must make deliberate, measurable efforts to share more power and responsibility with local CSOs that are in tune with community-level realities and necessary alliances.
West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI): Building CSO Sustainability
The West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI) was established by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) and became operational in July 2007. Its mission is to strengthen the core and operational capacities of civil society in the West African sub-region, through programmes for increased, effective policy engagement as well as the promotion of development, good governance, and democratic values.
The organisation’s programmes focus on improving the performance of CSOs - with the aim of strengthening their legitimacy, transparency, and accountability. WACSI also advocates for donors to support greater CSO capacity through the provision of core funding.
The organisation has moved towards providing a more holistic training approach which incorporates coaching, mentoring and peer learning, as well as focusing on how to build sustainable CSO identities, operations, and finances. WACSI has also trained CSOs on how to better mobilise domestic resources, as part of efforts to strengthen local philanthropy in West Africa. Lastly, WACSI has also built the technological capacities of CSOs by working in partnership with TechSoup to provide them with subsidised computer software and hardware.
Despite these successes, multiple challenges remain.
WACSI leadership reports that it is still difficult to build CSO organisations that can sustain themselves beyond current project cycles. This is because many donors are not interested in investing in building broader operational capacities of local CSOs, in ways that aren’t directly related to the donor’s own projects.
Which is why so many capacity building initiatives are tied to specific projects, rather than deliberately trying to strengthen the CSOs core capacities as an end in itself.
A WACSI senior manager commented: “Despite its value - capacity building is considered as an add-on. Most donors do not see it as core to their projects.’’
Leadership, Effectiveness, Accountability and Professionalism (LEAP) Africa: Leveraging Technology for Greater Impact
LEAP Africa has successfully built its reputation as one of Nigeria's best performing NGOs, working in more than 26 states throughout the country, as well as having a visible footprint in five other African nations.
The organisation credits much of this recent success to an ICT upgrade - specifically a migration of their internal systems to ORACLE NetSuite systems. This boosted effectiveness, scalability, and extended organisational capacity by enabling the automation of multiple back-office processes across HR, procurement, administration, accounting, and accelerated reporting. All of which helped the organisation become more resilient, especially during the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Strong, dedicated staff have been a key strength of LEAP Africa, and in 2020, LEAP introduced increased staff benefits to ensure staff are properly remunerated and incentivised.
However, an unintended consequence of LEAP having such well-trained and high performing staff is that they are often poached by INGOs.
A senior manager at LEAP, commented: “We indigenised organisations, we don’t have the talent of the private sector, but we have to attract talent. It is also a challenge that some partners are purely focused on supporting their project, and not the broader sustainability of our organisation.”
The inflexibility of local partners and their limited ability to negotiate project scopes with local donors, are identified as additional barriers, as are the very strict reporting expectations from local partners (even for smaller grants compared to those available from international partners).
Lastly, the lack of a culture of trust within Nigeria's CSO ecosystem further constrains vital collaboration between local organisations and the private sector.