Donors: Benefactors or Bullies? NGO Perspectives in Malawi, Central Africa

By Linda MacIntyre, Ellen Schell, Howard Pinderhughes, Catherine M. Waters, Pierson Ntata and Jones Laviwa.

Published by The International Journal of Sustainability in Economic, Social and Cultural Context

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There are power differentials between donors and recipient organizations that can undermine results at the community level. This paper explores perspectives of staff, partners and contacts of a particular non-governmental organization (NGO1) who work in and with Malawians in Central Africa. The data for this qualitative study is derived from 26 semi-structured interviews that were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim and analyzed using Atlas.ti, a data software system, to organize themes. Interviews were conducted in the US (n=6) and Malawi (n=20). Non-governmental organizations’ (NGOs) and community-based organizations’ (CBOs) perspectives about providing community services within the constraints of donor directives in a country beset with poverty, disease and a poor mortality rate across the population provide a framework for three themes identified in the data: 1) Donor accountability and recognition; 2) What to fund?; and 3) Sustainability. Participant perspectives echo principles of community-based participatory research (CBPR), an egalitarian, bottom-up approach in which community knowledge is valued alongside scientific knowledge. Participants were in agreement that unless the community supported a program, project or research, it was not sustainable. Maintaining bottom-up approaches requires resisting donor dictums, the NGO’s internal pressure to be more efficient and external pressures from communities that rely on experts. Donors who support communities in achieving their own objectives act as benefactors rather than bullies.

Keywords: Donor Accountability and Recognition, What to fund?, NGO, Community, Sustainability, CBPR Principles, Bottom-up Approach, Malawi

The International Journal of Social Sustainability in Economic, Social and Cultural Context, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp.39-56. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.464MB).

Dr. Linda MacIntyre

Health Sciences Assistant Clinical Professor, Community Health Systems, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, USA

Dr. MacIntyre earned a B.A. in Theology from Westminster College, Oxford, and a nursing degree from Texas Christian University. As a Betty Irene Moore Fellow, Dr. MacIntyre earned a Ph.D. in nursing at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) in 2009. Dr. MacIntyre conducted an original, qualitative study in Malawi, Central Africa to determine interest in community-based participatory research (CBPR). Dr. MacIntyre interviewed staff and volunteers from non-governmental organizations about issues of trust, donor power and how women addressed HIV and AIDS in Malawi. Dr. MacIntyre’s background includes working as a residential social worker in a children’s home in England, five years of hemodialysis nursing and over eight years managing and later directing community health and youth programs and services for a large non-profit organization. Dr. MacIntyre is currently an Assistant Clinical Professor at UCSF where she teaches community health nursing and she is the Chair of the American Red Cross National Nursing Committee.

Dr. Ellen Schell

International Programs Director, Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance, USA

Dr. Howard Pinderhughes

Associate Professor, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, University of California, San Francisco, USA

Dr. Catherine M. Waters

Professor, University of California, San Francisco, USA

Dr. Pierson Ntata

Head of Sociology Department, Chancellor College, University of Malawi, Malawi

Jones Laviwa

Country Director, Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance, Malawi