Tom Arnold on NGO’s and National Governments

Question: How can NGO’s best collaborate with local actors?

Arnold:    In the vast majority of the countries we work in, we obviously work under the agreement of the government and the government will have a certain role in determining how NGOs will work.  In certain countries, we’re working much more at the grassroots level, down, we’re perhaps not that much engaged directly with government, but in countries that have, you know, reasonably established governmental structures, we very much work within those structures, and because we see ourselves as bringing, you know, in a sense, at one level, filling gaps that government can’t do, but I think the role of an agency like Concern is very much to be, I think, a catalyst to help bring together different agencies, and we’re pretty good at that, maybe the Irish background comes into this, but helping, facilitating people work well together, and I think the other thing that we do particularly well, and this is really our starting point in many of the, in all of the programs we do, is we start by trying to listen to the very poor people, what are their needs.  What are the issues that they are trying to achieve?  What of their resources can they bring to working towards their improved welfare, and how can somehow or other we fit in and, in a sense, harness those capabilities of those very resourceful people?  And so, I think, in terms of our engagement in any of these countries, it’s at these number of different levels, the level of very much the household and the community level right up to the top level where we would be trying, in many cases, where it’s feasible – it’s not always feasible – we’re in many cases trying to influence government policy, many times through partners, through civil society within the countries we work in, influence policy at governmental level to be more favorable towards [support]. 

Question: Does the approach change in emergency situations?

Arnold:    The fundamental approach doesn’t change.  I think you go in and you do try to understand the context you’re working in and then you try to design your intervention to deal with that.  But, in an emergency situation, you do have to act quickly, and so, therefore, you know, there’s some level of consultation, but, at the end of the day, there is an urgency to go in and get the job done, and this is where I think experience comes into play, concern has been in operation now for 40 years.  We’ve accumulated a great deal of experience as to how to operate in emergencies, but the basic principles of listening to the people of quick and effective action, they remain, whether it’s in emergencies or development situation.

The CEO explains the delicate balance between international and local actors.

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