Tom Arnold on NGO’s and National Governments
At an earlier stage of his career, he worked for the European Commission on Agricultural Policy and on development programmes, representing the Commission for three years in the Ivory Coast and Malawi. Tom was Chairman of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Committee of Agriculture (1993 – 1998). In 2003, he was appointed to the UN Millennium Project Hunger Task Force (2003 - 2004), established by Kofi Annan to devise a strategy to halve world hunger by 2015.
Tom was a member of the Irish Hunger Task Force (2007 - 2008), which was charged with proposing a strategy through which Ireland could make a distinctive contribution towards ending world hunger. He is a member of the International Food Policy Research Institute’s 2020 Advisory Council and the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund’s Advisory Group.
At European level, he is chairman of the European Food Security Group, a network of 40 European NGOs engaged in food and hunger work and is Vice-chair of the Trans Atlantic Food Aid Dialogue – an alliance of American, European and Canadian NGOs working on the reform of international food aid.
Tom was recently appointed to the trust governing the Irish Times, Ireland’s leading newspaper and to the Irish government’s Commission on Taxation.
Tom Arnold is a graduate in Agricultural Economics from University College Dublin and has Masters Degrees from the Catholic University of Louvain and Trinity College Dublin.
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.