International NGOs must evolve rapidly to stay relevant

14 Jul 22

International NGOs must evolve rapidly to stay relevant

The future of large charitable organisations looks uncertain, according to its leaders surveyed by Nuffield Fellow Andrew Thompson and his team on the ‘INGOs and the Long Humanitarian Century’ project.

The detailed survey with CEOs of leading international NGOs finds that the dominance of international NGOs (INGOs) from the global North is expected to decline as the humanitarian landscape changes. Participants in the survey said that the future looks uncertain, as NGOs struggle to free themselves from day-to-day constraints and face ‘major disruptors’, such as the climate crisis.

The survey comprised of 50 hour-long interviews with the CEOs of many of the world’s leading NGOs. Presenting the report on their findings, Andrew Thompson said, “We reveal a sector that sits at a critical juncture: wanting to change the world but needing to radically change themselves to do so”.

The report reveals that many NGO leaders believe that one of the large-scale changes will be the decline in the dominance of NGOs from the global North, as they work with local partners in a more localised and agile manner.

Many participants were also concerned about the ability of their organisations to respond effectively to major events, feeling ‘stuck’ in internal dynamics and limited by multiple factors, including the need to pursue funding, the expectations and demands of donors, and the demands of compliance and risk management.

Welcoming the report, Saleh Saeed, Chief Executive Officer of the Disasters Emergency Committee, said

“This survey comes at exactly the right time, when the need for our work is perhaps the greatest it has ever been, but when there are fewer resources to meet those needs. Strategic decisions today will shape the role and impact of INGOs, not just for the few years ahead but possibly for decades.”

Yves Daccord, former Director-General of the International Committee of the Red Cross, also commented that "The survey provides amazing insights, showing how INGO leaders are facing these challenges and what is holding them back. It is a must-read for anyone interested in humanitarian issues and the future of our world."

Gwen Hines, Save the Children UK’s Chief Executive Officer, added that “It is striking how far leaders find their time and energy being taken up by the same concerns: the biggest leadership challenge for me as CEO of Save the Children is to get past these challenges so that we maximise the impact of our work for the children we are here to serve, now and into the future.”

The survey was conducted in partnership with Save the Children UK and the Centre for Humanitarian LeadershipThe ‘INGOs and the Long Humanitarian Century’ project is funded through the AHRC Care for the Future theme.

Download and read the full report on the findings of the Leadership Survey on the project’s webpage.