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NGOs need to empower themselves

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I’m beginning to think that the term ‘empowerment’ is fancy NGO parlance for giving people permission to think for themselves. I went to the NGO Expo yesterday and I met a lot of NGO workers who appeared not to be ‘empowered’. It was a work assignment. So being ‘empowered’ by my NGO, I spoke to other NGOs about who Kubatana is and what we do. I should mention here that I do not labour under the title of Communication / Information and Advocacy Officer, I was merely doing my job as someone belonging to an organization: that is promoting its agenda and furthering its goals (ultimately that is the purpose of anyone’s job). Imagine my surprise, being an ‘empowered’ NGO worker, to find that other NGO workers were not as ‘empowered’ as I was, although they throw that particular term around like its free money.

I really don’t understand how some (not all, there were some organizations who had people that were very ‘empowered’) NGOs get on their soapboxes about ‘empowerment’ and fail to ‘empower’ their own people to speak to the media? Surely this is a basic marketing principle? The Expo is after all a marketing tool. I may not be very experienced in all things marketing, but I am familiar with the term Brand Ambassador, and with the principle of making every single person in an organization , from the Director to the cleaner, a Brand Ambassador. Making an organisations functionaries Brand Ambassadors means ensuring that every one knows what the organization is about, what it does, its hopes and aspirations for the future and more importantly why the existence of that organization is necessary. More than that, they are able (or shall we say ‘empowered’?) to speak to anyone at any time about it. Therefore, in an organization that believes enough in its own vision to invest in its people to do the same, anyone, Information Officer or not can answer basic questions about what their organizations does.

At one NGO, when I asked to interview to the Information Officer, she refused point blank to talk to me. At another, we spent most of what was a lovely afternoon trying to reach Head Office so we could get permission for an interview. I had spoken to the Information Officers earlier, who then gave me the run around. You might well wonder what sort of scary questions I was going ask that would elicit such reactions. They were simple: what issues that organization was currently focusing on; how the current political environment affected their work; how they (and here’s a key word), communicate with their constituencies; and the most controversial one of all: how they stay inspired in their work.

The NGO Expo was to give those NGOs who chose to exhibit an opportunity to get their issues out there. But they failed to ‘empower’ their Communication/ Information and Advocacy Officers to communicate to the public and media, and advocate their organizations objectives. So what exactly have they achieved by exhibiting? How are these organizations going to achieve their objectives, EVER, if their own people are poor representations of the organization? It seems to me that marketing is the least of their problems, and next year the money would be better spent in training their people to better represent their organization. I can’t really blame the functionaries for being afraid to speak out of turn. I blame the administrators and directors who create all the red tape in the first place. They are no better than government officials for having created such nonsensical rules for the dissemination of information.

One comment to “NGOs need to empower themselves”

  1. Comment by PEMBERAI:

    THANKS for making such an succinct observation of NGO communication resrictions. iTs sad , surbodinates rarely represent the organisation in any forn other than handing over brochures and posters to clients frequenting their stands. The problem is two sided, remain typical workers rather than parts of the organisation. others are restricted by their management. unfortunately those restricted by organisation’s communication protocol tend to pass similar instructions to communities they work with. consequently , the so called empowerment never materialises. Communinities cannot initiate new projects on existing NGO supported projects while waiting for authorisation. Hope this comes to an end . Any worker should be a typic brand ambassodor for his / her organisation.