Why A Return To Community Accountability Is The Way Forward For Local Philanthropy In Uganda

Norah Alinga Owaraga, a nonprofit leader from Uganda, illustrates the north-south dynamic of international aid and answers a pressing question: What motivates Ugandans give to local nonprofits?


There is a lot of giving happening in Uganda within our respective communities, as well between communities. Yet, most giving isn’t targeted toward nonprofits—the vehicles through which charitable initiatives are proclaimed—and instead are given toward events like weddings and burials.

Why is that? What should Ugandan nonprofit organizations do to better tap into community giving from Ugandans, including from those communities that the nonprofits proclaim good intent to serve?

To help me answer these questions, I sought wisdom from some of our CPAR Uganda Ugandan advocates who recently made cash donations to our project in partnership with GlobalGiving, for which we are raising funds to mentor disadvantaged student interns in Uganda.

I asked our donors: Why did you decide to give to our nonprofit? Their answers were enlightening and, in some cases, supported my own experiential learning, accumulated over 26 years working within the nonprofit sector in Uganda.

In summary, there are two major reasons our donors decided to give to our project. The first is the importance of the cause. The second is because they know me personally and are confident that with me in charge their gifts would be put to good use.

Our donors’ views need to be contextualized within the current image of nonprofits operating in Uganda, which has changed significantly over the last 20 years.

Let’s examine, for example, the popularity shift from “giving quietly” to “giving loudly.” In the 1990s, I remember working and interacting with representatives of our funding partners, nonprofit organizations from the global north. They insisted their respective organizations preferred to “give quietly” to their implementing counterparts—we, the Ugandan organizations—so that we, in turn, quietly do good within our communities.

To “give quietly,” they insisted on not having the logos of their organizations plastered on every physical output acquired using the funds they donated. In the early 1990s, in Uganda, it was not fashionable for nonprofits the global north to “give loudly,” as is the case now. These days, in fact, the “visibility” budget line has to be overtly provided for projects that are funded by nonprofits from the global north; which means, for example, all vehicles that are bought by donor funds now have to be heavily branded with logos and or statements such as: “This vehicle was purchased with the generous support of the people of …”

“Giving loudly” in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. The tricky bit is the image—the messaging—that gets associated with the “loud giving.” More often than not, the branded items—vehicles, offices, residencies, and others— are powerful and expensive. In comparison with those the nonprofits claim to help, the gap in lifestyles is huge.

One of our Ugandan donors remarked: “Why would I want to give to ‘experts’ who are living large?”

When a local Ugandan nonprofit accepts funds from a funder in the global north, the push for “visibility” and the requirement for branding blur the lines between Ugandan nonprofits and those of the global north. The consequence is that Ugandan nonprofits end up being perceived as successful, with huge incomes and budgets, since through branding they are closely associated with their rich global-northern counterparts. They are perceived as distant from the communities they serve.

It’s time to be accountable to our communities as much as we are to our donors, and meet people where they are.

Another one of our Ugandan donors used the example of the recent Oxfam scandal in Haiti to point out how, in his view, “The top executives of Oxfam are as though they are executives of big for-profit corporations, who once in a while do so-called corporate social responsibility.” Oxfam operates in Uganda, and like other global-northern nonprofits that have operated in Uganda for decades, their image in Uganda has significantly changed. The Oxfam example, whereas it happened in Haiti, is perceived ‘culture-normal’ for nonprofits operating in Uganda. The integrity of these global-northern organizations is increasingly perceived negatively.

Another of our Ugandan donors lamented: “Why do nonprofits hold meetings in first-class hotels in Kampala, instead of holding them in community halls within the communities that they serve? What is the logic of nonprofits bringing community members to Kampala for meetings or workshops instead of the executives of the nonprofits going down to interact with the communities that they proclaim to serve? Why should I give to nonprofits who spend money in such a luxurious way that does not build the economy of communities at the grassroots?”

My advice: Ugandan nonprofit organizations need to reclaim and maintain our original image.

Our current lifestyles need to change and revert back to when we made every effort to identify more closely with the communities that we serve. We need to be fully accountable to our communities, as much as we are to our donors.

Explore more 2019 hopes, predictions, and trends from philanthropy leaders across the globe.


Featured Photo: Transform the Lives of 13,000 HIV-Positive Ugandans by Alive Medical Services
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