Exploring the UK’s NGO sector

By Chris Jordan, Communications and Impact Manage. This Blog first appeared at the GDI site here: http://blog.gdi.manchester.ac.uk/exploring-the-uks-ngo-sector/ 

[Visit the NGO explorer site here]

After setting out to better understand the UK’s development NGO sector, Dan Brockington and Nicola Banks soon realised that pulling together the data on thousands of charities would be a huge challenge.

After heroic amounts of filtering and crunching data, their research produced some fascinating insights into the health of the sector as a whole. While working closely with a range of charities, the researchers soon realised there was a real desire (particularly on the part of smaller NGOs and those based outside of London) to access similar information and connect with their counterparts.

While the funding environment strongly encourages (and often necessitates) collaboration across charities, there is very little support in place to facilitate that.

To help plug this gap, Dan and Nicola began working on a simple, accessible website that would allow people to search and interrogate publically available data on the vast number of UK charities working overseas. They linked up with open data enthusiasts who have already been active in this area, including Dan Kwiatkowski and David Kane, as well as like-minded colleagues in the sector in Bond (particularly Sarah Johns), the FSI and the Small International Development Charities Network Facebook group.

A combination of their enthusiasm, experience and expertise meant after only a few months of development, the NGO Explorer was unveiled at BOND and quickly put through its paces by a range of small charities.

Using the NGO Explorer to search for a country such as Malawi and you’ll find the details of 802 UK-based NGOs working in the country. You can quickly see what sectors they work in, where else they work and who they work with. The dashboard links to IATI data on projects in the country, as well as a host of other online resources. A list of all the charities and their contact details can be seen and all the data can be downloaded directly from the site. And, in what is perhaps the best feature, the site permits searches of key words used in NGOs’ own descriptions of themselves which provides a much more informed way of searching for specific activities and interests.

The same search can also provide fascinating insights into patterns within the UK. A search for NGOs in Sheffield brings up 100 different organisations, who work in 146 different countries, spending a total of £175 million a year. You can drill down into the size of these organisations by income and expenditure, with links off to a host of more detailed information.  All searches can be refined by size, activities and locations for a clearer view.

As Dan Brockington points out “providing onward links to other similar sites and networking devices is essential because a site like this can only really work if it fits into a broader ecosystem of networking activities and organisations. After all, it is only a website. To be a success it will have to be used as a spring-board for contacts, interactions and exchange.”

So far, the feedback suggests it has been playing this role. The response from contacts in DfID was “WOW!!!!” – and yes, that was four exclamation marks. Pauline Broomhead, CEO at the Foundation for Social Improvement remarked, “Whatever thoughts or ideas you’re having, you can go off and find different things. It’s a tool you can play with, which really assists with networking. In a sector that’s increasingly stretched, greater collaboration has to be the answer.”

Vic Hancock Fell, director of Raising Futures Kenya echoed these thoughts: “The future of the sector is through collaboration: we can’t exist in isolation. I’ll be using the NGO explorer to find out the other charities where I’m based in Sheffield who also work in Kenya and using it to connect with people who are doing similar work.”

The site is based on Charity Commission data for England and Wales, made accessible and kept updated via Charity Base (created by Dan Kwiatkowski). Finding ways to include Scottish and Irish NGOs in the tool is the next priority.

We’re fascinated to hear if people find the site useful and how it could be improved – so please let us know!

The NGO Explorer project was funded by the ESRC and the Global Challenges Research Fund and supported by the Universities of Sheffield and Manchester.


Note: This article gives the views of the author/academic featured and does not represent the views of the Global Development Institute as a whole.
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Half-Earth is Half-Hearted. Make way for Thanos and The Half-Universe

Megademophobia – fear of overpopulation – has a lot to answer for. Malthus is serious enough, Ehrlich almost as bad. But now there is new problem: Marvel’s Infinity Wars. This film spectacularly unites multiple comic book heroes in an orgy of destruction which culminates in the annihilation of precisely half of the people in the Universe (including many of the weirdly abled protagonists). And all this because the Bad-guy-in-chief, Thanos, fears that overpopulation causes too much suffering.

But is this the first time this idea has been circulated? A few years ago, EO Wilson, one of the most prominent biologists of the 20th century, and an evangelist for conservation, came up with the idea of Half-Earth: the notion that half of earth was to be set aside for nature. This is based on the principle that humans are not part of nature, and that for the Earth to be able to preserve its biodiversity and sustain itself, humans had to be removed from one entire half of it.

Despite the similarity of these ideas, we don’t think that the Marvel script writers are half-earthers, or that Wilson is a secret Avengers fan (unless of course of Antman). The filmmakers and conservationists are no doubt independent, original thinkers. No one has copied anyone else.

But our views are not so important here. We understand that an irate Half-Earther has been pressing the Half-Earth movement to sue Marvel comics for plagiarism. This is, of course, absurd. First, there is no plagiarism. Second, never pick a fight with Thanos. So we would like the Half-Earth movement to distance itself from such foolishness, and release the following statement:

The Half-Earth movement would like publicly to disassociate itself from any resemblance or comparison with the Marvel film Infinity Wars. Thanos’ evil plot to destroy half of all human life, and our own cunning plan, have nothing in common.  They share no affinity. Any sane observer could tell that one of these plans is a complete fantasy. It is socially (not to say politically) illiterate. It disregards the lived fabric of our lives and the role of people in creating life around us. It is only possible to conceive with new advances in computer modeling. No prizes for guessing which one that is.

Just to underline the point further we would like to point out a few of the balmier elements of Thanos’ plan compared to our own. Thanos vapourised a random half of the universe. Our plan will deliberately target the places where poorer people live. It is cheaper to move them. It is politically safer to leave the rich alone. Thanos only appeared to have human interests at heart when he abolished half of life. Our plan is not about people. It will make life better for the richer half of humanity, but, more importantly, it will also make sure that these people can continue to enjoy the best ecosystem services and the biodiversity that their wealth deserves. Also, Thanos was utterly uncompromising. We are vague and ambiguous when it comes to what sort of life will be possible in the half where people are not around.

So there is no similarity whatsoever between Thanos’ evil plan for domination and our own hopes to clear the land of people who get in the way of our understanding of nature.

To avoid all possibility of doubt we would also like to point out that none of us cheered at the end of Infinity Wars. We have not we named any of our offspring or pets ‘Thanos’ in appreciation of his achievements. Nor do we gain any succour from news that an intergalactic message has been intercepted from one Zaphod Beeblebrox to Thanos indicating that to, due to a clerical error, the wrong half was destroyed and would he accept a further 25% reduction to life in the Universe, at discounted rates?

We hope that this press release will erase all possibility of confusion and allow the rest of us to get on with the business that matters – halving all known cases of megademophobia.

For a sensible rendition of these arguments see:


This blog is written by Kartel Shockington is a failed comic book creation with special powers of rapid hair loss. He sometimes appears as Kartik Shanker, and at other times as Dan Brockington. It first appeared here.

Kartik Shanker is at Indian Institute of Science & Dakshin Foundation, Bangalore, India. Email: kshanker@gmail.com

Daniel Brockington is at the University of Sheffield, UK. Email: d.brockington@sheffield.ac.uk.

Illustrator: Amit Kaikini

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The Strange Neglect of Diversity within Microfinance Institutions

This blog was written by Dan Brockington, SIID Director.

One of the vices of poverty is not being able to access that little bit of extra money when you need it. An opportunity comes up, such as a job interview, or a useful animal you can buy, but you do not have the savings to make best use of it. The inevitable happens (relatives get married) and you cannot contribute to the celebration expenses. A tragedy strikes, such as illness, and you cannot raise the funds to deal with it. Your capacity to cope with these problems is made further complicated by the fact that, given your low income, you tend to be over-exposed to them. Alternatively a little bit of extra money can ease the expenses of being poor. The poorest families pay to save money, they pay more for basic goods (as they only purchase in small quantities), they pay very high interest rates (>100% interest on loans). But whether for major events or everyday needs, part of the condition of being poor (as research on financial diaries shows) is simply not having the liquidity– the disposable cash – that you need, when you need it.

Microfinance was intended to be revolutionary because it promised to tackle exactly this. Poor people would be able to access funds in the form of small lump sums because they could call upon their friends and relatives, who knew their risk profile rather intimately, to act as guarantors. They could then invest these loans in different small business projects, or else in just the easing the day-to-day grind of getting by. The crises of liquidity could become surmountable.

But that promise of microfinance remains unfulfilled in two respects. First, in terms of its operation it does not necessarily reach really poor families. These are, after all, the riskiest groups to lend to. It is all too easy for microfinance groups to support loans to their richer members and exclude the poorest. Gradually, over time, microfinance lending groups can themselves exclude poorer families – and the loan officers who run the group, and managers of those loan officers allow that to happen.

On the other hand, the counter-veiling tendency is that microfinance companies face severe pressures to increase the number of clients on their portfolio and make a profit. This means focussing on microcredit (rather than savings) and aggressively selling loans to the wrong people who can take on debt they are unable properly to cope with. This is particularly apparent when loans are made only to women (a common practice in many instances) who are encouraged (or forced) by male relatives to take the loans, then forced to hand the money over to men who have no intention of repaying. Once again this practice is overseen by loan officers and driven by incentives and governance by microfinance managers.

Another way of putting these points is that the performance of microfinance staff must matter a great deal for the success of the organisation and implementation of its policies. We hope that you are thoroughly unimpressed by this point. It should be plain obvious. The importance of ‘HR’ and staff management was discovered decades ago. One of the reasons why management and business schools prosper around the globe is because good leadership of companies, and the people who work in them, is really important. Employees matter for organisational performance.

But if our previous paragraph was unsurprising and banal it makes the persistent absence of research into performance withinmicrofinance organisations rather strange. While there are some authors who explore this topic, it is not a popular one in the microfinance literature. Indeed much of the microfinance research industry is founded on the assumption that organisations are homogenous and can be treated as single entities. Researchers instead concentrate on the three axes of difference that have dominated research up until this point: the nature of the clients, the broader economic and regulatory environment that surrounds them, and the sorts of loans, or products offered.

We think that more attention is needed on the work and performance of microfinance staff in microfinance research. An analogy of a play may be helpful here. Any actor will tell you that the audience (clients), stage (environment) and the quality of the dialogue and plot (products) are all important elements in any good performance. But the same actor is also likely to insist that the actors’ own work (the organisation’s staff), as well as their stage direction and production (the organisation management), also matter a great deal. We do not think that enough attention has been given to variation of performance within organisations in the microfinance community.

We have recently published a paper which illustrates the central importance of understanding diversity of organisational performance. We studied the success of BRAC’s microfinance scheme in Tanzania. BRAC originates in Bangladesh. It is the largest and one of the most successful NGOs in the world and has recently set up operations in a number of African countries. On the surface the microfinance scheme in Tanzania has been phenomenally successful, lending to tens of thousands of Tanzanian women. It had rapidly become the largest organisation of its kind in the country (as the graph below shows), at a time when most other microfinance organisations in the country were not growing. We wanted to understand why.

Cumulative surplus from BRAC microfinance loans

However we came to realise that there was not, in fact, a single story to be told about that organisation, rather there were several. Branch performance varied considerably (as the next graph shows), and seemed to reflect the influence of strong or weak area managers. This seemed to reflect the fact that BRAC seems to have been good at winning clients, but not necessarily at retaining them. This in itself was strange as many of the senior staff marvelled at the business acumen of their Tanzanian clients. Yet there were too many microfinance groups which were disintegrating and staff who were leaving. We felt that this reflected processes of institutional learning that BRAC and its (mostly Bangladeshi) senior management had to go through in order to understand how to operate in Tanzania, and to work with, and promote, Tanzanian staff. Shortly after our work was completed there was a complete overhaul of the upper levels of management with many more Tanzanian staff promoted, and trained for promotion. We suspect that this will make it easier for BRAC to perform better in the country.

Average monthly surplus of weak (n=28) and strong (n=32) branches over time

But the main point we want to make here is that diversity of performance within microfinance organisations matters. It has been neglected and this could cause problems later. For example, the current swathe of randomized controlled trials (RCTs– and see here or here for an interesting critique of them) hinge on robust designs that can construct sufficiently large samples to explore the impact of explanatory variables. However if important explanatory variables are omitted then RCTs may be poorly designed. It follows that, if organisational heterogeneity has not been adequately factored into RCTs, so therefore their power will be reduced. It also means that, in order properly to cope with organisational variety, RCTs will become larger and yet more expensive.

This neglect of diversity also runs counter to good practice in understanding development challenges. It becomes difficult to search for the positive outliers, and understand what makes them a success, if our conceptual frameworks does not allow for diversity, difference and outliers in the first place. We look forward to more explorations of diversity and heterogeneity within microfinance organisations, in order that the products they offer can be better delivered to the clients who need them despite the environmental challenges they face.

This blog was first published on the SIID site in August 2018.

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The Sesame Seed Cash Injection: Asset Investment and Economic Change in Mtowisa Village, Rukwa Region 2000-2016

At the heart of the long-term livelihood change project is the question ‘is Tanzania’s growing national economic prosperity visible in its rural areas?’. If ever there was an archetypal place to seek answers to this question, it would be the village of Mtowisa, down in the Rift Valley, close to Lake Rukwa in Rukwa region (southwest Tanzania), where I lived there for almost a year between 1999 and 2000 as part of a post-doctoral research fellowship. The village is not far, as the crow flies, from the regional capital of Sumbawanga, which is barely 15km away. But the flying crow has an easier route than humans, as it can soar over the 1200m escarpment that separated the town from the village. Residents had to walk between the two, else brave a long and difficult journey on bad roads. This was a village that felt far from anywhere, where most people were small-scale farmers, cultivating 2 acres or so. Only 20% of families owned cattle and then but small herds. Most lived in simple grass-rooved houses. Mtowisa in 2000, had not really been touched by 10 years of economic growth that had already occurred in Tanzania – how has it fared in the 16 years of strong economic growth between 2000 and now?

I returned to Mtowisa in August 2016 interviewing 64 domestic units, local shopkeepers and government officials, travelling to neighbouring villages and fishing camps with friends, visiting new irrigation schemes and holding two village meetings (for women and men). Revisiting the place was a wonderful experience. All through the visit I had people complaining that I was not coming to their house to do the survey: ‘njoo uniandikie mimi pia’, (come and write about me, too) was a common refrain (only one person refused to take part). It was unusual to have to think up reasons why I could not do so. I’m afraid my Swahili was not up to explaining the importance of a random sample.

At first sight the changes to the village appeared remarkable. Transport to the place is much improved with year round bus-services. The village centre was transformed. I had known it as a sleepy place with one major shop and a small hospital, where cars came infrequently, and motorbikes were rare. Now there were numerous shops, nearly 20 bodaboda (motorcycle taxis), gas and electric welding (the latter run on a powerful generator), several phone shops and a well-equipped hardware store. The hospital had an operating theatre and there were lots of solar powered lights (and stereos, making the place a much louder one at night). There is a large phone tower in the village (since 2008).

There was an abundance of metal roofed homes, and many single rooms being rented. Numerous pigs roamed the streets or were kept in small compounds near people’s houses (these had also been unusual in 2000). The small irrigation furrows I had left behind were still present, and indeed had expanded in number. In the dry season they were used (since about 2012) to cultivate tomatoes, cabbage and onions and there were around 10 petrol powered pumps which withdrew river water to pump to near by farms.

 But the presence of these changes, does not answer the question posed above. What matters is how this apparent wealth and new business had affected the lives of the poorer farmers of Mtowisa. Were these changes welcome to them? Did them benefit from them?

To explore this I drew upon a survey of 800 plus domestic units I had conducted in 2000. I selected 64 units to revisit and compared their asset ownership to their state in 2000, and to the asset ownership of domestic units with similarly aged heads in 2000. My original survey did not include many wealthy Sukuma immigrants, and the new sample included no domestic unit heads below 35 years old. But it still provides useful insights into the condition of older domestic units.

The differences can be very simply stated. Older families in Mtowisa now enjoy higher levels of prosperity, as measured in assets, than they did 16 years ago. They enjoy higher levels of prosperity than their counterparts of an equivalent age expected to achieve in 2000. They are wealthier because of their farming, and, in particular because they are selling more cash crops, specifically sunflower seeds and sesame, with the latter providing the most substantial change.

The evidence for this change is as follows. First, with respect to key measures of herd and plough ownership the sample visited is wealthier than it was in the past, and compared to the group of similar aged domestic unit heads in 2000 (see Table 1). Oxen ownership has increased by half (and if we include oxen borrowed from wealthy Sukuma patrons it doubles to 41%). Pig ownership has increased dramatically, and ownership of ploughs has more than doubled.


Second, with respect to farming activity, people are simply farming more. They are farming larger areas than they were previously, with fewer 2 acre farms in particular and more farms over 5 acres. Younger families (of those over 35) are more industrious than they were previously. All families are farming more cash crops, with proportionally less maize is grown than before. The decline in the proportion of maize is due to more farming of sunflowers and sesame. Third, housing quality has improved, particularly with the spread of metal roofing, as these pictures show.

These depict houses in 2003, 2010 and 2013 with houses built in the interval between the photos ringed in blue and yellow respectively.

The other source of evidence on housing change are the narratives that I was told repeatedly by many people: that they had been able to invest in their houses because of their farming activity. It is a very simple story, but no less heartening for that. The narratives demonstrates when the changes in people’s homes and other assets occurred and why. Figure 1 shows what people were purchasing, and when.

This figure demonstrates that the scale of the investments are considerable, if quite recent. The main reason for that growth in investment, as shows, is the increased sales of sesame and sunflower seeds.

After 2010 farmers were able to yield fantastic returns, of, I was told, between 250,000/= and 300,000/= per sack of sesame. This is more than enough for a roll of metal roofing, and only two rolls would be required to roof a standard sized house. One story illustrates well the joy and surprise that these returns caused to farmers in Mtowisa. I was told that one farmer (we will call him Darius), who I met in the survey work and who had not been particularly industrious or wealthy in 2000, went up to Sumbawanga to sell his sesame in 2011. This was a collective enterprise, with many farmers loading their harvest onto the lorry of the local shop owner to take it to the depot in Sumbawanga where better prices can be realized. On receiving his payment for two sacks of sesame (500,000/=) Darius was simply left shock (amekaa bubuwazi). He sat down in a corner of the weighing room, still full of the hustle and bustle of heavy sacks being moved, weighed and paid for, because he had never in his life expected to have so much money. His friends had to guide him to a guest house where he could safely spend the night. The next day he had recovered sufficiently to buy metal sheets for a new house (which are also much less easily stolen than money). He built a new house that year and extended it the year after following further sales. It is because of repeated stories like Darius’ that the appearance of Mtowisa, and the daily lives of so many of its residents have been so thoroughly changed. Higher sesame seed prices have given a substantial cash injection to many people’s livelihoods.

A Universal Improvement?

Altogether 66% of the sample had experienced an increase in assets in some way over the previous 16 years – but what subtler changes does this bald statistic conceal? There are two general trends to note. First, the improvement in assets is general across most wealth groups, but richer, more industrious families, have tended to be able to benefit from the cash crop returns more than families who were poorer and farming less in 2000.

Older people, female headed domestic units, and smaller families tended to improve their asset base less than younger, male-headed, larger units. This trend reflects changes in the lifecycle of domestic units where older people farm less, where widows also farm less, and where both tend to support fewer dependents.  This means that, had the sample been more representative of village society, and had fewer older people and fewer domestic units headed by widows then it is likely to have had more instances of successful asset growth.

Nonetheless the general conclusion from these trends is that, within the constraints of age and senescence, the injection of resources that the recent cash crop boom has provided has been remarkably catholic. Access to this resource was not restricted to existing asset rich households (although an existing asset base clearly helped). Any family able to manage its affairs wisely, and enjoying a modicum of good luck, was able to benefit.

Finally, it bears repeating that assets are but one aspect of prosperity. The families I visited, in the main, had enjoyed a recent cash injection from which they had invested in assets. But there are many other dimensions of poverty that remain untouched by this welcome change. The standards and ease of accessing health and educational services, care for the long term sick and elderly, basic measures of dignity and so on are all ignored by this survey. Our methods and sources do not allow us to make the long term comparisons required to document the changes (or lack thereof) that have occurred here. But that does not make them any less important.

Answering the Question: the national economy and rural prosperity

Assets matter. Many of the Fipa families with whom I spoke place considerable significance on the major purchases that they will need to make in order to have a good life and provide for their children. They will need to buy a plot (150,000/=), build a good house (300,000 – 500,000/=), buy land (400,000/= an acre for unirrigated land), buy oxen (200,000/= a head) and a plough (150,000/=). And most of the families in this sample were taking significant steps in building that asset base.

But how do these changes answer the original question with which we began? To what extent are rural areas benefitting from economic growth in the nation as a whole? The answer in the case of Mtowisa, is rather ambiguous. The direct connections between economic growth and local changes in prosperity are surprisingly hard to demonstrate.

Some of the changes that took place here do not seem to depend on changes to transport provision and road quality. The sesame seed price rise took place some time after the local road had been completed, and before the metalled road between Mbeya and Sumbawanga had been built. Many of the assets (land, burned bricks, timber for rooves and oxen) can be locally sourced. Moreover the continued lack of provision of key services that are the state’s responsibility (water, TASAF social security payments for the elderly and extremely poor) mean that despite the state’s growing prosperity residents of Mtowisa remain as disadvantaged as ever.

Other aspects of the changes are likely to be connected to national economic change. The availability of metal roofing sheets and ploughs, and the price of some crops will reflect national change. But it is unlikely that these are well connected to the sectors which have, apparently, been driving Tanzanian economic growth in recent years.

But if this has been a case of separate development it is likely that, in the future, the fortunes of this village will be tied to the country’s more powerfully than before. Agricultural activity will continue to intensify. The changes in Mtowisa between 2000 and 2016 have been dramatic, and most of them are less than five years old. They are nothing, however, to those that are about to unfold over the next ten as this once remote village becomes increasingly integrated into the national economy.

This blog first appeared on the Long term livelihood CHange project here.

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The evidence suggests that support for UK development NGOs is actually growing

International development NGOs are facing interesting times in the UK. We live in a rising tide of nationalism, parochialism and suspicion of, not care for, distant strangers. Austerity measures make charities, and the giving public, poorer. And this was all before the safeguarding scandal put the entire sector on the back foot. The public mood appears more hostile to international development than ever.

At the risk of being heretical, we want to suggest that these threats may be exaggerated. Support for development NGOs is not merely resilient; it is growing. Entrepreneurial NGOs are creating new constituencies that champion new development causes. Far from being a sector under threat, we see a rich diversity of development NGOs flourishing in the UK, sustained by influential minorities.

These are the inescapable conclusions of our study of the changing fortunes of 898 development NGOs in England, Wales and Scotland as part of a collaborative project by the Universities of Sheffield and Manchester, with considerable consultation across the sector. Here are four key findings from the main report, which we should bear in mind as we think through current challenges

1. There are more and more development NGOs. Numbers have been increasing, not decreasing over time. This is despite mergers and declines of a prominent few. There seems to be a sustained appetite for new organisations. Moreover newer organisations can grow quite quickly – age is no guarantee of size.

2. They are spending more and more money. Expenditure by these organisations has increased from just over £3.5 billion to over £5 billion per year by 2015, with scarcely a blip

Note: excludes STC International and the British Council for reasons we explain in the full report

3. The sector expands through entrepreneurship not cannibalism. Development NGOs are expanding in size and financial health by finding new sources of funds, not by stealing supporters from their colleagues. The increases in the number and budgets of the larger organisations cannot be explained by declines in other organisations. This means that these organisations are finding new sources of funding from new supporters, not raiding existing supporter bases. This in turn suggests that fundraising is really important for expansion. NGOs which sustain high expenditure almost all invest in fundraising.

4. This growth has been possible primarily through the generosity of the British public, which is by far the largest source of funds for the sector. It has given just under £10 billion from 2009-2014. It is currently the most important single source of funding, accounting for over 40% of income. The dominance of public giving is plain for all sizes of organisation. And, if that’s not enough, income from the public is increasing even as public disposable income falls as this article shows.

Source of income for NGOs of different size classes

The vigour of the sector puts a different gloss on current travails. It does not make the opposition any less painful or politically dangerous. We are particularly keenly aware of the challenges to the 0.7% commitment. But it does change the challenge facing development NGOs – for it means that the hostility of other elements of the British public is less financially threatening than is often assumed.

We know that overall, UK charities are not sustained by the general public as a whole. Rather, as John Mohan’s work has shown, the sector is primarily supported by a ‘civic core’ of about 31% of the nation which is responsible for 79% of giving and 87% of volunteering. Development NGOs appear to be a special instance of this bespoke supporter action. They may even have their own civic core, for while the rest of the charitable sector has been struggling in recent years, development organisations have been enjoying healthy growth. They are, relatively, austerity proof.

There is something rather remarkable about the development NGO sector as we have described it here. Even in the aftermath of the safeguarding scandal there is evidence to suggest that support for development NGOs has remained resilient. In an era of Brexit, growing insularism, anxiety about refugees and pressure on the Aid budget, the number of charities which work on famine relief and overseas poverty increases at double the rate of other charities. Perhaps this is not a sector which should be understood in terms of what average Britons think or believe, or even dominant political discourses. Perhaps this is the outpouring of a rather stronger vein of cosmopolitanism and concern for distant strangers that runs deep in such a significant minority of people that the creativity and resources of that minority are yet to be exhausted. Perhaps the sector, by virtue of its growth and vigour, creates the very markets and audiences that it seeks funding and support from.

These findings may surprise many colleagues are facing difficult fund-raising environments and hostile media. One of the reasons we have published this blog is that we want to ask ‘do they resonate with your experience’? We would love to hear your views as we pursue our next steps. On our part one challenge is that we cannot tell who this giving public is from current data, or how supporter constituencies are formed, and what conducive environments produce them. We want to understand who constitutes the giving public for development NGOs.

Development NGOs still face some of their most challenging times. There is good evidence that the consequences of episodes of hostility and opposition are felt many years in the future, not in the immediate aftermath. And a far more robust response to the safeguarding crisis is essential. But our point is not that these challenges do not exist, or are somehow irrelevant. Rather our research suggests that the sector can face them with a strong tail-wind of core believers who back them still.

This blog is co-authored by Nicola Banks and first appeared on the FP2P blog here.

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Aid scepticism isn’t damaging donations to international charities – but it might in future

Getting aid to those who need it in Kenya. Oxfam International/flickr.com, CC BY-NC-ND

Christmas is a time for giving, when people think about how to extend their generosity to those in greater need. We put additional items in our trolley to donate for food banks, have a clear out of blankets, warm clothes or toys for local charities, or search for unique charity gifts that help disadvantaged people overseas.

Since the financial crisis, international aid and development spending has been in the firing line. The British government’s pledge to spend 0.7% of gross national income on aid has acted as a lightning rod for criticism from the right-wing media, who claim the money is mispent and that it should be spent in the UK.

My colleagues and I were interested in exploring the effects of austerity and the continuing narrative of aid scepticism on the development sector. So we embarked on a quest to map the UK’s development NGOs, including charities who help in emergency situations as well as those funding longer-term development projects.

We’ve now produced a database of over 900 development NGOs that spend over £10,000 a year, tracking their incomes and expenditures from 2009 to 2015 (the last year of publicly available data). In 2015 alone, we found that the British public contributed 40% of the sector’s overall income of nearly £7 billion – equivalent to around half of aid spending of £12.2 billion by the government in that year.

Public keep on giving

The public is by far the major donor to British NGOs working in international development, contributing more to the sector than government grants, other charities and business combined.

Donors have remained committed to this generosity, even as incomes have been squeezed. Public giving did not followed downward trends in real household income – their peaks and troughs have been diametrically opposed across the period we looked at. At first we thought these sustained and increasing contributions were largely driven by rich philanthropists whose incomes may have been largely protected since the financial crisis. But at a recent event we held on public attitudes to international development we were challenged on this.

Fundraisers told us they were not surprised that donations have increased even as incomes have been squeezed, highlighting ancedotally that regular members of the public, rather than major donors, have always – and remain — their biggest funder.

Changes in giving from the public to development NGOs and real household disposable income available in the UK. Author provided, Author provided

International development is just a drop in the ocean when it comes to the UK’s overall charitable funding. An analysis of Charities Commission data highlights that most charitable expenditure – £53 billion out of £68 billion in 2015 – is spent by charities that operate only in the UK. Charitable expenditure on international development is less than 10% of the total of what charities spend.

The British public has provided the backbone to a sector that has shown sustained growth since the early 2000s – in both the number of organisations and in total funding. Up until 2015, the last year of data available for our analysis, there was no sign of a decrease in the number of organisations or overseas expenditure. Income across the sector is distributed highly unevenly, with the 77 largest organisations (8% of the 900 NGOs in our database) accounting for over 90% of the sector’s expenditure. Our data shows government funding going almost exclusively to NGOs with incomes over £1m and a large increase in government funding to NGOs spending more than £100m since 2010. This makes income from the public particularly important for small to medium-sized development NGOs earning less than that.

Concerns for the future

Our research may show a largely positive situation for the UK’s development NGOs, but the picture is not universally rosy. These findings are at odds with growing concerns within the sector, include unease around a funding environment that is getting harder and harder, with growing competition and a public that are getting less receptive or more hostile to international development causes.

The data is not yet available to look at how funding trends continued across the sector in 2015 and 2016, but the people in NGOs we’ve spoken to feared that the sustained commitment they had seen until recently was no longer looking as robust, and that new data protection changes could hinder their fundraising and campaigning activities.

Our findings only track trends until 2015, the latest year when income data is universally and publicly available. There have seen many changes since, including a Brexit vote that deepened the “charity begins at home” narrative. Both academic colleagues and those working in NGOs fear this will weaken the British public’s engagement with the overseas charitable sector.

The Gates Aid Attitude Tracker project has been tracking changes in attitudes to aid across the UK, revisiting the same households every six months since 2013. Their findings suggest that the number of people in its sample donating money to international development causes dropped in the second half of 2015 and has remained lower ever since. Economic issues and attitudes to immigration were found to negatively influence public engagement in the sector.

Changes at home will be exacerbated by UK-based NGOs potential losses from EU development funding, for which they may no longer be eligible after Brexit. A post-Brexit weakened exchange rate has also increased the costs of funding projects and infrastructure overseas: a double-whammy. Now is the time to reaffirm our commitments internationally as well as at home.

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Tigers, elephants ask: what have royals ever done for us?

This blog is co-authored with and first appeared in the Conversation here
Royal interest in tigers has cut both ways through the years. S. Taheri

On the face of it the British royal family’s commitment to wildlife conservation is unmistakable.

Perhaps the most well-known work is that of Prince Charles, who in May co-hosted a meeting on illegal wildlife trade, just one of many of his endeavours that include high level activities on rainforests and considerable work in Britain.

Both his father Prince Philip, who co-founded the WWF, and his son Prince William (now the Duke of Cambridge), are actively involved in global conservation. Indeed Prince William recently retired from his role as a RAF helicopter pilot to focus on his charity work, launching the United for Wildlife conservation alliance.

Less well known is that Princess Michael of Kent is a patron of the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust, Mark Shand (the brother of Camilla Parker-Bowles, Prince Charles’ wife) set up the charity Elephant Family, and Prince Andrew has visited game reservation areas in Tanzania.

But their work is far more than just supporting and establishing charitable activities. What the royal family has done historically and continues to do for conservation in Britain is to drive a particular vision of what conservation should be, an influence that continues to this day.

We need to be careful. Any conservation vision is also inherently a social vision. Any battle for wildlife is a battle fought between people, which means people as well as animals will be among the casualties. The royal family is no stranger to these dilemmas and has found itself embroiled in controversy in the past. For example, when a WWF helicopter donated by Prince Philip was used in a shoot-to-kill anti-poaching operation in Sapi safari area in Zimbabwe in the 1980s. The helicopter was quickly withdrawn, but left a PR disaster for the WWF and its royal benefactors.

This is one of the problems of conservation visions, particularly in those overseas issues with which the royal family is associated. On the one hand, it can gloss over the power relations and responsibilities entailed when Britons take an interest in overseas conservation.

For example, as patron of the Tusk Trust Prince William said last year, “Africa’s natural heritage is the world’s natural heritage. We have to preserve places like this… not just for us, but for future generations.” Preserving African landscapes for “us” essentially meant wealthy Britons, for they were the audience. But whose lands are they? If they are part of the world’s heritage, then who in the world gave the Prince William the responsibility to lead conservation efforts? This is the sort of thinking which raises hackles and leads to phrases like “new imperialism”.

On the other hand it can promote particular ideas of what Africa should look like, and where wilderness should be, that obscures the complex, messy politics behind the practicalities of conservation.

The future King Edward VIII at a tiger shoot in Nepal during his Indian tour of 1921. PA

Work with wildlife charities is a mark of respectability, like working with children’s charities or supporting a hospital. It seems apolitical and is unlikely to ruffle any government feathers. Who could argue with wanting to save the elephants or tigers? Well, the national park in Tanzania that Princess Michael of Kent’s charity supports was cleared of several thousand residents by an illegally conducted eviction – but you would be hard put to find details of that from the organisation involved. And the reserve that Prince Andrew visited (a hunting preserve) has since been at the centre of an only recently resolved dispute over evicting thousands more pastoralists.

Let us not forget the royal family is privileged. It moves in privileged circles – indeed, it sits among the pinnacle of the global elite. And ever since William the Conqueror set aside one third of England as personal hunting preserves, conservation has been deeply implicated in the defence of privilege. While the British monarchy and others have been central to the spread of conservation, it is based on elite privilege, exclusion, dispossession and separation of humans from their environment.

Our point here is not that the elite’s interactions with nature are somehow unsavoury, even though it may involve a certain amount of hunting. But while the British public were upset that Prince Philip shot a tiger shortly after founding the WWF, and while the Spanish public were furious that their king went hunting elephants as they struggled with economic woes, there was very little adverse impact to wildlife (besides the trophy victims).

The point is rather that royalty more often draws attention, bringing a certain amount of glamour and excitement to particular experiences of nature. In the 1920s, the East African safaris of the future kings Edward VIII and George VI helped mould the expectations of what such trips should be like. Royal support causes Britons to notice and listen, and many will do so less critically than they might otherwise.

Fortunately, our royal family is, at its core, public-spirited. By this we mean that one of its goals is undoubtedly a society which is more alive to conservation issues. And this ultimately will entail moving away from elitist, white, wealthy people that engage in external interventions in countries and communities far distant from their headquarters. It means a move to more local and grassroots conservation organisations instead, and a recognition that this a fight to shape and determine the terms of the debate, a war of position as the Italian intellectual Gramsci would put it, as much as a battle.

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