Elevating NGOs role key to developing society in the Philippines

A man sells replicas of the Philippine flag at the Rizal Park. The U.S. Agency for International Development announced the $24 million Philippine-American Fund aimed at funding development projects of local NGOs to fast-track the achievement of development goals. Photo by: Patrick Jude Ilagan / CC BY-NC-SA

For sustainable and inclusive growth to be fully realized in the Philippines, nongovernmental organizations should have a more central and elevated role in societal development.

Following the announcement of the $24 million Philippine-American Fund by the U.S. Agency for International Development aimed at funding development projects of local NGOs, pressure to deliver results from these groups is higher as ever, something which is crucial for progress to happen.

“There should be much greater awareness of the importance of bringing NGOs to a higher level of management expertise, of professionalism, of financial governance, of creativity and of the ability to undertake larger programs so that they can truly transform society, especially the disadvantaged,” Phil-Am Fund chief of party Victoria Garchitorena told Devex.

The Phil-Am Fund is part of USAID’s Partnership for Growth Program, which hopes to assist target countries El Salvador, Ghana, the Philippines and Tanzania to fast-track the achievement of development goals. The fund, according to Garchitorena, will focus governance, economic development, biodiversity, anti-trafficking of persons and combating the last mile challenges in education.

The Philippines, considered to have one of the most vibrant NGO communities in the world, currently has around 60,000 registered aid groups including about 10,000 listed civil society groups and around 5,000 development-oriented groups, according to a recent report by the World Association of Non-Governmental Organizations.

Despite this, effectiveness of development programs remains to be a challenge for most NGOs as well as donors, something which needs to be addressed in the country’s development landscape.

Sign of confidence

The funding initiative comes at a time where the Philippine government and some members of the NGO community are under intense scrutiny following a public fund scam where fake NGOs embezzled millions with the connivance of local politicians. USAID itself was involved a few months ago in another controversy when it accused an anti-human trafficking group of fraud.

Despite these issues, Garchitorena insisted that this move demonstrates the U.S. government’s continuing trust and belief in the country’s NGO community.

“The launch of the [program] is a clear message that the U.S. government and USAID have trust and confidence in the legitimacy and capability of Philippine NGOs, which have been laboring in the field for decades,” she said.

The infamous NGOs involved in the scandal, she added, are non-existent and it would be unfair to “tarnish all Philippine NGOs with the same brush” — something that would drastically affect prospective aid donors’ engagement with local humanitarian organizations in the future if not clarified.

The Phil-Am Fund, handled by the Gerry Roxas Foundation, will be open for project proposals not just for local NGOs but also for the private sector, members of the academe and professional institutions among others over the next five years, stressing the importance of these organizations in achieving long-term development for the Philippines.

“There is so much to do to assist the disadvantaged among us that there is enough work for all types of NGOs. Even the government, with its massive resources cannot do everything. This where NGOs come in. They complement government efforts and sometimes even pilot programs that [they] can then scale up,” Garchitorena noted.

Increasing effectiveness, efficiency

But for development initiatives to fully make an impact in transforming society, Garchitorena said due diligence coupled with strict monitoring and evaluation reports should be implemented on each project.

“What is important is that we do due diligence on those NGOs which will apply for the grant to make sure they are legitimate, they have good performance practices and they have a track record [of] good development projects,” she said.

Other monitoring steps planned include a pre-award survey, financial capability review and a review of the NGO’s capability to undertake the projects all throughout. Periodic monitoring and evaluation will also be done throughout the duration of the project.

Garchitorena hopes the Phil-Am Fund will serve as a case where focusing on the empowerment of local NGOs can spread rapid change in society and convince other aid donors to do the same.

“The aid community could look at the [fund] to see whether they too can be more flexible in the types of programs they will fund, and can be more open to new ideas, and new ways of doing things.”

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About the author

  • Lean Alfred Santos

    Lean Alfred Santos is a former Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. He previously covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics.