Power sharing deters large NGOs from moving to Global South — ActionAid

Ten years ago, ActionAid raised eyebrows among the development community by moving its headquarters and most of its international staff from Europe to South Africa — but now an increasing number of mostly small aid groups are shifting their resources to the Global South to be closer to their beneficiaries and make partner countries more relevant.

“I think what we’ve done is absolutely visionary,” Joanna Maycock, head of ActionAid Europe and outgoing president of CONCORD, said in an interview with Devex Editor Rolf Rosenkranz at the European Development Days in Brussels. “It’s fair to say, though, that it [wasn’t] without complications. Really, it’s about giving up power.”

That’s why, she explained, some large NGOs are unwilling to follow suit — like the mHealth Alliance, which recently announced its move from Washington, D.C. to Johannesburg.

“First of all, you have to have an understanding that giving up power doesn’t mean having less power. It’s collectively having more power and the right power. And I think that’s difficult — particularly for the larger NGOs where they have a lot of power located in multiple members in the North — to really reach that consensus that they’re really prepared to take the kind of risks that we took 10 years ago,” Maycock said.

Click on the above video for more insights from the ActionAid Europe chief on how the organization was able to internationalize its operations and how European NGOs need to change to adapt to the today’s shifting development landscape.

Devex was at the European Development Days 2013. Check out our coverage of Europe’s leading global development event of the year.

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    Carlos Santamaria

    As associate editor for breaking news, Carlos Santamaria supervises Devex's Manila-based news team and the creation of our daily newsletter. Carlos joined Devex after a decade working for international wire services Reuters, AP, Xinhua, EFE and Philippine social news network Rappler in Madrid, Beijing, Manila, New York and Bangkok. During that time, he also covered natural disasters on the ground in Myanmar and Japan.