Your views on iNGOs moving to the global South

    A wind vane points south. International NGOs considering to move to the global South face a number of issues to consider, including how to maintain high quality staff. Photo by: Jen / CC BY-NC-ND

    When a company relocates, one of the first steps is for employees to consider whether their families will accept moving to the new headquarters.

    This is also a concern for development professionals, and will become a reality when Oxfam International decides which city in the so-called global South will become its new headquarters. Oxfam recently confirmed its relocation plans, and we asked our members how they view the trend of large international NGOs moving away from their traditional bases in top donor countries and closer to the countries where they do most of their work.

    In a LinkedIn discussion, readers were most concerned about how the organization will be able to keep most of its international staff in the new location — even if Bangkok or Jonannesburg are considered expat-friendly development hubs.

    Some members argued that this should not be a problem, as there are many highly-qualified development professionals in both Asia and Africa, and Oxfam’s relocation could boost local hiring and create much-needed employment opportunities within both regions.

    However, other readers pointed out, iNGOs should retain some sort of balance between international and local staff, or else, as one Devex follower suggested, the "gulf" between locals and expats will remain, as is now common in country offices of large aid groups and even U.N. agencies.

    And this does not only concern the numbers, but staff influence, pay and benefits as well, noted an experienced consultant on these matters.

    “’Fairness" (internally, between ‘international’ and ‘national’ staff); accountability (to donors, beneficiaries, and other stakeholders); value for money (to borrow the DfID phrase); market-based pay management; and ability to attract and retain the right talent to deliver on mission, all play into the consideration (and effectiveness of implementation) of these organizational decisions," the expert added.

    These are just some of the issues Oxfam will likely deal with once the transition happens. In the discussion, an ActionAid staff member highlighted how the organisation’s pioneer decision to move its headquarters to Johannesburg in 2004 provided them "significant opportunities, connections, mandate and legitimacy," and how they were able to recruit "excellent" local staff — and still attract "high-quality" international staff "when needed."

    One development coach raised a radical idea: “What if we stopped using the concept of 'headquarters' all together? What if we focused on deploying talent and leadership across international organizations thinking in terms of nodes and networks? Must we have a single set of senior management co-located under one roof? Need we imagine decision-making using our 20th-century vertical, cascading structures, and instead imagine horizontal ways of organizing and cooperative approaches to assigning authority?”

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    About the author

    • Jenny Lei Ravelo

      Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.