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Home arrow Environment arrow Saving the Environment in Sub-Saharan Africa: Organizational Dynamics and Effectiveness of NGOs in Cameroon
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Nature of International Contacts and Assistance

We also asked the NGOs to describe the nature of their cooperation with international partners and about any assistance they received from them. The results, based on combining responses from these two items, appear in Table 10.2.3

Perusal of their responses indicates that, although some NGOs do benefit substantially, many of the international contacts appear to be fairly superficial and do not involve specific, concrete, direct benefits. Over half of the contacts were reported as involving some sort of exchange of information. While the information exchanged might, at times, be quite valuable, our impression from the interviews was that a good bit of what was reported here probably consisted of casual conversations at meetings or chance encounters. Twenty-five percent of the interviewees said simply that their NGO belonged to an association or network that included environmental NGOs from other nations, and 15 percent reported that they had contacts with environmental organizations elsewhere because they worked on the same general problem—but without mentioning specific joint projects. Eight percent reported mutual participation in workshops or meetings, and another 8 percent reported only vague “cooperation” with international environmental NGOs, associations, or networks. These sorts of contacts may be valuable to the NGOs in terms of providing useful information, a sense of belonging to a larger endeavor, or the prestige of having international connections, but they do not, in themselves, fill the needs of resource-poor organizations

Table 10.2 Nature of reported contacts and cooperation with international NGOs, associations, or networks

Nature of contacts and cooperation

Percentage reporting

Information/exchange of information

55

Received technical expertise/consulting

38

Received grants/contracts/subcontracts

38

Received training/participated in workshops

35

Worked together on a specific project or activity

28

Belong to a common network

25

Worked together on the same general problem or issue

15

Received equipment/supplies

13

Received a place to post information/pictures about NGO activities

10

Mutual participation in workshops/meetings

8

General cooperation (nature unspecified)

8

Other

20

for concrete assistance. The relatively low significance of the international contacts is also suggested by responses to an earlier question about the most important strengths of the NGO. Only two NGOs mentioned relationships with international partners among their strengths.

There were, however, some mentions of concrete assistance from international environmental NGOs. Over a third of the interviewees (38 percent) mentioned having received grants, contracts, or subcontracts from an international NGO or association, a topic discussed in more detail in chapter 7. Over a third reported that they had benefitted from technical expertise or consulting (38 percent) or had attended informational workshops staged by international environmental NGOs (35 percent). About one in eight said that they had received equipment or supplies.

Because a serious shortage of financial and other resources had emerged in the earlier analysis as a major hindrance to the Cameroonian-based NGOs, especially Type II NGOs, we looked especially carefully at whether the NGOs had received substantive help from international environmental NGOs or the international associations or networks in which they held membership. To do this, we dichotomized the Cameroonian NGOs according to whether they had (1) benefited from expertise or consulting, grants, contracts or subcontracts, training or workshops, or equipment or supplies provided by their international partners; or (2) received none of these.4 Overall, 50 percent of the Cameroonian NGOs received at least one of these types of concrete assistance, but there was a major gap between the Type I and Type II organizations. About two-thirds of the former (67 percent) received assistance, compared to only about a third (35 percent) of the Type II NGOs. This was only partly attributable to the lower likelihood of Type II NGOs having international contacts. Even when we looked only at Cameroonian-based NGOs that did have at least one international partner, a gap remained (87 vs. 61 percent). Not surprisingly, none of the international NGOs received any concrete assistance from other international NGOs, associations, or networks.

These results provide another indicator of the cumulative and mutually reinforcing disadvantages Type II NGOs face. Burdened with severe shortages of funds, staff, and expertise, they are in a much poorer position to approach international contacts with realistic and appealing requests for assistance or to become known and respected by international NGOs that could assist them. Comments from the director of one of the major international environmental NGOs operating in Cameroon mirrored the findings of an earlier study of environmental and other NGOs in the North-West Region (Tanga and Fonchigong, 2009) and illustrated this dilemma well. He said that some Cameroonian-based NGOs want to use his organization as a source of subcontracts and training to build their capabilities until they can take flight on their own. His NGO supports this because it wants to strengthen civil society in Cameroon. He went on to note, however, that there are other small NGOs that merely want to complain that NGOs like his get all the money from major funders, leaving them high and dry. Many of the complainers, he said, are tiny, “briefcase NGOs” with such limited capacity that it is hard to see how his NGO could work successfully with them. The director of another major international NGO made essentially the same point when discussing his NGO’s efforts to support a network of small Cameroonian NGOs in an isolated region. He said that some of them had such limited capabilities that they really could not carry out even the work that they had agreed to do.

Perhaps because of difficulties such as these, collaboration in joint projects with international NGOs, another form of contact that might benefit the Cameroonian NGOs and has been observed elsewhere in subSaharan Africa (e.g., Sithole, 2005), occurred with only modest frequency. Just over a fourth (28 percent) of the NGOs said they were working with an international environmental NGO on a specific project. Most of these appear to have been small, incidental projects, rather than ongoing, major efforts. The only international partner organization mentioned more than once was WWF, and the most common field of endeavor was forestry; however, the respondents mentioned a variety of joint project partners and areas, including solar panels, poverty reduction in communities near nature reserves, and an international campaign for children to write to government officials about the environment.

 
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