“The Role of NGOs in Achieving the Millennium Development Goals”

  • Posted on: 18 April 2008
  • By: Bryan Schaaf

As part of Johns Hopkins University International Development Series, Charles MacCormack, President and CEO of Save the Children, spoke on the potentials and limitations of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). As development experts realize the fact that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) play a key role in achieving the MDGs, MacCormack discusses specific strategies that NGOs can implement in order to realize the full potential of the MDGs. What role do NGOs play in achieving the MDGs and how does this affect a country such as Haiti?


Charles MacCormack begins by asking the question, "Are the Millennium Development Goals really sufficient in addressing poverty"? He believes it is a great start, but the problem lies in the approach to these goals. The fact that they are not approached as a comprehensive, systematic, and interdependent package can limit the potential of the effort. MacCormack recognizes that, in this regard, donor agencies and NGOs can be part of the problem.




Despite the superficial controversies surrounding the ‘Make Poverty History' campaign, Europe has gotten the public to think more comprehensively by putting the MDGs into a package that views poverty alleviation as a systematic process. Whereas in the US the public has become confused with the overall message of the MDGs due to the multitude of campaigns focusing on different poverty issues. With no real coherent call to action, the public has become overwhelmed with where to focus our efforts (i.e. money).


In the fundraising world, over $70 billion of the total annual aid of $158 billion flows from private resources to NGOs - that is over 43% of total aid. Where does this $70 billion in aid come from? Megaphilanthropists, global corporations, celebrities, new bi-lateral donors, and "The Global Public". A great example of the global public is in Dubai, MacCormack describes how universities raised $500 million in three weeks for MDG 2 (Achieving Universal Primary Education). Public donors (such as universities in Dubai) have become the top contributors in aid, with most of those funds channeled down to NGOs, as classic governmental agencies become minority players in the development assistance world.


It's easy to see why NGOs have become a major player in achieving the Millennium Development Goals and most importantly in alleviating poverty. MacCormack describes this as an arena with "no games, no coach, and no rules", where the shift in players has become of real importance. As the fundraising process becomes even more competitive amongst NGOs, what kinds of management skills are necessary to be most effective in this environment and how do we really create a more strategic approach to achieving the MDGs?



Fortunately many heads of government are recognizing the integral role of NGOs. Just yesterday in Washington Prime Minister Gordon Brown met with governmental aid agencies as well as with some major NGOs, such as Save the Children, in order to coordinate better with one another. While efforts like this move forward, other challenges arise such as who to include from the massive NGO world. Unfortunately as specific strategies are developed and mistakes are recognized, countries like Haiti will continue to suffer from the consequences of these efforts until a more sustainable and holistic approach is taken. As in the current situation, understanding the pitfalls of emergency food handouts and investing efforts in local agricultural production.

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