- Development NGOs face challenging times getting their messages understood and supported.
- The CONCORD DARE Forum is seeking to find new, sharper messages to foster support for development activities.
- Development NGOs should advocate for systemic economic change.
- Development NGOs need to become more relevant, trusted and political.
Development actors are facing challenging times in getting their messages understood and supported by citizens and policymakers. Rising populism and austerity regimes in many countries are undercutting support for development activities. At the same time, many people do not really understand what development NGOs are and what they do.
The CONCORD DARE Forum is the working group on development education and awareness raising (DEAR). It unites representatives of 27 national development NGO platforms and five non-governmental development organisation networks. The Forum is engaged in an initiative to find sharper new messages for development NGOs to foster support for development activities and funding. This is critical in a context where it is increasingly difficult to change the hearts and minds of the public.
This brainstorming project lab focused on five issues.
- First, as there is a need for better and more equal distribution of wealth, is there also a need for development actors to advocate for changes to economic systems? Participants said yes. There are many initiatives at local levels bringing about economic change that advance development, such as tool trading schemes and micro credits. These should be supported. At the macro level, new measurements are needed for economic growth and development. Development NGOs should educate and mobilise people to support social justice and equality.
- Second, how can solidarity be fostered at the local and global levels by bringing groups together through the unifying power of common values? Participants concluded that the local level is where the real world is happening, and that NGOs should focus on the local level, helping people decide issues for themselves and have their voices heard. Social media can facilitate communication among local groups around the world.
- Third, how can development actors build relationships with citizens and with political and social change movements? Development NGOs are not sufficiently trusted by people, participants believed. They need to become more relevant; they need to talk to people in understandable and compelling ways; and they need to become more political. They need to become system changers, not merely system ‘tweakers’. NGOs need to understand what people are really striving for in their lives as they seek to define development and well-being.
- Fourth, how can development actors build alliances of other civil society groups – for example, groups advocating environmental protection or young people’s interests – to work together on development issues? Development NGOs need new alliances, participants stressed. They need to find links with social causes that are important to people. These alliances need to be faster moving and more radical. They must understand where real power in the world lies today and be based on trust and legitimacy.
- Fifth, is a change of approach really necessary? Participants believed that development NGOs have done a pretty good job, but they need to change because the world is changing. Historically, they have been afraid of involvement with the private sector and involvement in political elections. Development NGOs need to advocate for systemic change. The goal of NGOs should be to bring about change so that they themselves become no longer necessary.
Development NGOs need new, more powerful and radical messages to gain public understanding and support. Interested citizens and groups are invited to participate in the CONCORD DARE Forum initiative (www.deeep.org/what-is-dare-.html).