How can I start an NGO?
January 25, 2009 12:06 AM   Subscribe

How do I go about creating an NGO to help a remote village in S. America?

I am a researcher who works in remote parts of South America. On a recent trip, I came across some communities who were really in need of development aid. I won't outline here the details, but the point is I would like to set-up an NGO to benefit these communities by, for example, sending them textbooks and school supplies, as well as other donations etc. Simultaneously, I would like to promote language/cultural documentation and/or preservation.

My question is, what is the best way to get this started? Perhaps someone who has done this already can point me in the direction of some resources or offer some tips.

I have the option of making the base in the US or the Netherlands... any idea where is more ideal?

posted by mateuslee to Human Relations (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Maybe you could clarify how this is different from your previous question, on the same topic? Because there were some pretty decent answers in the previous thread -- what in particular are you focused on here?
posted by Forktine at 7:14 AM on January 25, 2009

@ Fortine: Well, the situation has developed and now I know what to do and how to do it, the issue now is on formalizing it so I can more effectively do it!
posted by mateuslee at 9:21 AM on January 25, 2009

How about figuring out what those communities really need? For instance, you mentioned textbooks, but there's a substantial body of theoretical work that increasing educational spending may not be very effective, and a randomized controlled study in Kenya found that “textbooks had little effect on the scores of a typical student, and [we] can reject the hypothesis that textbooks raised average student test scores by 0.07 or more standard deviations.”

On the other hand, a de-worming effort in Kenya yielded tremendous educational benefits, in addition to the obvious health benefits.

The most common criticism of randomized controlled studies is that they're highly context dependent. I'm not saying that these studies are applicable, and I don't know enough about South America to know which studies are applicable; my point is just that simply throwing aid at a developing nation is usually ineffective.
posted by suncoursing at 9:29 AM on January 26, 2009

Apparently my response from the middle of the big SQL injection attack isn't coming back. Here's the gist of it:


There may come a time when you can best serve the aid targets by personally launching a new and dedicated organization for their aid, but when you're just starting out it makes a lot more sense to try and find a preexisting organization (perhaps a church - plenty of them around) that'll let you latch on and deliver the aid through them. There are already several charities out there that do precisely what you're proposing to do, and competing with them before you know the trade and why you should, beyond merely wanting to, is probably a mistake. Again, I'd say find someone else that's already doing this and help out, trying to manage special fundraisers through them to meet your common goals in the geographical region that you feel this special need to help. You cannot best serve them if you waste half of your time jumping through legal hurdles and blowing cash on lawyers and accountants that already has to be spent by the preexisting organizations that you might partner with. I can't find the link at the moment, but I believe there's an American one associated with George Lucas, and there's a British one by the name of READ. There may be others already in-country, though, so start making phone calls:

Regardless of whether you end up doing this on your own, doing this through a largely unrelated charity, or doing this through a major like-minded organization, don't be afraid to ask questions about the actual work you'd be doing. Talk to diplomatic missions in-country, including those of IGOs like UNICEF or the WFP and major NGOs like the Red Cross to try and understand the hurdles you'll run up against trying to locally procure the textbooks or trying to import them from countries abroad. State run agencies like America's USAID and Peace Corps may also have useful contacts, and always warrant some level of outreach when you're working towards similar goals. Then talk to organizations within the region you'd like to serve and find out what if any potential issues with graft, corruption, and the like you'll have to muddle through and how best to get them out of your way in a legal and ethical manner. Since we're talking about Latin America here, the big capital-C Church would be a good place to start and a good place to find out the names of other private organizations worth talking to. The schools themselves are, of course, also incredibly important people to talk to, but may be among the biggest hurdles you'll have to jump over, in terms of corruption and greed. Don't be afraid to ask questions, and don't be put off if you get blown off ten or fifteen times. The time spent will definitely not have been wasted.

One other thing that might be worth thinking about is giving grants to people working for-profit, partnering with in-country teachers and/or universities to produce locally relevant textbooks. If labor's as cheap there as it is in certain parts of Asia that I'm more familiar with, it might be a very worthwhile venture. This has the side benefit of also promoting local printers and their ilk. You could even go the not-for-profit route if you wanted to, using that as an excuse to raise bigger grants but demand that the books be released under a freely editable and redistributable license like the Creative Commons or GFDL.
posted by MrZaius at 8:47 AM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

@ SunCoursing: Yes, I know, and I'm not interested in throwing aid at anyone. I have figured out what the communities need. The fact is teachers and students alike have requested books, any books, which they can use since they have no material there. If the people ask for books, I think giving books to them is a valuable service.
posted by mateuslee at 8:49 AM on January 27, 2009

If the people ask for books, I think giving books to them is a valuable service.

I agree. But sourcing those books in-country, rather than importing them, is the better option. That will guarantee you that the materials will fit with the national school curriculum (if there is one), will support local book printers and importers who are usually in need of every bit of help they can get, ensures that the materials are in the appropriate language and meet cultural norms, and means you can spend your time doing something valuable (meaning, fundraising) rather than wasting it trying to figure out import/export restrictions, paying bribes at the port, and so on.

Your previous thread had some excellent advice (namely, to just begin, and sort out the legalities later), as does MrZaius' post above, suggesting that you channel your efforts through an existing organization. Either approach saves you the extensive effort and expense of creating and registering an NGO in both your own country and the countries in which you want to work, and ensures that your efforts can go directly to helping the communities in which you have been working.

That's clearly not the advice you want, but it is objectively pretty good advice.
posted by Forktine at 10:24 AM on January 27, 2009

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