Articles, posts and podcasts about sustainable supply chains, mostly


What does the ‘implementation’ NGO of the future look like?

My last post on WWF and Greenpeace has generated some comments and emails. These have been mostly supportive, and a couple suggesting I am being overly harsh on WWF.

I agree, I am harsh on them. I take no pleasure in beating them up on the blog.

We need them to be better, so I’m trying to help them see they need to change. (I’m aware how pompous that sounds, but it is true)

I do see part of the role of the blog to reflect the views of my readers, which that post very much did. If I hear a lot of people talking about something, I blog on it with a view. That’s part of the point of blogging.

To my mind (such as it is) the ‘implementation’ NGO of the future is comprised of committed niche experts and is small enough, flexible enough and cost efficient enough to get real work done, as well as being strong minded and not worried about saying no to companies.

The Forest Trust is an excellent example.

The complex problems companies face will need ever more specialist help on the ground.

The NGOs that help will follow this model: Nimble, niche, specialist and uncompromising.

I can’t see a better solution. Tell me I’m wrong.

(I understand that in some areas, disaster relief, for example, scale is important. That said, one of the most interesting and innovative NGOs in that space, is tiny, but brilliant)


  1. Thanks for the link (and the puff), Toby.

    For those of you who haven't bothered to check out who "one of the most interesting and innovative NGOs in that space" is, it's Advance Aid. As he says, we are tiny – time will tell whether we are also brilliant!

    But one of the premises that we are working on is that many aid agencies have moved in the opposite direction to companies over the past twenty years, adding functions like mad whilst large companies have all been through multiple BPO exercises and learned to identify core skills and focus on those.

    So we're aiming to specialise in just one area and do it better than anyone else – pre-positioning emergency relief supplies and buying them all locally in Africa. Simples.

    As Toby says, 'Nimble, niche, specialist and uncompromising'. And Yes, we could use some help!

  2. Linda

    I think it sounds wise that NGOs should become more specialized to be able to be as efficient as possible.

    If you think of the world as a big stage built on poles, every pole needs to be built in a way that it will last. If you build some of the poles really quickly, and not doing all parts in the construction process (at least not properly), those poles will eventually start to break down and that part of the stage (world) will need to be constructed again.
    But on the other hand, if you put a lot of effort and time into building that pole, it will likely last, not forever, but longer.

  3. blog:
    twitter: @LongRunThinking

    FYI – For a GREAT book on the history of some of the bigger NGOs and how they became what they are today, check out Green, Inc.

    I once asked someone from WWF what he thought of Greenpeace. He said "If not for them, we wouldn't be able to do what we do." What he made me realize is that there is a spectrum of NGOs out there, ranging from the more radical/action-oriented (Greenpeace, PETA, Sea Shepherd) to the bigger, more bureaucratic ones that bend to corporate interests (I'd argue WWF, EDF, Sierra Club, Conservation International). So in this person's mind, Greenpeace aggressively causes/pushes the companies to do something, but when the companies want to do it they work with WWF because Greenpeace has pissed them off too much. So it's almost like it could be an unspoken agreement…GP pushes the companies, then WWF comes in and works with the companies to get something done rather than nothing.

    Now that I've said all of that, I'm not necessarily sure I agree with what this person was telling me or that as strategy. I don't particularly like how a lot of these big NGOs cave in the businesses (how did this happen?). Helping Walmart increase efficiencies does not equal saving the planet they all say is in need of saving.

    I recently heard a talk with Peter Seligman of Conservation international and the moderator asked him about their work with Fiji water. He asked "Why is CI even working with them?" CI is only helping them be "less bad" rather than actually "good", and Fiji gets to say they work with CI.

    I'm much more into the principled approaches of GP, PETA, and Sea Shepherd. At lease at the end of the day they can look at themselves and feel comfortable that they are taking a stand. I also heard Paul Hawken recently say that "the real radicals are the oil industry execs who are taking fossil fuels out of the ground and jeopardizing our health and future in the name of profit."