Success of INGOs Tied to Overcoming “Innovator’s Dilemma”

FSG, a GlobalWA member and nonprofit consulting firm, recently evaluated 50 of the largest U.S.-based international non-governmental organizations (INGOs). The findings, published in the report Ahead of the Curve: Insights for the International NGO of the Future, provides systematic direction on how to be a more effective INGO.

The main focus of FSG’s report is the “innovator’s dilemma,” which suggests that INGOs are saddled with an outdated organizational model that will fail to meet the demands of the future.  This dilemma is described as the result of donor relationships that dictate funding procurement that leave little time for the development of mutual partnerships or the ability to create innovations that address global challenges. Until INGOs address these dilemmas, they will never be able to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, according to the FSG report.

The impetus for the study, according to FSG, is that “international NGOs have a unique and important role to play in addressing today’s complex global challenges. But few of them are living up to their full potential.”

The report addresses ways to combat the innovators dilemma, including that future INGOs need to anticipate, enable, and act in order to be more effective. The report findings suggest that future INGOs can anticipate future needs by following four approaches: Enhancing direct implementation; influencing systems change; harnessing the private sector; and leading multi-sector action.

The FSG report takes a strong stance on how INGOs can increase their collective impact through multi-sector partnerships. This collective impact, as well as organization strength, is also dependent on donors proactively analyzing performance. By following FSG’s advice, more INGOs should develop the tools needed to leave a lasting impact, break free of the innovators dilemma, and set themselves up for future success.

To enable INGOs of the future, operational strength must exist within the organization, according to the FSG report. It recommends that if INGOs want to be known as professional organizations, they must take an in-depth look at their strategic, funding, and organization structures. Acquiring talent and retaining creative individuals to maintain operational strength is also recommended. The report also recommends developing local partnerships with both the private and public sectors within the countries benefiting from INGO efforts.

The report concludes that effective INGOs and supportive donors must be open to new approaches and document effective and innovative strategies for future implementation.