25 January 2012

Who Are the Top NGOs in the World?

Update 1PM 1/25/12 at bottom of post.

According to the Global Journal, the top 10 NGOs in the world are:
  1. Wikimedia Foundation
  2. Partners In Health
  3. Oxfam (GB)
  4. BRAC
  5. International Rescue Committee
  6. PATH
  7. CARE International
  8. Médecins Sans Frontières
  9.  Danish Refugee Council
  10.  Ushahidi
The first 9 are not terribly surprising, but Ushahidi sticks out like a sore thumb.  Not because it may or may not deserve the #10 ranking, rather it is the new kid on the block.  Wikipedia is also a young NGO compared to the rest, but its ubiquity and use is so wide that it feels a bit like an old hat.

Ushahidi, on the other hand, was born as the result of the Kenyan post-election violence in late 2007 and early 2008.  It is the toddler among a group of adults. It is also the most polarizing of the group. There are the supporters who say that crowdsourcing information can bring about more transparency by putting power in the hands of the citizens.

Critics argue that one size does not fit all and the context for gathering data varies greatly from country to country.  Even when the service is used, it is a question of what can actually be done in response.  Finally, the down side to crowd sourced information is that you are trusting that people will provide factual accounts.

It appears that the Global Journal was persuaded by what Ushahidi could do in the future.
The organization is quick to point out, however, that Ushahidi’s products hold far more promise. As Executive Director Juliana Rotich explains, some of the uses will be humanitarian, but the software has already been utilised in unforeseen ways: “I think that is telling; we are a platform company, we make technology that can be used and customized in different ways, and this affords people a lot of creativity”. Ultimately, the possibilities for combining social activism, public accountability and geo-spatial information are limited only by the imagination of the organizations and groups seeking to drive change. It is for this reason that Ushahidi has had such a pervasive impact in such a short period of time, and why it has opened eyes to the potential for other fruitful marriages of new technologies with longstanding NGO priorities.
I would have not included Ushahidi in the top 10 if I was making the list, but they would not be too far off.  Potential is important, but it should be tempered with a little patience.  Kwame Brown was supposed to be the next great NBA superstar and he is now the poster-child for how everything can go wrong when a player has an unlimited upside and little discipline.

All in all, the list is a who's-who of the international NGO world. I am glad to see that Water for People received some well deserved recognition by being ranked #17. The water sector has become one of the sexier development areas thanks to the rise of celebrity driven NGOs like Charity:Water and Water.org, but there are organizations that have been at it for a while and do it right. Water for People is one of those NGOs.

Noticeably absent from the list are World Vision.  The global giant of an NGO has one of the largest (maybe the largest?) budgets in the world and for some reason was not included on the list. I cannot find any explanation as to why WV was not included in the top 100 and I frankly cannot venture a guess.

Yes, there is good reason to criticize the organization for its sponsorship programs and Super Bowl t shirt give away, but there is no doubt that World Vision does a lot of good in the world.  Certainly it is deserving to be listed among the top 100 NGOs. There is not a single one in the bunch that is without its flaws.

(Update: Tom Paulson points out that the Gates Foundation is also missing from the list in his post yesterday. That too is a gap, but it may have been relegated due to being a largely grant-giving NGO.)

The editors do deserve some credit. The overall list is quite good. It does not make the mistake of filling space with celebrity-driven NGOs. Not that they are bad, rather they are the ones that garner a lot of attention without any consideration for their program design or impact.

My suggestion to them for the next list would be to devise an open scoring system and share how each NGO was rated with a correlating score.  This may help explain how the rankings are determined and why ONE, Charity:Water, the Enough Project and World Vision did not make the list.

Who else do you think is missing from the list or should not have been included? Check out the rest of the rankings below and add your thoughts in the comments section.

Update: Global Journal responds to Tom Paulson's post where he raises similar questions.  They tell him that Gates did not fit the criteria of an NGO (fair enough) and World Vision was considered, but did not make the cut (also fair).  He is then pointed towards the website that will publish the methodology.  I went there and found this letter from the editor that was supposed to answer the question of how the decision was made.  To save you the trouble, the letter only gives the way the Global Journal decided to define what qualifies as an NGO.  How exactly the list was determined and how it was to be weighted is not shared.