Oxfam International, one of the first aid groups to work in Cambodia post-Khmer Rouge, has urged the hundreds of international NGOs (INGO) still operating in the country to consider their future roles and possible exit strategies.
Speaking at the launch of two new research reports yesterday – a political economy analysis of “civic space” and a study on the future role of INGOs here – the group said that recent sociopolitical changes as a result of the last election meant the time was ripe for reflection.
“If we INGOs are not thinking about our role in the future, we are not helping Cambodia,” said Sophavy Ty, an Oxfam program director.
The INGO study says that while such groups still have an important role to play, the development situation that drew about 450 INGOs to the Kingdom in the first place – Cambodians desperately in need of basic assistance – has changed.
“Phasing out”, it stresses, could mean nationalising operations or handing over to local NGOs or the government, rather than just walking away.
“Things are not the same as they used to be, and we really need to examine how we are working, what our focus areas are and how [we can] reflect backwards and look forwards,” said Carol Mortensen, an independent consultant that prepared the report.
“We should know as an international NGO what our definition of success is.… And when we get to that end goal, what will that mean?
“International NGOs should not be looking for a lifelong job in any country, and Cambodia is the same.”
But World Vision, one of the world’s largest NGOs, said that while it “understands deeply” the dramatic changes that have taken place in Cambodia and has changed its working methods in response, the country remains one of the poorest in the world.
“While malnutrition in children under 5 hangs static at 40 per cent, and more than 230,000 children are forcibly involved in the worst forms of child labour . . . and while 50 per cent of children by grade 6 are functionally illiterate … we will focus on the job at hand,” Chris Macqueen, director of strategy and evidence at the Cambodia office, said.
“When these startling statistics are much lower, then, we will be at a place to start looking at organisational phase-out and transition strategies.”
US Embassy spokesman Jay Raman said that working with local NGOs was important for USAID and that close to 18 per cent of its budget had been given to local groups this year.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said that he believed that INGOs had reached their goals in terms of helping to put local groups on a strong footing to advocate for human rights and democracy.
But in areas like health, education or economic development, “the government still needs [INGOs], they cannot just walk away”, he said.