Thursday, May 15, 2008

Turf Wars in Times of Crisis

I've been involved with non-profit organizations and relief agencies, in one capacity or another, for the better part of the past 20 years. One of the things that always strikes me during disaster response situations is the nature of turf wars within the NGO community.

The NGO questionnaire that I posted last week has received exactly one response, despite the fact that it was emailed to every agency on my rather extensive list. And yesterday, I once again emailed those on my list, asking a few simple questions:

Is your organization on the ground yet in Myanmar?
Are you encountering obstacles in trying to get supplies or personnel into the coutry?
What's working?
What's not?

I understand that many of my contacts (and the agencies that they represent) are very busy at this time, coordinating response to both Myanmar and the China earthquake. Still, my experience tells me that the lack of replies to either the questionnaire or the above questions is as much a reflection of individual agencies not wishing to disclose information in a public forum that could be utilized by competing NGOs.

In economic times such as we in the U.S. are facing, philanthropic support and individual donations to NGOs tends to be the first thing to be cut when budgets must be tightened. And chasing the dollars is always a struggle for any non-profit entity. But I would suspect that organizations such as Thirst-Aid and AmeriCares have benefited tremendously from their openness in publicizing their work and their needs.

Hopefully, the agency turf wars won't get in the way of sharing information and strategies in working either the Myanmar or China disasters. There is too much to be done, with too little time remaining, for community squabbles to get in the way of actually getting things done.

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