Utrecht, Netherlands Jan van Doggenaaar, the director of a 55-person team for the ICCO Alliance that focuses on the program area of “basic needs” was very generous with his time, because it took a while to describe both what ICCO was and how it has totally re-invented itself along new lines in January of this year. Whether luck or fate, it seems that where they are going is actually where we are, which made the meeting very exciting.
The shifting priorities of this large faith-based charity is spurred by both pressure from the Dutch government for more performance and accountability and proof of local involvement in the countries where the work is being done, as well as contributions and support from the citizens of the Netherlands. All of this is somewhat new and has led to a paradigm realignment that is interesting and could be important to the empowerment of poor people and their fight to gain a voice and win change all around the world. That is, if it all works!
Here is the environment, though, as it has evolved. The Dutch government distributed part of its international aid monies through first three and then four outlets to take advantage of both international networks built through prior work and local politics. First there were the Catholics that have now re-organized as Cordaid and the Protestants who have now amalgamated as the ICCO Alliance this year along with the secularists that were NOVID, which is now part of the Oxfam network. The fourth distribution channel became more recently the “humanists.” The reorganizations were triggered when the government began requiring that each of the networks had to have “skin in the game” from an independent contributor base. This was easiest for NOVID since that’s how they got in the game originally. The Catholics and Protestants merged odd pieces of their programs in order to be able to show that they had Dutch contributors.
The more recent reorganization within the ICCO Alliance is by program area rather than the previously fragmented specialties based on “country desks.” The plan, and Jan emphasized repeatedly it was a “plan,” so God knows how reality might reshape it, was to be able to unite partners locally across program areas in order to create “co-responsibility” for the work rather than simply have a donor to grant seeker relationship. This seems smart (and maybe to us obvious?). It also fits in with the heretical concepts that shape ACORN’s work around the world since we are membership based and supported (which ICCO is now supporting and may require!), and we are about advocacy and creating a voice for actually low-income families, which is also the direction ICCO Alliance now seems to be moving.
It was exciting to hear that learning is happening, even though change is difficult with a charity as large as this (about 167 M euros or more than $200 M USD per year. It would be nice to see the world moving this way, not just because that might mean more support for our work (which would be great, too, don’t get me wrong!), but simply because it is the right thing to do!