AusAID’s favourite group of Australian NGOs gets a little bigger

Photo: Ron Mizen / Office of the Minister for International Development

Last month our new Minister for International Development welcomed Save the Children Australia and the Fred Hollows Foundation as ‘Partnership’ agencies under the AusAID NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP). This places them, along with eight existing NGOs, in the highest of three ANCP membership tiers. Membership of the ANCP Partners club now coincides exactly with the current list of the top ten funding recipients under the scheme.

The ANCP supports the core work of over forty accredited Australian international development NGOs. It’s a kind of budget support mechanism for NGOs, though funds are provided within strict guidelines. ANCP funding accounted for 32% of all Australian government aid funding to Australian NGOs in 2011-12, with the rest provided through various special-purpose schemes, usually via competitive allocation. The amount of funding an NGO receives under the ANCP is related to the level of funding it raises from the community—though it’s not a simple matching relationship. The ten ANCP Partners get substantial bonus allocations over and above their basic ANCP funding entitlement in recognition of their greater absorptive capacity. They will account for $106.5 million of the $141 million ANCP budget in 2013-14.

Over the past four years ANCP funding has increased by over 50% and provision was made for it to grow by a further 33% in the 2013-14 budget. Save the Children Australia and the Fred Hollows Foundation particularly benefited from the increase between 2011‑12 and 2012‑13 (see below), reflecting their increasing share in total community donations to NGOs.

Top 10 ANCP funding recipients

Top 10 ANCP funding recipientsSource information available here.

So what do ANCP Partners get out of the deal, besides the bonuses? When the partnerships tier was introduced in 2009, in addition to the existing base accreditation and full accreditation tiers, the idea was to give Partner agencies more funding certainty, more flexibility in the use of the resources provided and also more engagement with AusAID on policy and strategy. The thought was to treat them in much the same way as well-established and institutionally capable multilateral organisations. Accordingly, they were offered four-year funding packages under strategic partnership agreements, and those agreements provided for regular, high-level and broad-ranging consultations between AusAID and Partner agencies.

A mid-term review of the original batch of ANCP Partnership Agreements was completed in 2012. It found that the new approach has ‘considerable potential’, but also that ‘fully realising this potential will require attention to a number of areas’. The areas in question included impact assessment, improved communication, sharing of outcomes and learning and more dedicated resourcing for the partnerships. AusAID agreed to all the findings of the review before it signed new agreements with eight partner organisations last December. The recent welcoming of two new NGOs into the Partners club suggests that this way of supporting the largest NGOs is becoming part of the furniture.

Supporting the big NGOs in broadly this way does make a lot of sense: ANCP beneficiaries are an extremely diverse lot, so the resource allocation processes and administrative procedures that appropriately apply to the smaller organisations will obviously be a poor fit for the biggest. However, the rise of the Partners also raises some questions.

For one thing, what is to be done about the proliferation of small NGOs? Even an expanding ANCP cannot afford to fund every organisation that might in the future qualify for accreditation—and it is unlikely that every such organisation springs into being to fill a genuine vacuum.

For another thing, what are we to make of the present basis for allocating funding to, and among, the Partner agencies, which now seems only tenuously linked to levels of community support? Should AusAID perhaps go all the way with the multilateral analogy and allocate funding on the basis of a rigorous assessment of the relevance and effectiveness of the organisations’ work? As it happens, AusAID is in the process of developing an effectiveness assessment methodology for NGOs, but it is not yet clear what, if anything, this would mean for the allocation of funding under ANCP.

Jonathan Pryke is a Research Officer and Blog Editor at the Development Policy Centre. Robin Davies is Associate Director of the Centre.

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Jonathan Pryke

Jonathan Pryke worked at the Development Policy Centre from 2011, and left in mid-2015 to join the Lowy Institute, where he is now Director of the Pacific Islands Program. He has a Master of Public Policy/Master of Diplomacy from Crawford School of Public Policy and the College of Diplomacy, ANU.

Robin Davies

Robin Davies was appointed Head of the Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security at the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in September 2017. Previously, from 2013, he was the Associate Director of the Development Policy Centre and from mid-2014, concurrently an Honorary Professor at the Crawford School at ANU.

3 Comments

  • Thanks Jo and Tess for both of these comments. I don’t disagree with anything you say, though I don’t know enough about the activities of the big Australian NGOs in the Pacific to evaluate your suggestion, Tess, that the organisations are tending toward homogeneity and a fondness for cookie cutters. However, our focus above is on the way aid resources are allocated to the big NGOs as a group, and among the organisations within that group. We think there are some interesting questions even in this limited domain. It’s certainly true that the expansion of this group’s resource envelope has the potential to change the way they operate in the field, though it will not necessarily do so. It’s also true that it might reduce their appetite for criticising government policy though, again, it will not necessarily do so. They were all receiving quite a bit of support already, before the further expansion of funding in the post-2009 period. At the same time, the level of support they get from all AusAID sources is still minor in proportion to the level of funding they receive from community sources. My sense is that the ANCP Partners, and other NGOs for that matter, don’t feel terribly constrained at present in what they can say and do in advocacy mode, provided they don’t say or do it with support from the aid program. There was more of a problem in that regard in the earlier part of this decade.

  • An interesting post. Thank you. And to continue from Tess’s last point in her comment, I see advocacy challenges as essential for NGOs to grapple with. In New Zealand, NGOs have been relatively silent regarding the ongoing erosion of the NZ government aid programme’s attention to the most vulnerable people. Terence Wood and I argued in a conference paper last year that this was predominantly because NGOs didn’t want to bite the hand that, albeit partially, fed it. And also the Minister sent strong signals about the potential consequences of earning his dislike: cutting funding to the Council for International Development and Global Focus Aotearoa, and attempting to sideline organisations that did speak out. I understand the difficulties, having managed NGOs myself. But NGOs are supposed to advocate for those whose voices are often silenced (aren’t they?) and it is crucial they can do this with at least a degree of independence. This does not preclude NGOs from taking government money but it does require some careful thought and negotiation of the politics (ie: power relations) of it all.

  • Thanks to Jonathan & Robin for this post which highlights an aspect of donor support that is relatively under-examined. I think there are a couple of other issues that arise in this regard. One is that in the Pacific we have seen a marked increase in the presence and activity of these large INGOs – not necessarily new country offices but certainly an increase in resourcing. This certainly brings an added level of capacity in their areas of activity but as with those much-maligned ‘consultants’ we also see a lot of ‘cookie-cutter’ approaches to program design and delivery with nowhere near enough attention paid to loca,l social and political contexts (as with everything there are exceptions). Another issue is that the availability of increased AusAID funding seems to have led to a homogenisation of these organisations – it is increasingly hard to tell them apart as they all work in the increasingly crowded spaces of disaster reduction, climate change adaptation and other areas framed by the funding mechanisms determined by AusAID. And finally, what of the role of civil society in holding governments, including the Australian government to account for decisions and (in)actions? How assertive can we expect these organisations to be if they are increasingly beholden to AusAID for funding?

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