Q&A – Big versus Small Organisations
In today’s post, Tayba Ahmed, a present a VCD student sat with a former VCD alumnus to discuss their experiences working in the humanitarian sector. Naturally, the discussion turned into a Q&A, centred on some of the developmental perks and challenges of working for both bigger organisations and more locally-orientated smaller organisations.
- Could you give us an overview of your present role and some of the key perks and challenges of working for them?
I am currently working for a local organisation in London that focuses on supporting vulnerable young people. Two of the main challenges faced are the limited resources and the dilemma of frequent shifts in strategy and vision. The limited access to funding opportunities is mostly due to a highly competitive environment that is dominated by bigger organisations which have already established stronger links with the government and donors. Having to adapt to the nature of available funding trends, the strategies of the organisation shift frequently which encumbers achieving any focused long-term goals.
- You mentioned you previously worked with Save the Children and now work for a local organisation in London. What are the main differences between larger and smaller organisations?
Small organisations tend to be more effective in the field when it comes to humanitarian responses as they are not crippled by draining decision-making bureaucracy. They are quicker in responding to people’s needs through following basic, yet effective, access procedures and protocol. Although having limited resources, small NGOs also tend to take capacity building for local staff more seriously through supporting their educational and training pursuits. New and growing NGOs face immense fund-raising challenges as donors seem to be more interested in working with bigger organisations which are already familiar with their grants conditions, requirements, and reporting although this is changing due to their highly expensive operational costs.
However, although bigger organisations are known to be slower in their responses due to internal bureaucracy and time-consuming setups, once mobilised, they do respond at a much larger scale and can support more beneficiaries than small organisations. Also, bigger organisations often do have response experience which sometimes proves useful in the field. However, contrary to small enthusiastic NGOs which often brings up creative ideas in crisis times, the experience of old and big organisations, at times, makes them linger in their comfort zones without exploring new approaches to the various crises, reinforcing outdated procedures to humanitarian response. Nevertheless, one thing that is crucial in this comparison is the depth of knowledge big organisations such as Save the Children have on their areas of operation and the reputation they enjoy around the world which often facilitates access to people in need.
3. How do structural challenges impact the operational side of humanitarian work and interventions?
This is a huge question. One example is of this issue is the time it takes to make decisions in the field with organisations. The more complex an organisation structure is, the slower it takes to make decisions in the field, especially when local staff members are not empowered to take part in the decision-making process. Time difference between the headquarters and the field offices can compromise the effectiveness and the speed of services delivery in rapidly changing environments.
4. It seems, that smaller grassroots organisations will play a bigger and more defining role in the near-future when it comes to humanitarian intervention in conflict-prone states, especially given their flexibility and willingness to act more promptly in humanitarian situations. Can you tell us a little more about how you think this will (re)shape the humanitarian sector?
I believe smaller grassroots organisations are increasingly playing an integral part in the humanitarian sector and donors are taking this into consideration. I think the humanitarian sector will eventually develop an operational model where small and big organisations have complementary roles and equal access to funding opportunities rather than being in rivalry over securing funds from traditional donors. Such a model would be driven into the light mainly by grassroots organisations that believe in their responsibility to positively change the humanitarian sector.
On this occasion, given the sensitivity of the work the individual is involved with, they have asked to remain anonymous.
For more information about SOAS’s new MSc programme: Humanitarian Action (Online) visit: https://www.soas.ac.uk/development/programmes/msc-humanitarian-action-online/