What is the Power Footprint of International Organizations?

Blog at WeRobotics: “It’s undeniable that international nonprofit organizations headquartered in the West hold a vast amount of power compared to local organizations in the “Majority World”. Systemic factors, such as colonialism and racism, have enabled international nonprofit organizations (INGOs) to increase their authority, control, and influence in multiple industries like humanitarian aid and global development. You might say that these NGOs have a large “power footprint.” Power itself is of course not inherently bad. All organizations need some level of power to drive change. But power can become menacing when centralized and rooted in a singular worldview. The result, as we’ve seen in the INGO space, is a Western-centric system that drives change in a foreign-led, top-down, and techno-centric manner…

How do we measure our own power footprints to create more visibility and transparency? Can we co-create practical metrics to measure the power footprint of INGOs? Can we make the consequences or byproducts of said footprints more visible? Can we gain inspiration from other fields? How is the carbon footprint measured, for example?…

We realize full well that measuring power footprints is a wholly different undertaking to measuring carbon footprints. Analogies can capture the imagination and serve as powerful metaphors, however. Heavy industries have significant positive impact by creating countless jobs and higher standards of living. Over time, however, the cumulative impact of large carbon footprints triggers a global climate emergency. In a similar vein, the massive power footprints of INGOs may be contributing to another global emergency: the pandemic of inequality. There’s lots to unpack here, so we’re working on a longer peer-reviewed piece that expands on these ideas and several other points that we don’t have the space to get into here.

In sum, we know that power is relational, complicated, and polarizing. We also know we’ve got to start somewhere. We need to co-create a transparent mechanism to make the invisible visible and ensure that the reduction of power footprints is real and not just symbolic. The alternative is to continue having the same conversations over and over without ever doing something to affect change. So we’ve developed 5 very preliminary metrics for illustrative purposes, and applied them to our own INGO, WeRobotics.

Each proposed metric is rooted in a question to ourselves and fellow INGOs:

  1. Are our country offices (or equivalent) independent?
  2. Are they locally-led?
  3. Can they exit at any time?
  4. Are we ceding market share?
  5. Do we have a clear Endgame or exit strategy?…(More)”