The Forgotten Output in INGO Projects & Impact on Libyan Society

As a Libyan citizen, I was personality witness to the fact that, since 2012, Libya received and is still receiving a wide array of “support” to contribute to its democratic transition.

I like to think of this image as Libya’s tumultuous path from fire and mayhem (right) to democracy and Libyans standing together (left) (credits: British Journal of Photography)

Well, to put it more accurately, different types of organizations emerged in the post-revolution Libya, operating to date in a wide array of sectors. Whether it be peacebuilding, humanitarian, migration, development, law, research or even advocacy, all rushed to “support’’ (yes, between brackets) Libya and its people in their own way.

Interestingly, all of these organizations managed to squeeze in a more-or-less common yet decorative output further down their project’s programming that states something like “contribute to a more inclusive Libyan community” or the all-time favourite “increase trust of Libyan citizens in local state institutions”. Now, many may frown over the “decorative” adjective I used, and would boast the successful implementation of their project with pictures, tangle reports showing dis-aggregated data highlighting inclusive representation in their meetings or even play recordings of participant testimonials on “how nice the training in Tunis was”.

The reasoning is sound right? You can’t monitor it if you can’t measure it, might as well include it.

But the elusive output mentioned above is not measured with participant lists, pretty pictures or emotional testimonials. It is mainly aimed at improving the overall Libyan macro-scene which, given the current state, can be argued to be worse than ever. Since most organizations actually implemented their initiatives arguably successfully, one may rightfully ask why Libya is experiencing a vertiginous free-fall if this controversial output is actually achieved every time.

The most obvious answer is it isn’t achieved, and there is a very simple explanation for that.

To contextualize things, today, close to all INGOs working on Libya operate from Tunis due to the security situation. Most only have very superficial presence on the ground, if any. To avoid losing touch of dynamics on the ground, many organizations strive to keep any connection they may have with locals, mainly to be able to actually implement their projects or coordinate their trainings/implementation on time to report to donors when needed.

Thus, most entities focus on spending their budget rather than focusing on the return on investment from the budget, forgetting the impact this has on Libyan people (and that ‘’oh so nice but not really important output’’ in the process). This has led to the inception of an evil cycle where organizations created comfort zones embodied in “preferred individuals’’ or favourite “local CSOs’’ that help coordinating their initiatives (no matter what the topic or geographical location is).

“It doesn’t matter where you get them from as long as they are part of the report”

Subsequently, most INGOs and stakeholders stopped bothering about doing things ‘’right’’ as much as being bothered with actually ‘’doing things’’.

However, in the process of doing these “things’’, organizations forget the culture they create and messages they inadvertently send regarding civil society and INGOs agendas in Libya, which are inevitably labelled as foreign intervention. INGOs forget to be “conflict sensitive”, a concept supposed to be embedded in organization’s programming and unfortunately isn’t due to the Libyan paradox, with most parties working on Libya operating through “proxy-CSOs” with little to no actual monitoring, evaluation or supervision.

So, using the very basic example of a “training” to be organized by a Tunis-based INGO through a Libyan partner-CSO, let us highlight a few ways through which INGOs are in fact, sometimes contributing to conflicts in Libya and the distrust of the local community towards local civil society.

An example of a Southern-based NGO (Fezzan Libya Group) being marginalized in favour of another

First, empowering Western-based NGOs is a trend that has increasingly grown over the past years. Although this may be attributed to the remoteness of organizations in the South and the conflicts that happened in the East over the past period, insisting upon cooperating with Western NGOs even when trainings target Southern and Eastern participants actually contributes to marginalizing these regions. Furthermore, it increases the capacity gap and decreases the chances of Eastern/Southern NGOs gaining experience through cooperating with INGOs, as well as hindering their chances of obtaining funding.

101 of being a Libyan activist, by Suhaib Tantoush : criticize everything, say you’re a feminist, be in all group pictures, attend everything, etc…

Moreover, for the sake of comfort, INGOs increasingly rely on these ‘’trusted partners’’ to implement projects and often refer other organizations, in different sectors, to work with them as well. This results into all-implementing chameleon-like organizations that morph their activities into whatever whims donors/international community have. A phenomenon highlighted by many Libyan citizens is that they are seeing “the same faces” engaging with the international community in a wide array of issues. As much as Libyans criticize these “faces”, it is actually INGO’s responsibility to ensure they are not constantly engaging with the same people.

Granted, there may be advantages for INGOs to centralize and coordinate activities through the same “trusted partner”. However, this trend translates into incomplete projects that do not align with conflict sensitive measures, which are supposed to be followed by international stakeholders to promote an inclusive Libyan society (that cute forgotten output, remember?)

If organizations are not choosing who their partners are inclusively, how do they expect Libyans to embrace inclusiveness as a society?

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