Nick Deychakiwsky, program officer at the C.S. Mott Foundation, and Maurice Middleberg, executive director of Free the Slaves, engaged in a realistic, yet encouraging conversation on the fabric of NGOs for CDDRL's Program on Human Rights’ Winter Speaker Series “U.S. Human Rights NGOs and International Human Rights” on January 14, 2015.
Deychakiwsky gave the audience the macro perspective to NGOs working in human rights, while Middleberg, working on a specific mission to end modern day slavery, provided the micro perspective. Both Deychakiwsky and Middleberg pronounced the complications and challenges of working for and running an NGO today, narrating a cautionary yet motivating story of NGO management. Deychakiwsky pointed out that all too often, accountability to the society whose projects are designed to help gets lost in the bigger picture of NGO management. He emphasized that to have a positive impact, an NGO must remain mindful of and true to its core values and organizational mission. Middleberg agreed with Deychakiwsky’s view that an organization must always stay true to its mission, while at the same time emphasized that an NGO must nurture its own financial health and organizational culture in order to have the capacity for safekeeping its mission.
Helen Stacy, director of the Program on Human Rights, was struck by the overlap in Deychakiwsky and Middleberg’s stances on NGO management. Stacy questioned Deychakiwsky about indicators for testing local accountability, and Deychakiwsky pointed out that when a community is willing to offer resources such as time or money, that it is a very strong indication that the project will succeed. Stacy probed Middleberg on his theory of change, asking whether there is an overemphasis of “head” (organizational management) over “heart” (organizational mission). Middleberg asserted that the head and heart of an organization are not in contradiction, but that the head has to be “squared off” in order for the organization to not lose its heart. When asked about NGO competition, both Middleberg and Deychakiwsky believe that there need to be fewer emerging NGOs, and more partnerships and mergers between those that currently exist. Questions from the audience included the resources required for theory of change, the need and ability to stay true to one’s mission, and the systems in place to test and measure change.
Dana Phelps, Program Associate, Program on Human Rights