INGOs in Nepal: What they do, what they want to achieve 

INGOs work in close coordination and collaboration with government and local partners. Their activities are guided by national strategic plans and priorities set by the government.

Dr Sushil Koirala

  • Read Time 5 min.

Many governments across the globe are working toward achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, and ultimately protect the planet. Apart from SDGs, countries have their own development targets and priorities.

While the government’s role is always at the core of the development initiatives, other sectors also play a vital role in ensuring inclusive growth, human development and just societies. INGOs in Nepal, among others, are doing the same.

INGOs and their local partners, NGOs, have a meaningful presence in humanitarian and development areas in Nepal. Over the past few decades, it has been realized that NGOs and CSOs can benefit from INGOs for becoming acquainted with humanitarian and development approaches and strategies as the latter share expertise, global connection and experiences.

INGOs have their reach and presence in many countries advocating for grassroots as well as the major issue. With a large network, volunteers, donors, activists, experts, development professionals and civil society organizations across various countries, INGOs presence is meaningful and they can make important contributions.

In the last six decades, the number and presence of INGOs have considerably grown in Nepal. In the aftermath of the devastating 2015 earthquakes, many humanitarian INGOs made their presence in Nepal and contributed to the disaster, response, and recovery efforts. They have equally responded to the government’s calls and to the needs of people on the ground during the current pandemic.

INGOs work in close coordination and collaboration with government and local partners while their activities are guided by SDGs, other international and national goals and plans, national strategic plans and priorities set by the government of Nepal. Moreover, their works are guided by the Paris Declaration and Accra Agenda for Action. In the global context, they often collaborate and advocate together in key global agendas like climate change and the fight against hunger. They are also involved in humanitarian response and long-term development.

INGOs’ contribution in the sector of knowledge transfer, technical assistance, capacity building, piloting of new interventions and reaching out to ‘hard-to-reach’ areas while focusing on the existing gaps and complementing government programs have enriched their efforts. Not only in peace and regular development works but they also play a significant role during times of disasters, pandemics or health emergencies. As such, they are the people’s organizations and reliable partners of the government and the people. There are various misperceptions about the INGOs in Nepal. But the truth is that they are regulated by donors and governments and they are accountable to the people they serve.

INGOs in Nepal

Around 200 INGOs are actively working in Nepal. They are overseen and regulated by the Social Welfare Council (SWC) of the Government of Nepal. An INGO receives accreditation and permission to operate in Nepal as per the mission and objectives incorporated in its statute in the originating country and laws of Nepal. An INGO gets permission through a general agreement with the Social Welfare Council on a periodic basis. The agreement period generally lasts for five years.

After the general agreement, an INGO conducts needs or gaps analysis in the areas of organizational thematic focus and prepares projects for project agreement. These two instruments allow an INGO to operate legally and establish a partnership with local NGOs and the GoN to implement the projects in the field and thematic sectors. The idea is to ensure local capacity building, sustainability, and local ownership. INGOs not only bring funds and resources but also technical expertise.

INGOs have played a key role in supporting local organizations to carry out development activities in the far and remote areas of Nepal–such areas which are deprived of regular development initiatives, where the government’s presence is minimal and which are ‘hard-to-reach’ due to conflicts and other reasons. In this way, they have made consistent efforts to complement and support the government’s efforts towards sustainable development in Nepal.

AIN as a platform to create a synergy

The Association of International NGOs in Nepal (AIN) is a network of INGOs founded in the year 1996. Currently, it has 121 INGOs as members working in diverse sectors where they share their learnings, discuss policy issues and policy landscape for INGO/NGOs in Nepal along with the issues and challenges faced by INGOs.

AIN aims to promote poverty reduction, sustainable development, enduring peace, human rights, and social inclusion while encouraging members to become more transparent, accountable and ensure good governance between them and their partners. Its member organizations implement their programs without discrimination based on gender, race, caste, ethnic origin, geographical location, disability, political affiliation, or religion.

AIN holds an annual election to select executive committee members from among the nominated heads of the member organizations. This group, called the Steering Committee, comprises 11 members and reports to the AIN Plenary, which meets every two months. It has a Secretariat with office space normally provided by one of its members without any charge. Currently, the Secretariat is housed within the Save the Children’s office.

AIN engages in dialogues with the Social Welfare Council, NGO Federation of Nepal, National Planning Commission, various line ministries and government agencies. It also represents as an invited member in the HCT (Humanitarian Country Team) and International Development Partners Group (IDPG) where various Embassies, UN agencies, Bilateral, Multilateral agencies meet as a network.

Opportunities and challenges

As AIN is a well-recognized institution, it is invited for meetings, important events, policy dialogues and discussions by the government and stakeholders.  Its members operate 13 thematic working groups responsible to take forward the most important thematic issues in the interest of its members which meet on a periodic basis. It celebrates its Silver Jubilee anniversary by organizing various events and activities. Its members also contribute to sectors like health, education, livelihood, disability, WASH, nutrition, climate change, gender equality, social inclusion, child protection, disaster management and response among others.

INGOs have played a key role in supporting local organizations to carry out development activities in the far and remote areas of Nepal. They have made consistent efforts to complement and support the government’s efforts towards sustainable development.

The health sector INGOs are engaging meticulously to combat Covid-19, and other AIN members are responding in supporting government efforts since the pandemic. Moreover, AIN members are contributing to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

However, despite over six decades of involvement in Nepal, the image and public perception of INGOs and NGOs are still not very positive. In this context, the AIN has adopted Basic Operating Guidelines (BOGS) to improve INGOs’ image and public perception, to increase transparency and accountability and to enable them to work during difficult times.

Yet, there exist administrative challenges, policy concerns, operational and procedural hurdles in terms of creating a conducive civic society space. The governing bodies need to address these issues. Likewise, issues of visa/ work permit for expats working in INGOs and sometimes the General Agreement and Project Agreement with SWC become time-consuming and often delayed. These are the major concerns of INGOs operating in Nepal.

AIN is in regular communication and discussion with SWC, concerned stakeholders and the Ministry of Women, Children and Senior Citizens to address the aforementioned issues. However, much work is yet to be done to achieve the SDGs, Universal Health coverage, ‘education for all’ and to improve the quality of lives of the needy and marginalized people. Concerted efforts need to be made by the development partners, INGOs, and NGOs along with the technical assistance funding to meet the goals set by GoN and to mitigate the impacts of climate change and natural disasters.

Given the contributions made by the INGOs in Nepal, we need to welcome more of them here so that they can provide more humanitarian and development aid to Nepal. In the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, Nepal needs more aid than ever before.

Dr Sushil Koirala is the Chairperson of the Association of International NGOs in Nepal (AIN). Views are personal.