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International Discussion

20 February 2009

On Thursday, BOND (the British Overseas NGOs for Development) hosted a lively Big-Thinking consultation event, focusing particularly on our international programme; what had we learnt from the past and what should be our priorities for the future. I was delighted to be joined by Diana Whitworth (the Non-Executive Chair of our decision-making International Grants Committee) and Albert Tucker who also sits on that Committee. Both are members of BIG’s UK Board.

Regular visitors to this site will know there have been rumours about whether international awards have a place in BIG’s future portfolio so this was an excellent opportunity for me to confirm, once and for all, that our Board remains absolutely committed to this aspect of our activity. We know how important our long-standing international programme is in helping BIG to deliver its outcomes. The 158 awards made to UK NGOs working in over 50 developing countries across the world are making a real difference for the most disadvantaged people. £67 million worth of difference.

But as with the rest of our portfolio, there are major issues to consider about the nature and focus of our international activity so we were keen to encourage those active internationally to consider with us how these apply to their work. How should we best design application processes and organise our staffing structures and skills to learn as much as we can about the competing merits of an oversubscribed programme? How open should we be in what it is we seek in terms of need or geographical spread. Do smaller charities get enough of a look in? When we ran a smaller award scheme to help such organisations develop their ideas and capacity, why did so few of these subsequently translate into strong applications to our main programme?

At yesterday’s event there was clearly a preference for keeping the international programme broadly defined. If the consequence of that was a greater level of oversubscription we should drive up our expectations in terms of quality and impact. And we should be as transparent as possible about programme criteria, timetable, available money and likely success rates. There was also lots of support for further work by BIG to encourage and promote learning about effective international development between projects, among donors and with the wider public.

If you agree or disagree there’s just a week left to let us know. The consultation closes next Friday.

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