Individual initiative, sustainability, efficiency and personal relationships

Whenever it comes to the matter of development cooperation, it evokes scepticism and criticism. Corruption, malpractice, ineffectiveness and consolidation of already existing dependencies are just a few of the numerous allegations, development agencies and NGOs find themselves confronted with. It is important to take them seriously.

What about the frequent paradigm shifts in the field of development cooperation? Over and over again, strategies of previous decades have turned out to be ineffective and only slightly successful. Are the enormous financial efforts not just a waste of money? Is there even one country in this world that has escaped poverty thanks to development aid?

This being said, I would like to introduce Action Five Freiburg and our understanding of development cooperation. It will hopefully show that, nonetheless, there are alternative ways of development and that it can absolutely make sense to contribute.

Action Five started as a small students initiative in the early eighties. Every member contributed five percent of his or her income or working time to permanently ameliorate the material living conditions of people in developing countries and to reduce economic, social and political dependencies. With a lot of idealism and commitment, and in the course of countless tough discussions, we have worked out a framework of fundamental policies and rules to meet these targets. These working principles have not changed since and our strategies have proved succesful within the last 25 years.

Promote initiative

Whilst other organisations initiate their own projects and hereby impose their own ideas and ideals on their project partners, Action Five confides in its project partners‘ initiative. Instead of elaborating  project proposals and implementing them with its own staff, Action Five is looking for individuals and groups, who have their own ideas and concepts of how to change the situation in their own country. If a proposal meets our criteria, a cooperation is possible. Hereby we pursue a strategy that counts strongly on autonomy and independence and only intervenes gently in the culture of the respective region. At the same time we support every kind of personal initiative to prevent the establishment of dependencies.

Demand sustainability

Whenever we start a cooperation, we perceive this as an investment and only if there is a realistic chance to achieve a sustainable effect, we consider a partnership. Action Five does not do emergency aid, neither does it directly spend its funds on private consumer goods. Instead, education and technical investments in an agricultural context are the main goals of our engagement. In this way, each school fee and each grain can make a lasting difference. However, the grand goal of sustainability does not only include a permanent improvement of the material circumstances, but also targets on ecological and environmental factors. Consequentally, Action Five supports reforestation projects and aspects of organic farming. Thereby we try to prevent new dependencies and make structural changes possible.

Personal relationships and trust

If  a project meets the basic criteria, that means if there is a need for financial support and the project is aligned sustainable, a member of Action Five will make personal contact and  travel to the project area in question to get a detailed picture of what’s happening on-site and to establish a trustful relationship with the persons responsible. Such a first visit usually lasts several weeks. Long-term projects should be visited every two years, in order to (1) allow some basic control and evaluation of the project’s advancement and to reestablish personal contacts and (2) get inspired for our work in Germany. Action Five also stays in regular and sometimes close contact with its donors. Twice a year they are being informed about the current developments of each project and active participation is made possible through regular votes on important changes that are to be made.

The principle of personal relationships makes it possible for Action Five to form trustworthy partnerships with little financial effort. Of course, as it is the case in any other organization, a project’s success can’t be guaranteed, but the risk of corrupt or improper use of funds can be largely reduced that way.

Without efficiency – no credibility

In ensuring the efficient use of donations we differ from most other organizations. The relatively small size of our NGO (10 active empoyees / € 20.000 of donations per year) enables us to keep staff and organizational costs very low. In fact, about 98% of the donations are directly transfered to the project areas we support. All activities and expenses that arise from the project selection process and its supervision as well as controlling (including airfare) and accounting are privately done and paid for. Even if donations are not redirected immediately, they will be invested in social and environmental projects supervised by GLS Bank. There is neither a risk of bureaucracy nor mismanagement.

Currently, Action Five is active in Argentina, Bangladesh, Kenya, Tanzania and Togo. These four principles form the foundation for a solid and successful development cooperation.

Johannes Vatter