With June often dubbed” The Environment Month” and as concerns about the environment grow louder every day, let’s take a look at what is the role of NGOs and other non-profit organisations in tackling environmental issues and how this role differs and complements the work of governments.

When addressing environmental issues, governments tend to apply a “carrot and stick” approach, oscillating between regulatory strategies and economic incentives.

NGOs contribute ideas, raise awareness, shape discussions, influence decisions and implement policies. As they are usually not answerable to specific agendas and can often act independently, they have become key players in environmental politics at all levels from local to global. A study from the University of Stockholm shows that NGOs are important actors in global environmental governance, offering knowledge and expertise, moral arguments and new ideas or taking action on implementing policies. However, their approaches and their influence, depend in some part on their resources, which creates a landscape characterized by plurality, inequality, and contradictions.

Recent years have seen the creation of more and more NGOs working toward environmental issues, but the effectiveness of these organisations is rarely assessed or critically examined. Scientists in Jamaica invite us to exercise prudence when it comes to the level of competence and professionalism of some organisations, which have proven ineffective. In some cases they may even exacerbate the problems they set out to solve. This is why governments and donors should be prudent when attributing projects to NGOs.

Since 2020, the Covid crisis and now the inflation and the war in Ukraine have been in the forefront of the media coverage. Environmental movements such as “Fridays for future” have unfortunately been relegated to less prominent places and it could be easy to forget about the climate crisis urgency.

Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg recently teamed up to remind us that “girls’ education is a climate solution”. Women in developing countries are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis. Educate them and they can become part of the solution, for example by reducing their communities greenhouse gas emissions. Will that lead to future collaboration between NGOs advocating for women’s rights and NGOs specialized in the environment? That would certainly be interesting to watch, because the fight for both is far from over.

Smaller NGOs are faced with an array of challenges, amongst the most commons are:

  • Lack of funds and longer-term financing

  • Limited or no strategic orientation and planning

  • Lack of a solid network

Today we meet with Mr Raymi Castilla Chacon, secretary of the swiss-based NGO Una Mano para Venezuela y el Mundo (UMAVEM), to find out how he perceives and works around these challenges.

NMA: Mr Castilla, please tell us about UMAVEM and its mission?

R.C : We started as an organized community of Venezuelans in Switzerland who decided to take matters into our own hands to help those in need back in Venezuela.

Our main objective is to support people in extreme poverty with basic services, medicines, clothes, etc for children and the elderly. We also support local institutions which contribute to the alleviation of poverty and social inequality, whether through studies, cultural activities or sports.

In the last 6 months, we have sent 2000 kg of material (clothings, medical supplies, food, basic necessities). We have around 20 volunteers, 6 representatives in Venezuela and we support 14 local charities. To give you an idea: the shipping alone of these 2000 kg cost us around 8000 CHF. And of course, this material has first to be gathered, sorted, packaged and stored. Ideally we would have to raise around 20’000 CHF/year in donations.

What is the background of your volunteers? Do any of them have a formal training in the tasks they perform for UMAVEM?

Our volunteers have diverse professional backgrounds, but mainly what motivates us all is the willingness to help our fellow Venezuelans in need. UMAVEM has no paid employees and relies upon its volunteers for every task on hand, from receiving to packing and sending the donations, from managing our communication, to looking for donors and sponsors. As we all have jobs, families and other obligations, it is sometimes quite difficult to find the time and energy to add extra work in our schedules.

Our President, Johanna Falcon, is a social worker though and also works with other NGOs.

Do you think you would benefit from training in some domains, would it help you achieve your goals?

Yes of course, it is always important to learn the tools to do our work more efficiently. The NGO world is getting more and more competitive and professional, and it would be very helpful to increase our personal and organisational competencies in some specific areas. But as usual, time and money are big obstacles.

What would you say is the biggest challenge you are facing?

There are so many. I would say the biggest one is probably the need to get funds, especially to constantly acquire more. We are highly dependent on donors’ generosity and it is difficult to regularly attract some new ones. Additionally we need a constant presence on social media to keep the actual donors interested and engaged, which is time consuming unfortunately.

I would also say that it is difficult to find the time and resources to manage the material donations (clothes, toys, medications, etc). As happy as we are to receive them, they need to be stored, packaged and sent out to Venezuela, which represents a huge organizational effort and uses the biggest part of our budget.

We probably don’t look enough for institutional donors, grants, public fundings etc. though. Once again, it is too time consuming and we just don’t have the human resources for these tasks. We are currently engaged in the competition “Prix Diaspora & Développement” supported by FEDEVACO. Ideally we should engage in more projects like this, but again, we don’t have the resources to do it. Our volunteers are stretched thin as it is and cannot find more time to tackle more projects.

Do you partner with other organizations or NGOs? Is networking an important part of your strategy?

Networking is essential, be it in Venezuela or locally in Switzerland. In Venezuela, we partner with local associations and rely on them to distribute part of our donations. They also contact us when they need resources for a specific project, or to help a specific family or person. For example, we recently managed to send more than 300 pairs of shoes to an orphanage in Caracas that had contacted us with this particular demand.

In Switzerland we have contact with various organisations and often share or exchange ressources. For example, if we receive clothing which is not appropriate for venezuelan climate, we donate them to a partnering organisation in exchange for other material, or any help they can offer.

What about strategic planning? Is it something you are familiar with and/or apply on a regular basis?

Some months ago we prepared a strategic plan. We have been struggling to apply and implement it formally though. Again the lack of resources and full time dedication is a hurdle on our path.

Thank you M. Castilla for answering our questions and sharing your experience. We wish you and UMAVEM all the best in your mission, and we look forward to following your next projects.

If you are facing these challenges as well, we provide various solutions. From project management, to fundraising or strategic communication, our courses cover a large panel of subjects. They all come with personalized coaching to help you tackle your own challenges. We look forward to hearing from you and to helping you and your organization. At NMA, we keep our prices as low as possible, so small organisations with small budget can have a chance to get the resources they need.

Did you know that 70% of NGO sector staff are women, but only 30% of those women reach the top of their organisations, according to Fair Share? That means understanding the opportunities and constraints faced by women’s NGOs in multiple-stakeholder projects is increasingly important.

Founded in 1915, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) is one of the world’s longest-standing women’s peace organizations. At its core, WILPF holds the beliefs that women matter, that equality matters, and that gender construct is the product of unequal power structures. When those structures change we can have real equality and the possibility of sustainable peace: a feminist peace. WILPF builds coalitions and partnerships, shares knowledge, and convenes women from all around the world to create bridges and spaces for discussion so that women can play their rightful role in decision-making and help shape the responses that affect their lives and communities. WILPF members come from all over the world. They get together, inspire each other and coordinate actions to eradicate the root causes of war. WILPF currently has 32 Sections and 13 Groups across Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, and the MENA region.

At NMA, we have recently had the pleasure to provide our tailor-made Triple C services around Project Cycle Management to a female only team from WILPF.

Our Project Cycle Management course offers comprehensive training that will equip you with the essential skills, tools and good practices from the field to successfully manage development and humanitarian projects, from needs assessment, through planning (analysis and design) to monitoring the implementation of the project. Our Triple C sessions encompass three possible pathways and a combination thereof to achieve the expected results: Consultancy, Coaching and Courses. Learn more about our Triple C approach here

The participants have been reactive, motivated and enthusiastic and we were thrilled to read their feedback: “This training provided me with a comprehensive overview of project cycle management at an introductory level; I found the sessions dynamic and the information easy to understand; and appreciated that the trainers’ brought concrete examples throughout the different topics presented.” Sara, WILPF. Participants were particularly happy about the “participatory approach” and the “concrete examples and exercises

We recommend to read the 2018 WILPF Guide to Feminist Political Economy, which deals with the question how can feminist understanding of political economy in conflict or post-conflict contexts help advance peace-building processes. It provides, amongst others, a list of useful questions to analyze such contexts.

At NMA, we seek a world where non-profit organizations have the leadership and management capacity to maximize their contribution to social justice and human rights. We recognize that women's involvement is vital in the NGOs sector, and we are proud to have collaborated with WILPF during this course.