5 Takeaways from InterAction’s NGO forum

July 2024

As a consulting organisation working in international development to provide services in evaluation and learning, IOD PARC has a keen interest in investing in its own learning. Key to this aspect of our work is engagement in dialogue and discussion with organisations working at the forefront of humanitarian assistance and international development. In this vein, IOD PARC sent Senior Consultant Josh Fuchs along to InterAction’s annual NGO forum. He shares his reflections below.

This year marked the 40th anniversary of InterAction, an NGO umbrella organisation which emerged during the 1984 famine in Ethiopia as an attempt to better unite the US-based NGO and INGO community in their collective international development and humanitarian activities. To mark the occasion, InterAction hosted the latest edition of their Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. at the Hamilton Grand hotel. I was struck by the incredible breadth and expertise of the NGO representatives present, and the eye opening insights of the various presenters and speakers. From localisation to earth observation, from donor relations to migration, no stone was unturned or issue uncovered.


Here I have captured my 5 key takeaways from the Conference:

1. 40 years on, the mission of InterAction’s members is as crucial as ever. With the geopolitical environment that InterAction’s members operate in being as challenging as it has ever been, their shared objectives are also as necessary as they have ever been. Conference speakers highlighted the rise in global conflict and fragility in the years since 2015, the protracted and poly- nature of global crises, the emergence of existential threats to humanity such as the climate emergency and AI, and regression against key areas of the Sustainable Development Goals, such as education and health. These complex 21st century challenges highlight the importance of the NGO community’s role as a trusted implementer of humanitarian response efforts, development programmes, and advocacy.


2. InterAction Members, and the international development system, have greatly matured over the past four decades. The evolution of the NGO community over the period since InterAction’s inception in the mid-80s is hugely encouraging, with a greater sophistication in approaches, deeper technical expertise that span many sectors, and a genuine and committed effort, backed by shifts in donor behaviour, to evolve international development thinking and practice away from outdated colonial norms. As a learning partner, IOD PARC has a role to play in ensuring that this rise in improved technical specialization and capacity within the NGO community can continue to evolve, and that the learnings of the past four decades are integrated more effectively and strategically across the NGO community.


3. The safety and security of aid workers is paramount but is increasingly under threat. One of the more sobering statistics highlighted during this year’s Conference was on the rate of aid worker deaths in 2023, with an estimated 276 aid workers having been killed globally last year. This trend seems set to continue, with 80 attacks on aid workers having resulted in 130 fatalities to date in 2024. These figures reflect the rise in aid workers being targeted since 2017 and underline the brave work that the NGO community is undertaking in often hostile environments.


4. In an era of great power rivalry, the international development community must restate the case for enlightened self-interest from donors. With authoritarianism and isolationism on the rise globally, the international development community has an opportunity to present development necessities in terms of their benefit to US nationals and other donor country citizens. As indicated by research findings presented by The Share Trust, transferring funding towards local NGO actors has the potential to create huge efficiencies for donor and recipient organisations. These findings reflect a wider sense throughout the Conference that the NGO and international development community need to communicate to donors the benefits that investment in foreign assistance can bring. Meeting donors ‘where they are, and not where they should be’ is key if this message is to have the desired impact. In its own work, IOD PARC is making strides in localization, with a number of emerging thought partnerships based on non-transactional principles and capacity sharing. These efforts will form a key part of the upcoming IOD PARC strategy period.


5. The collective voice of the NGO community is powerful and should not be underestimated as a tool for advocacy and holding policy makers to account. One of the most inspiring dimensions to the Conference was the willingness of participants to engage in robust and challenging discussions on the ongoing emergencies in Gaza, Ukraine, Sudan, and elsewhere. What emerged from these discussions was a sense that, while domestic administrations might prefer NGOs to focus on delivery, they have a key role to play in holding policy makers to account on global issues of concern, including ongoing conflict, health emergencies, challenges around food insecurity, and the climate crisis. NGO advocacy can and does move the needle, and InterAction’s members can enhance the use of their collective voice.