Nonprofit President Gives Advice on Making the Most Out of a Crisis

February 6, 2009
by Lindsay Hodges Anderson

The president of Mercy Corps Nancy Lindborg, MPA 1992, addressed the challenges faced by nonprofit organizations in post-conflict regions and offered her recommendations for the Obama administration Thursday (Feb. 5) in a seminar sponsored by the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations.

Mercy Corps currently operates in approximately 40 “fragile states.” Among the challenges the organization faces are a lack of resources, resistance to the idea that projects should be locally owned and driven, provincial areas being overlooked in aid efforts, an underestimation of negotiation techniques, and the unfortunate habit of organizations branding crisis communities with an American stamp.

“We’ve never branded any of them,” said Lindborg of Mercy Corps’ work in Iraq focusing on cleaning up sewer systems, running negotiations programs and constructing new buildings. “Nonetheless, people understand it is funded by American taxpayer dollars.”

Lindborg said another critical factor in post-conflict regions is security – of the workers, the residents and the projects.

“Security is paramount. You must have security,” she said.

Lindborg is calling upon the Obama administration to reconsider how the military is used in provincial reconstruction, and to reevaluate its military and charity funding policies. And says they can forget about trying to make a quick fix.

“There is no way these problems will be fixed in the year or two,” she said.

Lindborg also warned about the victim mentality effect that can arise from too many charity dollars being doled out in a single region for too long. She said that NGOs must do long-term community-building projects as well as the short-term aid projects.

“If you only do that life-saving humanitarian work, you will not allow people to get their feet up,” she said. “And then you will leave.”

Lindborg spoke as part of the Hauser Center’s NGO Leaders Seminar Series.

Nancy Lindborg

Nancy Lindborg addressed a packed room on the challenges faced by NGOs in post-conflict regions. Photo credit Joao Abss, Harvard Kennedy School Media Services.

"If you only do that life saving humanitarian work, you will not allow people to get their feet up. And then you will leave." - Nancy Lindborg, president Mercy Corps.

Peter Bell (left) and Nancy Lindborg (right)

Peter Bell (left), senior research fellow at the Hauser Center, moderated the event. Photo credit Joao Abss, Harvard Kennedy School Media Services.

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