Today I participated in my first Open Forum in Davos. The topic was the future of NGOs and the panellists represented persons from the impact investment community to foundation directors to representatives of government institutions.

The main discussion centred on whether NGOs are really serving their purpose of solving a social problem or whether the large bureaucracies that exist in today’s large NGOs have smothered their initial mission. There was lots of discussion on whether an NGO should have an exit strategy that focuses on winding its activity down and closing itself after it has solved the particular social challenge it is attacking. Many participants felt that NGOs try to seek unsustainable solutions to the problems they are seeking to solve because they want to perpetuate themselves into the future. If they solve the problem too quickly they will no longer need to exist and many NGO jobs will cease to exist.

There was talk about the smaller NGOs and social entrepreneurs being more efficient at finding effective solutions and less concerned and obligated to raise money to fund large overhead costs and exerting the extreme energy required to do so.

It was fascinating for me to be present because I have often found small NGOs and social entrepreneurs in Guatemala to be very focused in achieving a sustainable solution and most energy and strategy can be directed in this direction.

Is the large NGO and its need to be focused on fundraising making it less effective at finding sustainable solutions in the areas it is concerned with? What will be the new models that emerge for solving the social and environmental challenges of tomorrow? It is clear to me that social entrepreneurs have the potential to play a large role here in the future!


Author: Philip Wilson, Executive Director, Ecofiltro, Guatemala; Social Entrepreneur of the Year, Central America, 2011 

Ecofiltro produces a clay-based filter used to purify contaminated drinking water. The Ecofiltro, made of clay, sawdust and colloidal silver, is an effective, economic and ecological alternative to water purification. With its controlled pore size, it allows water to pass, but traps bacteria, parasitic cysts and faecal residues. It eliminates smell and colour, and keeps the water refreshingly cool. It can be produced in any developing country. Filters are sold to urban populations at a profit, which allows the company to lower the cost for rural populations.

Image: filtered water, Ecofiltro