This section outlines why it is important to establish relationships with NGOs, and how they can provide useful support during the start-up stage. It will also acknowledge the challenges of launching a refugee rights organization in the existing landscape, and provide advice on how to overcome these issues. Note that although this page focuses on establishing relationships with NGOs, you should also consider other partners such as university clinics, law firms, and the media to leverage your work. Differences in approach should also be anticipated when creating and building relationships with other NGOs assisting refugees in your area.
Potential benefits of establishing relationships with NGOs and other partners
There are many benefits of establishing relationships and/or working with other partners, especially during the start-up stage. Some reasons are listed below.
- Your supporters and sister organizations can be your source to gain access to your initial clients. These relationships are particularly useful if you do not invest in publicity to communicate your new services.
- It enables your organization to develop a strong referral network can enable you to prevent the duplication of services.This can provide a support network to which you can refer clients with needs, particularly material, that you are unable to meet.
- Building friendly relationships with colleagues at other organizations may avoid some of the potential issues that come with increased participation (sometimes interpreted as competition for funding and influence) in the refugee protection space.
- Human rights organizations not directly working with refugees, but whose work may also affect refugee interests, may benefit from relations with your organization. This can broaden their awareness of how human rights apply to forced migrants.
Overcoming potential differences with other NGOs
Given a rights-based approach may not always be the most mainstream, establishing relationships with other NGOs who are service providers can be challenging. Whilst good intentions may be shared, humanitarian aid providers conceive of refugees as beneficiaries (rather than as rights holders). Providing refugees with healthcare is very different to asserting refugees’ right to health. Given the fundamental differences in approach, attitudes may be incompatible for close partnership. In such cases, close collaboration such as office sharing with such organizations is not advisable as it could lead to conflict that arise from practices which occur on a day-to-day basis.
Given the fundamental difference between a humanitarian and rights-based approach, Asylum Access has always started its own offices rather than launching as part of an existing organization. Coming to relationships with other service-providers as a peer organization is a recommended approach. Coalitions can be formed with those supportive of your launch irrespective of organizational cultures. Relationships with agencies, NGOs and government departments can be nurtured in the interests of future referrals between your respective organizations. It is important to establish from the outset a referral list to direct your clients on to further assistance.
Yet, evangelizing about your organization’s philosophy is not advisable. Each organization has its own mission and vision, and you are unlikely to be able to influence another’s. Nor would this lay the groundwork for collaboration on practical matters.
Regardless of any fundamental differences in attitudes, listen carefully and try to understand what other organizations see as issues of concerns. Seek to learn from others’ experiences. However, also be mindful that NGO reports of refugees’ needs may differ from the needs expressed by refugees themselves.
In addition, you may seek to develop a relationship with other service providers by organizing trainings on refugee law and RSD. This can help them understand what you do, and how you fit into their work and the protection space generally.
If you choose to partner with an existing organization at the launch stage, for example for registration reasons, ensure that you have a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that clearly allows full control of your operational decision making, and does not require the physical sharing of office space. Partnering with organizations in a programmatic sense is different and such collaborations require great care and attention.