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Gardening and International Relief – a strange relationship

Once, after weeks away, decided to cut the grass and bring some order in the garden. It was a jungle, an impossible task. This is how INGOs approach relief work – disasters are like overgrown gardens in a bad shape, an impossible task. The decision to take on this task should not be taken lightly.


Is it the responsibility of INGOs or should it be the responsibility of Governments to use their resources fairly and justly? Setting the right objectives is the most important part in setting the right strategy. INGOs often fail at this hurdle, impacting the resulting approach.

Before cutting the grass, I put on gloves to avoid splinters, a cap to avoid direct sunlight, I took an allergy pill, as pollen was high. Each time before cleaning the lawn mower, I disconnected the electrics to avoid potential accidents. Risk Management should be part and parcel of INGO work, this should not be seen as a burden. Tie the camel first and then expect God to protect it.


Recruiting able staff, budgeting effectively, enforcing banking and procurement controls, installing proper systems and having a good marketing / PR strategy are all signs of risk management – without these Insha’Allah and Masha‘Allah alone do not work.

I took regular breaks to assess my progress and cleaned the garden on the go. The INGO sector is a fast moving sector sometimes delivering impossible tasks. There is a lot of learning that needs to happen. Better governed INGOs have effective Internal Audit and Evaluation functions, continually develop their controls and better their performance.


Effective Boards don’t get excited on-to-date achievements, they keep the bigger picture in mind – it is not the distance “traveled” that matters but the distance “to travel” that matters – this attitude changes the way INGOs are run.

I uprooted many established weeds with deep roots, they had become part of the garden – they did not add any value, the process looked ugly.


Fast growing NGOs should review the impact of the workforce, those that do not add value should be trained, reallocated or removed – difficult and ugly but a necessary evil. Weeds effect healthy plants and their growth.

After a difficult day the garden was clean – objective achieved.

Nasir Rafiq, BA, FCA is the Founder and Director of Dua Governance Chartered Accountants – A charity finance and governance expert

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