I finished up my last full day of work in Jerusalem today. I get to play tourist tomorrow, and then it is off to Cairo. While I don't have a choice to make just yet, this has been a great week to see how a major NGO operates. It has been great to see a real multi-cultural workforce work together. There are Americans, Canadians, Serbs, Nepalese, and Palestinians in the office. One of the things you see right away is the race to secure fundings which is the lifeblood for the NGO world, and USAID is the major donor in the space. Gaza is getting the most attention now, and these guys are doing a lot of thinking of how to maintain their position as the development landscape changes.
Unfortunately there will always be tragedies in the world, but they are the bread and butter of the humanitarian focused NGO's. The challenge now is how to participate in the economic development initiatives in the Arab world, especially as the line between NGO's and the private sector begins to blur. That's the main issue that I am out here working on, and am also developing a framework to help build the entrepreneurial ecosystem that for the most part doesn't exist in most Arab states. One of the interesting things in Palestine is that Gaza is ahead of the West Bank in terms of being technology innovators. The Israeli blockade has forced Gazans to go to great lengths to cobble together PC's, routers, and other internet infrastructure. A major tech company will be announcing a partnership to seed start-ups in Gaza, and I have also been evaluating the strategic plan as well as partnership opportunities with other tech companies.
The NGO world definitely rises and falls with its ability to secure mandates. The post 9/11 world has been a goldmine for NGO's with the tremendous upheavals in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now that the purse strings are tightening up, a lot of NGO's will have to move closer to embracing the for-profit model in order to fully participate in enterprise development projects.
Other than the funding rat race, the major difference between the State or USAID option is that in the NGO world you don't get that USA in a box experience that you might find in an embassy or mission setting. You have to figure out your own transportation and housing options, and there just isn't the support network that exists when you work for the government.