Managing International NGO Projects - Context, cultural competence and its impact on performance (A Case study from Kenya)

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The British University in Dubai (BUiD)
s the global awareness of poverty and inequality issues have increased, the demands for NGO’s and their expertise in international development projects has augmented accordingly. However, despite higher requirements to accountability, effective project frameworks and a more professionalized management staff; too many international development projects still tend to fail. In that respect, current research shows that one of the main reasons may be related to “cultural differences” and “difficulties managing projects within the hosting culture”. Surprisingly, with the exception of a few researchers that have started to realize the need for a distinctive set of values, skills and competences required to manage international development projects effectively, existing literature on the topic still tends to be rather limited. In order to address this gap of literature and hence improve the grounds on which international NGO projects are managed in the future, this research aimed to explore the following: “In the NGO context- how do contextual factors and cultural competence influence the project manager’s ability to lead international development projects successfully?” In order to dig deeper into the various questions deprived from the research problem, an empirical qualitative design was chosen. Moreover, since the researcher was given the unique opportunity to closely observe development projects of an International NGO in the field, a case study was chosen as the most suitable approach. In that regards, the researcher followed an international project manager amongst the Maasai people in Kenya for 1 ½ month. Based on the literature review, observations in the field as well as 12 face-to-face interviews, the following key findings were identified: The number of identified contextual factors influencing the IPM’s ability to run projects effectively was a surprise and may indicate the complexity of international NGO projects. However, the following 6 contextual factors were highlighted as most influential on project performance: 1) The complex web of stakeholders, 2) power balances, 3) different cultures and traditions, 4) inequality and limited access to resources, 5) the community’s motivation and willingness to change as well as 6) the local decision-making process. Moreover, findings indicate cultural competence as a process that may increase the awareness and knowledge of contextual factors that again may improve the IPM’s ability to establish relationships, to communicate and to approach challenges and opportunities more effectively.
NGO projects, Kenya, managing projects, project performance