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Governance vs. NGO- What’s the difference?

Having now spent five weeks in my governance work placement, I find myself in a good position to identify some key differences between this and the NGO sector, in which I recently completed my first eight week placement. Some contrasts are obvious, but my aim is to draw attention to those differences which might not be quite so apparent.

It will surprise no one to hear about the passion I encountered during my first placement, with Sunseed Desert Technology in Southern Spain. Both staff and volunteers alike shared a common vigour for the work they were doing. More often than not, this passion was fueled not only by a solid foundation of knowledge on many of the current issues facing the world, but also by a thirst for new knowledge and the potential solutions that might accompany it. I expected my governance placement to be the chalk to Sunseed’s cheese (metaphorical of course, as Sunseed is a vegan community!)

It was a pleasant shock, therefore, for me to find myself surrounded by a team of people at Invest NI who were not only passionate about the work they were doing, but also extremely judicious and well-aware of the obstacles we face on the path to a sustainable future. Although not every member of staff would adhere to the principles of permaculture or have an array of solar hot water panels on their rooftops, each of them are acutely aware of the necessity of sustainable development. Their passion may not be quite as raw as that of some of the folk who I met at Sunseed, but their knowledge tends to be more precise and very comprehensive.

While most of this knowledge is shared freely amongst colleagues and departments within the organisation, it is not unknown for slivers of information to be kept in close confines. This is not surprising, given the confidential nature of much of the information handled by the various departments, but sometimes it seems to be withheld for other, less lucid reasons. It must be said, however, that the NGO sector is by no means immune from this affliction. One of my classmates spent her first placement with an extremely well-known international organisation, which will remain nameless, and was shocked by the amount of secrecy she witnessed, spurred mostly by competition between their international offices.

So, while I started this article with the aim of exposing some differences between the two arenas, I have inadvertently highlighted the surprising similarities. The differences are there for all to see and all too often they drive a wedge between governmental departments and environmental groups. In my opinion it’s the similarities that need to be focused on if we are to stand together and forge a path forwards towards a sustainable future.

Freddie Harris is currently studying for a MSc in Leadership for Sustainable Development at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. His undergrad is in Tropical Environmental Science. Freddie writes about his current experiences as a sustainability student, giving others an insight into what is perhaps one of the most interdisciplinary subjects out there. He hopes to remain optimistic about the future!

Posted on: May 19, 2011, 9:00 am Category: The Life of an Environmental Studies Student Tagged with: , ,

2 Responses

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  1. Freddie Harris said

    Hey Amanda,

    Thanks for your question. Oh, where to begin… Sunseed is a great organisation, and deserves to be praised for the passion and dedication shown by its staff members on the ground who live in the community in Andalucia. They really do their best to support innovative projects and are currently trying to attract more university students.

    However, I don’t think it would be the best place to do any sort of thesis/dissertation. They are yet to establish enough contact with learning institutes to become a research centre, but this is their eventual aim and so, with help, they may one day get there.

    If it’s just experience in sustainable agriculture that you are looking for, then Sunseed is definitely the place for you. Their Organic Gardens department is currently being run by Kirsty and Becky, both very capable gardeners who love their jobs and love to share what they know with others. I think you would have a great time with them.

    There were at least 2 other German people there during my visit, both of whom were university students, so you won’t be the first! I would recommend getting in touch with either Patricia or Gina who work in the office. Ask to speak to Kirsty so that you can talk about what exactly you want to do during your time there, and she will be able to tell you whether it’s possible or not. I’m sure it will be!

    If there is anything else I can help you with Amanda, just let me know. Sunseed also have a group on Facebook where you can see some recent photographs.

    Good luck!

  2. Amanda said

    Hi! If possible…could you share more about your time with Sunseed? I am doing a Masters here in Berlin and am looking for some work experience projects/internships for the summer holiday (focusing on sustainable agriculture/irrigation practices). Any input is greatly appreciated. Thank you~!

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