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Cooperating to Change Lives

June is conference season for global health NGOs, so no one was surprised to hear I was going to DC for a conference last week. But several people asked why I was going to the InterAction Forum.

What is InterAction?

InterAction is a large coalition of NGOs dedicated to helping poor and vulnerable people—a rather broad mandate. IntraHealth is involved due to our work with improving health care systems in low-resource environments. But InterAction also includes groups working on environmental issues, human rights, food security, gender equality, disaster relief, and many more concerns.

What does the spotted owl have to do with improving HIV testing rates in rural Zambia?

At first glance, organizations such as the Sierra Club don’t have a lot to do with IntraHealth’s work. There’s also been debate between some in health care development and some environmentalists over conflicting priorities and goals. Ambulances tend to run on petroleum-based fuel. Wetlands can be home to malaria-bearing mosquitoes as well as more charming forms of wildlife.  Why would we go to a conference together?

None of our work is taking place in a vacuum, and none of us have expertise in all areas that need to be changed to improve people’s lives in low-resource areas. Partnerships that, on the surface, seem unlikely can turn out to be surprisingly supportive of each other. At the session entitled “Capitalizing on Convergence: Collaboration Among Development, Environmental and Human Rights NGOs,” I learned about collaborations between the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and CARE to protect people and fishing populations off the coast of Mozambique. In Mozambique, as in many parts of the world, fisheries have been severely depleted. WWF’s particular charge is to maintain a sustainable, renewable fish population. CARE is very concerned about how the depleted fish supply affects local communities, which depend on the fish for food and a livelihood. Together WWF and CARE are working in with the affected communities to finds sustainable solutions to promote growth in the fish population and protect the local communities’ health and well-being.

“Treebeard: This is not our war.
Merry: But you're part of this world!”

—The Two Towers

 So, if everyone in the NGO community cooperates, we’ll save the world?

That’s a bit simplistic. But while each group may feel it’s competing with the others for media attention, hearts and minds, and finite funding, cooperation may hold the key to a better way forward.

Are you in an NGO? What’s the most unexpected partnership your organization formed? Please share your experiences in the comments.