5 Roadblocks NGOs Encounter When Expanding to Africa

NGOs expanding in Africa

With African countries having relatively fewer modern infrastructures and being more exposed to instability, many NGOs choose Africa as their point of expansion. But most NGOs are wholly unprepared for the reality of such a choice, starting with the administrative procedures they must follow and the criteria they must fulfil to even begin their activities in the African country of their choice.

Along the way, NGOs will face many other hurdles that have little to do with the cause they are supporting – and everything to do with administration, HR needs, labor laws and compliance with local legislation.

Though well-meaning, NGOs could see their expansion projects crumble if they are unaware of these roadblocks – and how to overcome them while keeping their focus on their core mission.  

1. NGOs need a local entity to begin activities in an African country

NGOs, much like for-profit organizations, cannot operate if they do not have an in-country entity. This means that NGOs must register their entity and fulfill all the criteria required by local law in order to be eligible for operation. The issue here is that registration takes time, money, and resources – all ingredients which tend to be in short supply for NGOs that need to act fast in the interest of people and their higher cause. For instance, to be registered, NGOs will often need a physical local address and a local bank account to complete their application, which, itself, typically takes months and even, in some cases, up to a year to get fully processed by local authorities. For some NGOs, this kind of timeline is simply unthinkable.

How the right EOR can help

An EOR (Employer of Record), by nature, exists to allow organizations to legally operate in a country without a local entity. This implies a significant time gain for NGOs, allowing them to get to work almost immediately, rather than wait months on end for their applications to get fully processed. For those NGOs that wish to establish themselves more permanently in an African country, EORs are still a worthwhile solution. Indeed, EORs enable NGOs to be legally operational even as they wait for their registration to go through.

2. Balancing core activities with internal operations

When an NGO expands to a new country, they do so with the intentions of effecting social change and widening their circle of influence. But the reality of NGOs’ situations when they expand is more nuanced. NGOs cannot fully dedicate themselves to their main cause because they must also manage their own internal operations – a fact that finds NGOs splitting their time between helping society and their responsibilities as employers. These include HR functions (such as onboarding employees and administering employee benefits) and payroll. If the internal operations are not well taken care of, the NGO may well collapse from within. On the other hand, if internal operations begin to require too many internal resources, the NGO will not be able to fulfill its main missions to the best of its abilities.

How the right EOR can help

EORs alleviate an NGO’s workload by shouldering the responsibilities of HR functions and payroll. The right EOR will legally onboard your employees and process your payroll in a locally compliant way. This means that your NGO and your team will not have to worry about late or even incorrect salary payments, or even non-compliance with local labor law. An EOR will consider all these factors when they take over these responsibilities for you.

3. Working with contractors

To fulfill its vision, NGOs need capable workers. Often, NGOs will turn to contract workers to fulfill their labor needs. In so doing, most NGOs are unaware that they expose themselves to misclassification risks – which is a compliance issue at heart. Misclassification occurs when contract workers act as employees without receiving any of the benefits that the latter are entitled to. In most African countries, this constitutes a serious labor law offense, for which your NGO may be fined if found guilty.


To work with contractors without facing such risks, NGOs need to have an in-depth knowledge of local labor law.

How the right EOR can help

The right EOR will work with local experts who have a deep understanding of the local labor law. This will help your NGO determine whether a worker is, in fact, a contractor, or an employee depending on the work that they do and the way that they do it.

4. Ensuring compliance with a foreign legislation

As an NGO, your reputation is one of your key assets. Like trust, once your reputation is ruined, it will be hard to recover. If local authorities find that you are not compliant with the law, you may be sanctioned: usually by receiving a fine or by any other means deemed necessary by the local legislation. This can have disastrous consequences on your reputation, shattering the perception of goodwill that surrounds your NGO. After that, it may be harder to receive donations and to make donors trust you. All because of a compliance mistake that you were probably unaware of in the first place.

How the right EOR can help

The right EOR – like Africa HR Solutions – will ensure 100% compliance with local legislation, leaving no room for compliance errors and, by extension, blows to your NGO’s reputation. Here at Africa HR Solutions, we have a bulletproof compliance policy that gives your NGO the peace of mind it needs to keep going and to not worry about administrative issues in the least.

Over the past 13 years, we have helped over 70 NGOs in their expansion plans to Africa, facilitating their entry into the continent and helping them prioritize their core mission. Get in touch with us now to find out how we can help your NGO thrive in Africa!

5. Cultural differences

As NGOs shift to a new African society, likely very different from their own, and try to integrate it, they undeniably run into cultural shocks. This also holds true for employing local workers, whose cultural views and expectations of work may not align with what you may have in mind. Without proper knowledge of them and if not addressed properly, these differences can cause friction and dissatisfaction among your staff.

Bonus: USAID compliance requirements

USAID-funded non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are subject to a set of strict compliance requirements established by the United States Agency for International Development. These guidelines include financial management, program implementation, and reporting procedures. From ensuring transparency in fund allocation to adhering to local laws and regulations, these mandates are designed to uphold accountability in delivering aid across the globe.

How the right EOR can help

The right EOR will work together with local experts. As such, the EOR will be fully cognizant of the many cultural practices surrounding work in that country, as well as what expectations the employees may have, beyond what the law recommends. For instance, in some African countries like Senegal and Kenya, it is common for employers to give employees’ what is known as 13th month pay, even though it is not mandated by law.

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Over the last 13 years, we provided a compliant and secure expansion to more than 70 NGOs across the continent. Should you require professional guidance, know that we are the go-to advisor for your Non-Profit Organization!

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