I would say that most people working in NGOs are motived by altruism. Organizations employing staff who are primarliy movtivated by altruism is positive but can negatively affect organizational learning in specific ways. The organization, Networking for International Development, conducted a survey of NGOs regarding organizational learning and published a report called, "Working with Barriers to Organisational Learning."
The focus of the report is on barriers to that seem to limit learning within NGOs. Ten barriers are discussed:
- Bias for Action - often altruistic motives can lead to an activist tendency in which staff feel that there is not time to slow down, clarify issues, and reflect on what is happening.
- The Undiscussables - altruism to do good can lead to the tendency to avoid issues because of fear of upsetting others or to avoid conflict.
- Commitment to 'the Cause'- similar to the Bias for Action above, this is a sense that the altruistic 'cause' has to be achieved and that taking time to reflect may lead to questionning of what is being done may not achieve the ultimate goal.
- A Cultural Bias - many people working in international NGOs come from the US or western cultures. The dominant culture of the organization may ignore other means and methods of interaction, discussion, reflection and learning.
- Advocacy at the Expense of Inquiry - the altruistic urge can lead to emphasis on advocating and defending a position at the expense of learning about other views.
- The Role of Leadership - combining most or many of the points above, organizational leaders often set the tone for what is acceptable forms of questioning, inquiry, interaction all of which affects overall learning.
- Learning to Unlearn - possibly surrounded by others who have similar altruistic motives, the trap of doing what is easy because of habits and assumptions that have been relied on for years with few challenges of learning new habits.
- Practicing What We Preach - as part of the altruistic zeal there can be a tendency to promote processes, methods and practices that the organization itself does not do.
- The Funding Environment - altruism often relies on outside funding and all too often funding (ie., donor) limits the extent of innovating and testing as well as enacting change based on learning.
- Thinking Strategically About Learning - even though many NGO staff are motivated by altruism, there can still be a tendency to be competetive, which results in a core practice of learning being an "internal" activity with little priority placed on learning from peer organizations.