How we identify amazing projects and NGOs on behalf of philanthropists
John Abbey visited the Bekaa valley Lebanon in March 2019 on behalf of a HNWI donor who wanted to support skills training and employment projects for Syrian refugees and education projects for children.
Abbey Solutions provides philanthropy advice to individuals and Foundations that wish to invest in sustainable high impact projects. We focus on well run, transparent organisations where donations can be tracked.
John’s role was to identify a number of cost effective, high impact NGOs and social enterprises working to provide skills training and employment opportunities. There is a lot that can be done from the comfort of an office, such as analysing financials, governance and reporting systems, talking to donors and interviewing staff. However, to get to grips with an organisation, to really understand it and get a sense of what its doing means spending time getting to know those the NGO is supporting, the environment its working in, the local staff and what the people living there really think.
The first thing you finds out about the Bekaa valley in Lebanon is that the term refugees can be controversial in itself. To INGOs (aid agencies) they are refugees, but to some officials they are “displaced people” and to local farmers “economic migrants”. Labels are important here because it defines what they can and can’t do and most importantly, how long they can remain where they are.
The Economics of War
While Syrian men will work in construction or agriculture in Bekaa for very little money, women will go to Beirut or other cities with their children selling flowers, some will beg; coming back every week to pay the monthly rent to stay in the camps (an average of $70 a month). Some children work in the fields; others tragically disappear in the narrow congested streets of Beirut. Their fate unknown. There is always exploitation in war, so we should not be surprised, but we should not become numb to it either.
In the cities there are NGOs doing incredible work, such as The Makhzoumi Foundation Fun Bus initiative that helps to protect street children. The bus goes round Beirut helping children seen begging or alone. Last year hundreds of children were taken off the street, many more were given food, clothes and medical care.
Some lucky children are in school. Just a few kilometres from the border crossing John visited a brilliant temporary school in Majdel Anjar, made from local materials. These buildings are ingenious. They can be dismantled and moved to another location without too much fuss. A sort of flatpack solution. The buildings are sturdy, warm and look great. The NGO that established the school John visited is the Kayany Foundation. The cost of building this facility was just $100,000.
The school can teach nearly 800 children with class sizes relatively small, maybe 30 in a class. The children were all in uniforms, well behaved and eager to learn, devouring every single word the teacher was saying. They were happy children. It was refreshing to see in the valley of despair this place of hope and belonging. It’s always the children that inspire.
The NGO recognised that nothing is permanent here which is why they went for a school complex that could be taken down and rebuilt if required somewhere else. A brilliant solution that meant the school could be used to teach thousands of children in the years ahead in different locations. Cost effective, impactful and sustainable. Exactly the type of project we were able to put forward to our donor.
How we work in the field
We spend time with NGO staff and get to know the people that are being supported. We talk to the partners and donors. We reach out to local journalists and Government officials to understand the political environment. In short we get behind the glossy websites and online stats.
Our donor reports are thorough and our process rigorous, so you know that NGOs recommended by us, based on your criteria, are of the highest standards and deliver projects that make a difference.
If you or your Foundation want to find out how we can help identify highly effective organisations working in Lebanon or the wider Middle East, please do get in touch. We work in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt. We will soon be working in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
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