TEA BREAK WITHGaliba Rabbani
What kicks off your Monday morning?
You mean “what kicks me off on Sunday morning?”! In Bangladesh, the work week starts on Sunday – and runs until Friday. Like many of my peers working in the Development sector, I am driven by a sense of purpose and commitment to a cause. However, what motivates me the most is the nature, complexity and diversity of the portfolio that I am managing. It covers 10 countries that can be both in post-conflict and still-in-conflict situations, all with their diverse contexts. Every week, I am therefore confronted with exciting and sometimes unexpected experiences that give me the opportunity to challenge myself and grow my skills, while working towards social good.
What inspires you in the NGO and fundraising sector?
I remember back in 2008, as part of my internship at BRAC, I was interviewing a woman in rural Bangladesh. At some point in the interview, I asked her what she would do once BRAC’s program ends in her region. Her reply is engraved in my memory forever and is a major drive in my work as it highlights the impact that our organization has on these people’s lives: “BRAC is like a weapon that we use to fight against any discrimination, and that gives us the courage to drive change in our lives”. This sense of connection to a very large community of people – in opposition with growing individualism – that my work provides, is irreplaceable.
BRAC is like a weapon that we use to fight against any discrimination, and that gives us the courage to drive change in our lives.
In 2019, for the fourth consecutive year, BRAC was ranked first among the world’s top 500 NGOs by Geneva-based ‘NGO Advisor’ in terms of impact, innovation and sustainability. How different is BRAC’s approach to both fundraising and development?
Actually, a few weeks ago we discovered that we ranked first in 2020 as well! It is something that we are extremely proud of.
We are from the global south. It makes our programs unique as they are designed by the people who live in the conditions we are trying to change.
I think that BRAC’s uniqueness lays in its origins. Though BRAC International is now an INGO with its base in the Netherlands, the organization originated in Bangladesh and we are from the global south. It makes our programs unique as they are designed by the people who live in the conditions we are trying to change, and it directly shapes our approach to fundraising and impact, but also our organizational structure. Indeed, we adapt our solutions according to the context when supporting a community. We also expand our services to whatever we feel needs to be done to solve the problems of that community. As a result, we gained substantial expertise in many fields and now offer a wide range of programs in Financial Inclusion, Health, Education, Early Childhood Development, Humanitarian Response, Agriculture Food Security and Livelihoods, Youth Empowerment etc.
Despite the diversity of the services we provide, till now we have expanded our work in selected countries in order to ensure the depth and quality of our interventions.
Despite the diversity of the services we provide, till now we have expanded our work in selected countries in order to ensure the depth and quality of our interventions. Anything we do starts with a pilot that is then scaled up across different countries. It is thanks to such strategy that we are known worldwide for our sense of delivery and our ability to conduct large scale projects quickly.
I believe that what also makes BRAC unique in the sector is the way it connects with failure. We are not afraid of identifying our failure, rather we learn from it. And we manage to do so by involving the communities we serve and the program participants (village women, beneficiaries, teachers etc.) in our learning and innovation efforts. Our Ultra poor Graduation program was for instance introduced after realizing that we were failing in our desire to serve the poorest through our regular microfinance program. In recent years, we have also introduced a new theory of change for our Youth Empowerment program, taking into consideration the learnings from our Empowerment and Livelihoods for Adolescent (ELA) program.
We are not afraid of identifying our failure, rather we learn from it.
Regarding fundraising, our approach differs from most social purpose organizations as we do not only rely on traditional fundraising methods. We are of course reliant on donors, but in some countries we also have social enterprises that are closely linked to our development programs and we diversify our funding modality in target countries where relevant. For example, in Bangladesh, we have different social enterprises whose profit is reinvested in BRAC’s related programs.
We are of course reliant on donors, but in some countries we also have social enterprises that are closely linked to our development programs.
What trends and challenges do you see or foresee for the future of fundraising?
There are mainly three prominent trends that currently make fundraising challenging:
- Traditional grant funding tools are shifting their cores towards impact bonds, payment by results, social enterprises etc. Fundraisers are thus asked to quickly adapt their skillset to secure resources, but not every organization is prepared nor equipped to face such shift.
- With increasing emergencies and humanitarian crisis worldwide, the resource allocations are shifting more towards humanitarian funding. This is affecting the resources available for regular development programs.
- Increased competition for funding as many local NGOs have increased their capacity, and new actors are entering the game — e.g. start-ups, social enterprises that are coming up with innovative ideas to meet the SDGs.
Though such changes can be perceived as challenges, I also see them as opportunities to partner with them, learn and get inspired from other sectors.
What do you consider the most important quality of a good fundraiser?
Our work as fundraisers is inherently connected to people. It is therefore essential to be able to listen and understand the needs of diverse groups of people — may they be donors, program staff or members of the communities we serve.
It is essential to be able to listen and understand the needs of diverse groups of people.
Do you think that cultural differences impact your work as a fundraiser?
It sometimes does. Despite communicating in a common English language, sometimes the meaning and interpretation of things can be different, as it is influenced by our diverse cultural backgrounds.
I feel that the fact that I am from the global south sometimes influences the way I perceive the problems and solutions. As most institutional donors are from the global north, it sometimes takes extra effort to get the message across.
What helps you do your job well?
Our work as fundraisers can be stressful at times, and is highly time-consuming. In addition, every fundraising success is actually the result of the joint effort of multiple players in the organization: the fundraising team, the finance department, the program teams, country staff, etc. As such, being surrounded by a team of competent, supportive and respectful members makes a real difference!
Being surrounded by a team of competent, supportive and respectful members makes a real difference!
Coordinator Fundraising at BRAC International
About the series
Have you ever wondered whether you had more in common with your peers than just your passion for making a difference? Through informal interviews, we explore the ultimate drives of fundraising professionals, donors and association’s leaders, as well as their secrets for successful Mondays and their insights about the NGO and fundraising sector. Grab a cup and read on!
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