Almaz Boehm who has been part of Menschen für Menschen (MfM) for 26 years has now become its new Chair.
Established by Karl Heinz Boehm on November 13, 1981 in Munich Germany, MfM has branches in Austria and Switzerland. Menschen für Menschen has been providing support for self-development in Ethiopia since 1981. To initiate lasting and sustainable change Menschen für Menschen developed the idea of “integrated rural projects”. In cooperation with the local population, MfM promotes an integrated and interlocked approach to development activities in its various project categories.
Almaz Boehm who took over the chair from the founder and her spouse Karl Heinz Boem sat down with Capital’s Elias Gebreselassie and talked about MfM’s future plans and its contribution to the public at large.
Capital: What new projects has MfM planned for the 2012 budget year?
Almaz Boehm: All in all we have 11 projects. We have a children’s home at Illubabor and one at Agro-Technical college in Harar which are being financed by MfM. The others are the integrated rural development projects. There is also a new project at Abune Gendeberet in Oromia Regional State in West Shoa region. It has about 118,000 people living in the area. We’ve now started with an integrated rural development project.
Capital: What has been the effect of the World Economic financial crisis on the funding sources of MfM?
Almaz: Until now, thanks to God, not very much because our organization has also invented strategies to reach people. We are really going after most of the companies and the big sponsors. Our donors in Europe trust our foundation a great deal. Europe still has reduced their budget for humanitarian activities but they didn’t close it completely. We try to get as much as we can from their remaining budget for our organization. We have doctors that people have complete trust in. They said we are not providing that much money for the humanitarian activities but the money which we do allocate; we will select the Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) which are the most efficient organizations. So we get most of our budget from donors in spite of the fact that we live in times of economic crisis in Europe. We had a tremendous budget last year in our 2011 donations because we used our 30th year anniversary not to celebrate ourselves but to magnify the problem and potential of Ethiopia. We use the same strategy like my husband Karl Heinz Boehm did 30 years ago: the “Let’s bet program” on German Television. We launched it with 24 towns and two special counterparts; so we bet with 24 towns. The inhabitants of these towns would each give an average of one euro for an education program of MfM. We were very much surprised and joyful about the positive response. There were many actions within five weeks which brought a lot of money last year. So now we are able to invest the amount of money we really want to. It is not just the crisis we have to deal with, we also have to develop a strategy and we have to work hard; of course this is obvious; “nothing comes from nothing” so we have to work harder than ever and we have to have the best strategy. The big trust we have in Europe has helped us to be one of the selected NGOs that whenever they donate, they donate to us. They select only the best ones, the most efficient working NGOs. That’s why even though there is an economic crisis, we still get the donation.
Capital: How do you identify areas and places that need your help?
Almaz: We get many applications from different regions and regional governments. We do have our own strategy and criteria but we work as partners with people in the local community and we focus on what we can do together. I visit some management members and send our professional staff members and they make an assessment. We want to know if the community will participate and if they are willing to make changes to improve their way of life. Another vital criterion is the availability of natural resources. These are the basis for our work and in order to implement most of our agricultural activities we need to focus on environmental protection; that’s why this is an integrated rural development. If we aren’t able to make any change or difference in the food security and environmental protection and rehabilitation we will not do the project. For infrastructure like schools or health centers, we can do it from Addis Ababa but if we know there are lots of potential natural resources like springs, enough land for agriculture, enough background for irrigation then we can make a difference. So natural resources and being able to work with the environment are really important for us to make a difference in rural development. We also want to make sure there is not another NGO doing the same thing in the area. We want to focus on where people really need the help and don’t have any organization providing services. If we study an area and find they meet all these criteria then they will likely be selected as the next integrated rural development project.
Capital: Out of all the projects you have done how many have really been successful?
Almaz: All of our projects are rural integrated development schemes that take place over three years. We make a plan and budget for those three years and agree with the regional government. We will report on progress every quarter and then when the three years are completed we will make an evaluation. The regional government of course plays a role in this evaluation. We look at what changes we need to make and things we did not finish will be worked on even harder in the next phase. We worked on one project for eighteen years in the case of Merabete. In Deraa they became self-sufficient within 13 years. Every three years we complete an evaluation.
Capital: Now that you’ve been elected as chairman of MfM, what should we expect in terms of strategies and focus area?
Almaz: The strategies which my husband and I were following have proven to be successful. I want to continue working as we have done before because I feel that we are meeting people’s needs. Things have been running smoothly. We have grown. At first we were very small and limited but now we are deeply involved in several communities. Since we started we have dealt with new challenges like HIV/AIDS, family planning, harmful traditions. We are continuously expanding to address the deep rooted problems of society. We do want to expand but based on the needs of the community.
Capital: Has the budget for the projects increased or decreased when compared with the previous years? And if so, by how much?
Almaz: It has increased. It was 480 million birr last year and this year it’s about 569 million birr, so you can see the difference.
Capital: Do you have any plans to expand your operations?
Almaz: Yes. We have some pipeline projects under study in places where regional governments have asked us to step in and help. We are conducting needs assessments throughout the country. In Europe my husband started the organization in the three German speaking countries where he was well known and some small parts of Belgium. There we are known, we have trust, we have open doors to the community and to the area, so we concentrate only on that because if we start in other countries it will not be easy. That’s why it’s better to concentrate on where we are.
Capital: In your 26 years of work, have you encountered any problem?
Almaz: As such problems do not exist. We work well with the regional community and local governments because we are equal partners with them. Everybody has a clear and defined responsibility. People are equal stakeholders and take ownership over the project’s success. Of course sometimes things take time to realize but this is not something that can’t be overcome.
Capital: What are you doing to get young people involved in MfM activities or to get involved in the funding?
Almaz: Through funding in Europe we’re doing a lot. We have activities for younger people and colleagues who care and go into the schools to reach out and motivate people. We want them to know how they can get involved. We are also always working on fundraising. You can also see we really have only five Europeans working here. The other employees, 760, are Ethiopians. A professional Ethiopian will always get priority because we want Ethiopians to build Ethiopia.
Capital: What has been the effect on you and also Karl getting recognition and honor from both Ethiopians and from other countries?
Almaz: It’s a trust we earn. The more honored you are, the more trust you get from the donors and also from people who finance our projects. People believe that our projects help in tangible ways. It is the trust we win which brings such recognition.