Founded over 75 years ago, Plan is one of the oldest and largest children’s development organisations in the world. Plan works in 50 developing countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas to promote child rights and lift millions of children out of poverty. In 2013, Plan worked with 78 million children in 90,229 communities.
Plan’s vision is of a world in which all children realise their full potential in societies that respect people’s rights and dignity and they aim to achieve lasting improvements in the quality of life of deprived children in developing countries, through a process that unites people across cultures and adds meaning and value to their lives. Plan is an association of legal entities operating in countries around the world.
Here Plan Ethiopia has increased the scale of its operations, expanding to over 45 districts across 3 regional states and the Addis Ababa City Administration, and tightened its programmatic focus. The current country strategy centres on three core programs namely child protection, survival and child development, and education.
Manjo Kumar, the newly appointed Country Director talk about future programs which Plan Ethiopia aims to achieve;
Capital: When did you start your career? What were some of your first jobs? Can you tell us more about your educational background?
Manoj Kumar: I have been working in the development and humanitarian sector for the past 17 years in South Asia, West Africa, Southern Africa, Eastern and Northern Africa. I completed my Master’s Degree from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, India and then started working with a local NGO in a tribal district of Western India. I worked extensively in many parts of India before moving to Africa.
Capital: Where have you been before you come to Plan Ethiopia?
Manoj Kumar: Just before coming to Ethiopia as Plan International’s Country Director, I was working in Sudan as the Country Director of Plan International. Prior to that, I was Interim Regional. Director of VSO International for Southern Africa supporting and managing six country programs of VSO including Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, Mozambique, Malawi and South Africa. Prior to that, I worked as the Country Director of VSO International in Malawi. Before that, I worked as the Country Director of Concern Worldwide in Sierra Leone. I also worked with Save the Children (Tsunami Response Programme) and Action Aid International (Gujarat Earthquake Rehabilitation Programme) in India.
Capital: How did you see Plan International Ethiopia overall work and involvement in developmental works?
Manoj Kumar: Plan International has been working in Ethiopia for the past two decades. Children are at the heart of everything that we do. We are one of the leading International NGOs working on both long term development issues as well as responding to the needs of children in a humanitarian context. We are very well positioned in different regions of Ethiopia to reach out to many more children. We are currently working in five regions in Ethiopia including Amhara, Oromia, SNNPR, Addis Ababa and Gambella. Our approach of Child Centered Community Development has already made significant positive changes in the lives of the children and communities in Ethiopia. We have a long term commitment to work with the children and communities in Ethiopia and we have been working with a range of partners including local community based organizations, NGOs, government institutions, UN agencies, donors, corporate sectors, academic and research institutions.
Capital: Many people argue that NGOs doesn’t help people become self reliant and instead fosters dependency what do you have to say about this?
Manoj Kumar: I don’t want to talk about other NGO’s performances because to tell about them I would have to work there. But in Plan International’s case we show the needy people how to catch a fish not how to eat. We are not focusing on how to give them money, we are focusing on how to help them with various social and economical problems. We have been in applying these theories for many years and we have had good results.
Capital: As a Country Director what will be your level of engagement and contribution towards Plan’s developmental works?
Manoj Kumar: It has been only four weeks for me in Ethiopia. I am still trying to understand the developmental issues related to children in Ethiopia. I will look forward to further strengthen our engagement and partnership with a range of actors including local community based organizations, NGOs, government institutions, UN agencies, donors, corporate sectors, academic and research institutions to reach out to many more children and make positive changes in their lives. Our staff (around 300 located in the country office and four field offices) are to the biggest asset that we have. We have already been investing a lot to build the capacity of our national staff and have been giving them more and more senior leadership roles within the organization. I will work towards further strengthening our team to deliver our results and commitments.
Capital: What has been the most significant learning experience in Plan?
Manoj Kumar: There are so many. The most significant one is that our target groups have much better ideas to address their issues and challenges; and so we need to work closely with them to build on their ideas to make positive changes in their lives. In Plan, we have a very participatory approach to work with targeted children and communities where they participate in identifying their own problems, findings solutions, implementing and monitoring the projects.
Capital: What is something that you are really proud of and why?
Manoj Kumar: I feel proud to see how Plan has helped the children and communities to change their lives positively. I am also proud of our team that is our biggest asset and without them we would not have been able to make these changes.
Capital: What are the prior opportunities and challenges for Plan Ethiopia
Manoj Kumar: As I mentioned earlier, Plan is a leading International NGO working on the issues of children in Ethiopia and we have been working more than 40 years. We have a real opportunity to work alongside arange of other actors to pull their strengths together to reach out to many more children in need and make positive changes in their lives. We also want to maintain and further improve the quality of our work while we want to scale it up. It’s a challenge to make a good balance between quality and scale but at Plan, we are very conscious about this and we are addressing it well.