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Menschen für Menschen was founded by Karlheinz Böhm in 1981. The Foundation works closely with local communities, empowering people to improve their environment and develop Ethiopia through their own activity which, in turn, improves their standard of living. While the Foundation has had financial problems in the last few years, it is now ready to become more active and implement new projects. This year the Foundation plans to train 7,491 farmers in methods of managing land sustainably, build 20 schools for 20,000 students and construct clean water systems through 159 water points and one rural town’s water supply. The Foundation also plans to reduce the risk of preventable diseases by immunizing 32,600 children and 139,100 women in cooperation with government health institutions. To strengthen the economic and social status of women and increase their contribution to community development, credit associations, benefiting 5,014 members will be supported. Capital’s Eskedar Kifle spoke to Peter Renner, a member of the Foundation’s Board of Directors, about the organization’s rocky times, recovery and activities.
Capital: When did you join this organization?
Peter Renner: In November 2013. I am member of the Board of Directors which leads and runs the Foundation. The board consists of three people; my two colleagues are responsible for finances and legal administration issues. I am responsible for operational and project work.
Capital: What was your impression of the Foundation and its work in Ethiopia when you came on board?
Renner: During my first visit here I could see that work was conducted very professionally. Three things make Menschen für Menschen different from other NGO’s. When we go into remote areas we get the community’s input and encourage them to participate in projects. We don’t just go to a place and say we are giving you a school and so on. Talking to local people and finding out what they need is very important to us. Before we start anything we go to the place and start a conversation with administrators and other people to identify their needs. This is the basis for creating our operational plan. We work on five developmental pillars; sustainable land management, health, education, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and human development. We are bringing different measurements together and organize them like clockwork. Finally, we commit to communities long term, usually for 15 years on average. These three points ensure our work is sustainable. We back this up with research conducted through independent assessments.
Capital: You said that you identify needs of communities before you start implementing projects. Do you also align your work with the Government’s national strategy such as the Growth and Transformation Plan?
Renner: Of course we do. We talk to every stakeholder, including the different bureaus for agriculture, education, WASH, religious leaders, associations and local people, when we create our operational plan.
Capital: The Foundation did have some problems for the last few years, especially with its finances. Can you confidently say now that this is behind you?
Renner: We have some indicators that give us confidence. Our income increased by 11 percent last year, this gives us a very strong sign that our donations will rise. We are in permanent discussions with our donor community, so out of the response from the discussions, we can predict they will come back to the Foundation.
If you have a founder like we had in Karlheinz Böhm and when that founder passes away, then it is always a critical situation for any organization, not only ours. But we did our homework. We knew that point would come, we prepared for it and when it came we adjusted the organization and administration to meet the organization’s needs. We did this successfully I would say.
Capital: What keeps donors coming back to you could also be that assuring them that the money that they give out is spent in only the designated area and not for something else. How do you make sure that happens, as there are generally issues with NGOs in that regard?
Renner: We are very transparent, first of all. We are monitoring our work and independent organizations are also monitoring our work. We communicate very frankly and we do not hide anything. We try to structure our work in a very transparent way and we always tell the people to come and see what we are doing.
We also have our own employees, we work with 730 people and this makes it possible to lower our administrative cost because we have a direct approach on how, when and where we work and we can directly monitor progress. When we do relief work we are doing it directly with our own people so I know how much money we are spending to buy grains for example and other things.
Capital: You said you work very closely with communities before, during and after implementing projects. Tell us what that experience has been like. For example, when you hand over a school to a community how well do they take care of it?
Renner: From time to time some problems arise but this is normal. If we see that there are issues, we speak to the people, community leaders, Woreda leaders and regional leaders very openly. We try to find a way to better the situation in a very direct way and in a short period of time.
What I can say so far is that we have always managed to solve issues in an effective way.