Q&A with Neena S. Jain MD, emBOLDen Alliances

Posted by Rebecca HobbleIMG_2636

Increasingly, funders are advised to give to smaller locally-based organizations that deeply understand the needs of the communities they serve, especially after disasters. However, finding effective local organizations can be challenging, especially for donors based abroad. One nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting locally-led solutions is emBOLDen Alliances, which helps community-based organizations around the world strengthen their capacity, maximize resources, and measure impact. We spoke to Executive Director Neena S. Jain MD. to get insight into how funders can give locally for impact.

You have more than 20 years of experience working with international NGOs. What gap in existing aid work led you to create emBOLDen Alliances? What makes emBOLDen unique?

Over decades of work directly with communities in Humanitarian Assistance and International Development, we witnessed common threads across various contexts globally – of communities knowing best for themselves, of community-based organizations with can-do attitudes, of successful and novel grassroots-driven approaches, and of meaningful relationships at multiple levels of community and society. But we also saw many top-down models that fostered inefficient programs, wasted resources, and – perhaps most importantly – drowned out community voice. Having seen prior approaches fall short, we knew there was a better way forward to create and implement meaningful, durable change, which led us to found emBOLDen Alliances (EA).

Current levels of humanitarian need and the complexities of response are at an unprecedented high, necessitating more informed, efficient, resourceful, and durable responses to crises. In order to meet current challenges and for humanitarian reforms and real progress to become reality, we must redesign and implement foundationally novel human-centered approaches as well as evidence-based methodology and measured impact. At EA, we assist local organizations in going farther faster and maximizing funders’ dollars.

What’s one recent example of EA’s work? What results did you see, and what did you learn?

In terms of one specific programmatic success, we are particularly proud of our three-pillared response to the 2015 earthquakes in Nepal, which was composed of immediate, intermediate, and long-term responses. Our immediate on-the-ground efforts focused on addressing medical needs and understanding rebuilding priorities. We accomplished this through the provision of technical and logistical support to a local program that benefited those affected in extremely remote areas. In addition, we assisted local networks in the delivery of more than $180,000 in temporary shelters and lifesaving supplies to areas most in need.

After acute needs had been addressed, EA transitioned to intermediate and long-term support focused on rebuilding and readiness for future natural disasters. Working with other local partners, EA created and implemented a First Aid Train-the-Trainer program for teachers in remote areas, which included over 75 teachers and 9 students representing 16 schools, who reported that they are now better equipped to care for their schools’ 4,500 enrolled students. Additionally, EA worked with another partner organization to implement, evaluate, and substantively improve programs for livelihoods, agricultural diversity, and stability within earthquake-affected communities.

The success of this response demonstrates the necessity of providing targeted support in each phase of a disaster to meet the needs as identified and prioritized by communities and the local programs that serve them. It is the combination of flexibility, quick and strategic response directly to communities, and success at each stage of work that made this response satisfying and rewarding.

After disasters, funders are often encouraged to give locally, but may lack the tools to do so. What advice can you give to them?

At EA, we firmly believe that locally-focused support (whether it be operational or programmatic) is the best way to facilitate effective work. This is true not only in development contexts, but also in humanitarian emergencies. Taking proactive steps before disaster strikes is the best way to support the communities that will be most affected when it does. Based on our experience in crisis settings, we recommend that funders:

  1. Invest in organizations that strengthen the knowledge of community-based organizations as well as the ability of these organizations to maximize resources, track donations, deliver on programs, and complete comprehensive reporting on impact measures.
  2. Invest in models that support the ability of local organizations to understand, integrate with, and function within the larger international humanitarian architecture.
  3. Invest in local humanitarian trainings and support efforts to help grassroots, locally-led solutions align with international humanitarian standards and guidelines.
  4. Promote and encourage effective utilization of data, data analysis, communication, and visualization of data in order to reduce waste, inefficiencies, and redundancies.
  5. Invest in the enhancement of local economies and local supply chains as well as the pre-disaster identification of resources.
  6. Support programs that build crisis readiness into effective community-led programs.
  7. Finally, we recommend referring to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy for the latest information on what NGOs are responding and what each of their efforts entails.

What is EA most excited about right now?

We are inspired by the ability to help our partners get to their next level of success with their own communities. We are also excited to support other advancements of locally-led efforts, such as the Charter for Change, an initiative to empower and direct more localized humanitarian response worldwide. And, we are excited to work ourselves out of jobs in the future!