Monday, August 3, 2009

Spotlight Organization: BASSMA

This spotlight interview is with the Lebanese civil society organization BASSMA (Association Caritative Libanaise).

DL: Please describe BASSMA’s mission? Is BASSMA working throughout the country or are your activities limited to a certain region? What makes BASSMA’s activities different than other local charitable organizations? How is BASSMA ensuring the sustainable support of its programs and activities?

B: BASSMA works with the most deprived families in Lebanon, those for whom life is a daily struggle, and brings them to sustainable financial independence through a three-to-five year rehabilitation program tailored to the specific needs of each family.

We currently work with families living all over Beirut, regardless of political or religious affiliation. Our offices are located in Beirut, where most of our volunteers are located. Nevertheless, BASSMA works with deprived social groups in many regions of Lebanon through its awareness program on poverty KIDSWAP. This program organizes interactive encounters of Beirut private school students with public schools students, orphanages, and hospitals as far away as Tripoli, for the implementation of participatory social projects.

BASSMA’s family rehabilitation program is unique in the way that our volunteers develop a personalized relationship with the families for a period of no less than three years. In this way, the families benefit not only from the financial and material support they need, but also human and psychological follow-up they crave for.

BASSMA’s financial sustainability is ensured by (a) a nurturing relationship with private and corporate donors, (b) project-based funding from international donors, and (c) an Atelier where the disadvantaged are employed to create handmade objects for sale.

DL: What are the major factors contributing to poverty in Lebanon? What are the biggest obstacles to overcoming these challenges? How can the new Lebanese government begin to address these issues? What is the role of decentralization in improving the livelihoods of citizens in rural areas?

One of the major factors of poverty is the gap that lies in the labor market between job demand and job offer, leading to high unemployment rates and low security. On one hand, this is due to endemic economic problems and political insecurities that prevent the creation of quality jobs. But on the other hand, the skills that are acquired by job seekers do not match those that are required in the job market. The biggest obstacle for overcoming this issue is the lack of adequate and affordable education of high quality, including further access to vocational training programs.

One way of addressing this issue is by offering more governmental scholarships for motivated students from all backgrounds, ensuring that more people are adequately educated to fill the employment void.

If managed with transparency and accountability, administrative decentralization could help local municipalities and authorities adapt development projects to specific issues in each region. Local people could have more say and control over the resources that are allocated to them, and hold their local leaders more accountable for their actions.

DL: Is micro-finance a viable solution to helping poor families get out of poverty in Lebanon? If so, how can micro-financing programs expand, especially among women?

B: Micro-finance programs have proven their worth in the realm of poverty alleviation in rural areas. Women are an important target for entrepreneurial enterprises, because their professional success has proven to positively affect their children and family. For micro-financing projects to thrive, especially in rural areas, information needs to be spread about the functioning of microfinance, and participating women need to be trained on the fundamentals of running a business. By making women interested in securing their own futures and creating opportunity for their children, and knowledgeable about the basics of small business management, it is more likely that well-designed, sustainable projects could be formed. The program should also be adapted to the local culture of the targeted women. It is probable that a program designed à la Grameen Bank would work well in Lebanon were social capital is of utmost importance. Last but not least, the program needs to be ruled by strict and good accounting principles to insure the sustainability of the microfinance program itself.

DL: How can Lebanese living abroad contribute to Lebanon’s development?

B: Lebanese abroad can be involved in development organizations by setting up contributions by electronic money transfer. Additionally, development organizations could make contact with networks of Lebanese living in close communities abroad to spread information about their causes and increase fundraising. Through these PR projects abroad, Lebanese in the Diaspora could become engaged to use personal and business networks to directly support Lebanon. Additionally, those living in highly developed countries could take inspiration and import high standards to Lebanon for the overall development of the country.

Safadi Foundation USA thanks BASSMA for taking the time to answer our questions. Please visit BASSMA's website to learn more about the organization and discover ways you can help Lebanon's human development.

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