What the International NGO Community Can Do to Help the Lebanese Cause
By Bassel El Mrawed
Bassel is a MINN Fellow and Fulbright Scholar who attends the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. He is passionate about advancing human rights and equality for marginalized communities. Bassel’s academic and professional experience are cosmopolitan, having lived in Venezuela, Lebanon, Denmark, and Germany. He now resides in the Twin Cities where he focuses his scholarly and professional research on community development and NGO management within minority groups. He has worked with organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Campaign on various thematic projects including refugee and migrant rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and freedom of assembly and speech. His current research project that focuses on studying protection networks for human rights defenders is a collaboration between the United Nations and the University of Minnesota and will be presented at the UN Headquarters in Geneva. Using inspiration and enthusiasm, Bassel aspires to open an NGO that serves Lebanese minorities in promoting human rights.
As Lebanon sinks into deep inflation, skyrocketing poverty, rising unemployment, and other forms of economic and political instability, organizations around the globe are turning their eyes to the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding. The World Bank has cited the crisis as one of the three worst severe global crises, expecting the depression to drive more than half of the population below the national poverty line.
Most people in Lebanon struggle to find solutions. Negligence and corruption from government officials and the political elite have left the people of Lebanon isolated and reliant on resources and aid from non-governmental sources. For most of the post-Civil War history, NGOs have taken a lead role in filling the gap left by the government, which has made NGOs an influential stakeholder in the Lebanese arena.
NGOs worldwide have long wanted to tap into this influence and play a part in the improvement of the quality of life in Lebanon. As the crisis looms over the lives of more people, engulfing the local capacity to deal with the situation, social causes across all fields are in need of a helping hand from the international community. Now more than ever, the efforts of the international development community to reduce poverty and inequality are desperately needed. This is not an easy task though; navigating through the various layers and methods of ways to help are overwhelming.
If you are an NGO, whether in Minnesota or elsewhere in the world, there are many ways in which you can lend a helping hand:
Learn more about Lebanon:
In the age of the pandemic, news of distant places come and go and are drowned by floods of reports from other crisis-stricken countries. The increasing ease in sharing news is leading international communities to fight for the spotlight in a digitalized age where volatile crises topple one another in the headlines. NGOs need to use this phenomenon to their advantage: advances in technology and the resurgence of globalization have made information accessible. Reading up and researching the situation in Lebanon is a crucial first step in creating global good.
However, it is easy to be overloaded with news, and at many times it is easier to run across misinformation and even propaganda. Falling victim to deception and fake news can be more counterintuitive than ignorance. This adversity can be curbed by reading outputs from reputable international organizations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and International Rescue Committee amongst others.
More importantly is reading local independent work by Lebanese sources. Educating oneself through local sources is not only a way to get the perspective of the people on the ground, but also a way to support and uplift grassroot efforts and work. These groups form a vibrant and diverse mosaic of sources that spans many subjects. Below is a limited list of where you can be informed about the situation.
Abaad (Gender Equality and Domestic Violence)
Anti-Racism Movement (Migrant Workers)
Basmeh & Zeytooneh (Refugee Relief)
SMEX (Digital Rights and Protection)
Arc-En-Ciel (Services and Development)
AnimalsLebanon (Animal Rights)
Donate and Partner with Organizations in Lebanon
More often than not, NGOs have the desire to get involved by launching their own platform to cement their presence in a country. NGOs do not need to reinvent the wheel. After doing research, NGOs will realize that there are amazing efforts happening on the ground. There are hard working people already operating and striving for change. Creating new organizations can be detrimental as it can increase confusion, division of labor, and redundancy in duplication.
Donating to local NGOs is a great way to consolidate efforts and support a cause. The number of people in need is ever increasing and the economic burden has left organizations desperate for funds. The economic crisis, hyperinflation, and currency devaluation means that your dollar has more value than you’d think. The minimum wage dropped from around $450 no more than two years ago to less than $34 now, and the rate is unfortunately decreasing. A simple donation of $50 can mean double a month’s wage for many workers in Lebanon
Donations, despite being valuable even when small, are not always feasible for some NGOs. Many organizations are tied down by economic burdens of their own. Partnering with a Lebanese NGO or cause can organically generate mutual benefits for international NGOs and those in Lebanon. NGOs abroad can benefit from both throwing a lifeline to a Lebanese cause and from diversifying their work by adding enriching and innovative perspectives.
Tap into Lebanese Expertise
Throughout history, innovations coming from Lebanon have changed the course of history. From maritime breakthroughs, to the invention of purple dye, to even the creation of the first alphabet, it is no news that there is an immense amount of intellect in Lebanon willing to show its capability. Sponsoring Lebanese employees is an effective way to ensure your NGO puts to work the very values of diversity, equal opportunity, and equity we all strive for. Due to the hardships that range from electricity blackouts to internet outages, Lebanese workers are experts at handling high-stress situations and are quick to find creative solutions to whatever adversity your organization would face. We have a saying in Lebanon that roughly translates to: “Wherever life throws a Lebanese person, they will surely land on their feet.”
If sponsoring is not an option, hiring Lebanese in the diaspora can increase the remittances they send back to their family and friends in Lebanon. Chances are that there is a Lebanese person looking for work in your vicinity. Due to its long history of migration, there are more people of Lebanese descendance outside of Lebanon than within the country itself; Brazil alone has an estimated 12 million people of Lebanese origin compared to Lebanon’s own 6 million. The Lebanese diaspora has been a backbone of the economy of Lebanon; many families rely on remittances to survive. There are many Lebanese people in your local community waiting for an opportunity to shine and help their loved ones back home
As remote work becomes the norm, borders are blurred and porous, allowing an easier flow of work across countries from the comfort of one’s home. Hiring a Lebanese worker to work remotely from Lebanon develops and contributes to the local economy. It creates great opportunities for better quality of life for the employee, their family and friends, and the small businesses and communities they support.
Raising Awareness and Uplifting Voices from Lebanon
The crisis has changed every aspect of living in Lebanon. The social and economic fabric of many communities have been torn, leaving them and those they help vulnerable. Local NGOs across all fields have been struggling to maintain their livelihoods. From housing to health to rights of migrants, refugees, sexual orientation and gender identity minorities, and animals, social causes have run out of stitches to treat all these wounds. This can come as a surprise to you; there is little knowledge and awareness about the situation in countries abroad.
This is where international NGOs can step in. There are a plethora of NGOs working across all fields whose works need to be put on the spotlight. Whether your NGO works with women and gender rights, environment preservation, or food insecurity, you can utilize your NGO as a podium to voice these issues and raise awareness in your local community by tying your cause together with a similar NGO in Lebanon. By talking about these issues, NGOs can increase their knowledge about the fields they work in, be informed about the various ways they are manifested, and how communities outside the US are finding solutions.
It is important to be aware of the difference between talking about and talking over people and their struggles. Raising awareness should include amplifying Lebanese voices instead of talking on their behalf. This is a time for NGOs to shed light on the situation instead of stealing the spotlight. Partner with a Lebanese NGO, hire a Lebanese writer, or take any other steps that directly involve (and give due credit to) the people you are working with.
MINN Fellows, individual or organization members, board members, and volunteers are invited to join the Community Voices Series. If you have something you'd like to submit, email Katie at [email protected].