This is a hard post to write.
For over ten years I have had the privilege of being involved in the development and support of Jembatan Masa Depan (JMD), which was originally comprised of tsunami survivors who wanted to help their communities recover from the devastation that claimed the lives of over 200,000 people in Aceh in 2004. During that time, I have witnessed firsthand (and reported in this blog) what has been documented in many World Bank, UN and BRR (Indonesian recovery agency) “exit” documents: the greatest failure of the recovery effort was the international community’s lack of support and training of existing local agencies. Instead, international NGOs created their own temporary programs, recruiting local staff and effectively destroying any local organizational capacity in the province. None of the billions of dollars spent on reconstruction was allocated to administrative support of local organizations. As a result, today there are no more than a handful of local NGOs in the province, none of which are deemed “administratively competent” enough to receive larger grant funds, especially funds for sustainable livelihoods, conservation, or services for women. When small agencies are denied all but the smallest grant funds, which must go to direct services, they have no chance to expand their administrative capacity—or, for that matter, to fund an appropriate administrative and fiscal oversight component.
The post-tsunami/post-conflict multi-donor fund helped Aceh get back on its feet after one of the worst disasters in history. But make no mistake, it made a lot of international NGOs very wealthy, and gutted Acehnese civil society to a point where I am concerned about its ever recovering.
Building Bridges to the Future Foundation (BBF), the US-based non-profit we established to help support JMD, has begged the international donor community to change its funding policy to include appropriate capacity building and administrative costs in its grants to local NGOs in Aceh—some small compensation for the toll taken on locally-led initiatives over the past 10 years. It has also urged donors to accept the fact that some agencies, such as JMD, actually managed to develop sound administrative and fiscal management skills despite the international community’s best efforts to the contrary.
But sadly, 2015 is the same as 2005: no capacity building is forthcoming, no local organizations are encouraged to autonomously serve their province, and no international donor believes that Acehnese-led organization can deliver services without the help of a much higher-paid international “implementing partner.” The absurdity of this was made especially clear when two of JMD’s EDFF (multi-donor economic development fund) proposals were appropriated by World Bank, modified slightly, and given to international organizations to implement, one of which hired JMD as a subcontractor for the work it felt JMD was “capable” of performing.
Since 2005 BBF has assisted JMD with this glaring issue by providing annual funding for all the agency’s administrative services and equipment, while small grants and sub-contracts have provided direct service costs. This marks the last quarter that BBF will be able to do this. JMD staff is now working on a plan for a year-long transition to autonomy (since they have about 12 months of operating expenses in reserve), at which point other administrative funds will have to be secured or the last sustainable livelihoods NGO in Aceh province will be forced to close.
I still have hope, however, that this extremely difficult challenge will turn into an unforeseen opportunity, as JMD works with its Board of Directors to re-visit its mission and vision, and searches for other agencies with whom it may be able to partner, providing an agricultural livelihoods arm that few current international organizations working in the province possess.
I’m going to continue to post updates on JMD here from time to time, but I urge you all to visit their website (www.jmd.or.id) as well as their Facebook page (Bridges to the Future/JMD) to keep track of all the good work this agency continues to do for the people of Aceh province.