Helping the Hidden Children
The Global Fund for Children takes a unique approach to grassroots organization empowerment. The results have transformed — and saved — millions of lives.
When Emmanuel Otoo visits organizations for the Global Fund for Children (GFC), a Washington, D.C.–based nonprofit, he often expects a rough road. Literally. Many of the groups GFC funds are small but innovative organizations that work on significant local problems. Sometimes, however, just getting there is a challenge. For example, a recent short trip to a Kenyan site involved a two-hour taxi ride to a market town, followed by a bouncy jaunt on the back of a motorcycle, then a long walk across a wet field.
The children GFC helps are also hard to reach — they may be abandoned babies, trafficked children, child brides or teens infected with HIV. Many are not attending school and live in slums or on the street. And they are invisible to much of the world.
“Many large organizations do not have the time or energy to take the risks needed to reach these children,” says Otoo, a native of Ghana who brings more than 15 years of experience with an anti-slavery group, a social investment fund, and the United Nations to his work as GFC program officer for Africa and the Middle East. “That’s what makes our approach unique.”
Founded in 1993, GFC seeks out early-stage, locally grown organizations that help children meet basic needs and stay in school. Since 1997, it has helped more than 10 million children through 600 local organizations. GFC now operates in 50 countries, scouting out groups that work with children in the most desperate situations. Once GFC’s program officers get to know an organization and its mission, GFC may choose to enter into a long-term partnership, providing the organization with cash grants — often starting around $5,000 — along with training and advice over a period of three to seven years. For most organizations the result is transformative.
South Africa’s Kliptown Youth Program offers a telling case in point. It began as an after-school program for children from the slums of the city of Kliptown. The program led to sports teams and tutoring, as well as financial assistance that paid school fees for some children. Guided by GFC — and with financial support from FedEx and other organizations — Kliptown Youth has expanded its capabilities and reach. When GFC began working with it six years ago, the organization’s budget was less than $100,000 a year. It’s now five times that, allowing the organization to provide meals, tutoring, sports and after-school programs for 400 students every day, along with assistance for youth moving on to post-secondary education.
“We help organizations strengthen their capacity and program quality,” says Otoo. “We believe in what these organizations are doing, so we help them get these things in place, and we provide grants to support programs while they do it. We design the partnership relationship to suit them.”
Otoo and GFC’s other seven program officers also organize workshops that unite groups from the same geographic area that are trying to address the same problem. The workshops may involve site visits, chances to share program information and peer learning opportunities. The goal is to help each organization elevate its services and remain true to its mission.
“For me, this is a way of life, not work,” says Otoo.
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