Embracing Trends and Transforming our Humanitarian Work

A report from the Program Directors and European ADRA Forum in Zagreb

July 1, 2024

From June 19th to 26th, 2024, Zagreb hosted the meeting for Program Directors of  ADRA in Europe. With one day of overlap for joint discussions, it was followed by the European ADRA Forum, attended by ADRA Country Directors from the Europe Region. ADRA’s leaders came together to discuss joint strategy, global trends and how they might affect the organization. Also present were leadership of ADRA International sharing inputs from a worldwide network perspective and getting a closer insight into the themes affecting ADRA in Europe. The meetings were important to exchange experiences and plan the future of humanitarian work across Europe and beyond.

Joao Martins, Regional Director of ADRA Europe expressed: “Bringing European ADRA leaders together to discuss the future of the agency is crucial for gathering the insights needed for ADRA to thrive. Witnessing the active engagement of leaders from across Europe inspires us to move forward and assures us that ADRA will continue to serve those in need with professionalism and compassion.”

As introduction, Michael Kruger, President of ADRA International shared about current updates by ADRA International. In a fast-changing environment, he emphasized, ADRA has to take choices and find alternative ways of work and funding, such as a stronger emphasis on private donations, working with the private sector or engaging in social business to bring social change but also to generate financial means to sustain costs.

Strategic Framework and Teamwork

One major topic was ADRA’s Strategic Framework for 2023-2028, presented to the group by Zivayi Nengomasha, Chief Collective Impact Officer ADRA International. The new global strategy was compared and aligned with the existing European Strategy.  The focus on joint data collection, intentionality, and accountability aims to make the organization more united and efficient, to learn and manage knowledge together. The discussions covered bridging between different departments and other themes that ADRA works on, to improve teamwork, making sure every office contributes towards the same global strategy.

Better Emergency Management

The worldwide ADRA network engages in on average 2,5 new National Emergency Projects per week, as presented by Michael Peach, Senior Coordinator Network Emergency Preparedness at ADRA International. The forum stressed the need to strengthen local emergency response abilities – within offices and by building capacity of volunteers and churches across Europe. The new SAFER assessment on emergency preparedness and environmental action policy show ADRA’s proactive approach to disaster readiness. Imad Madanat, VP for Humanitarian Aid at ADRA International, emphasized the importance of high-level humanitarian advocacy for people on the move, as well as for the disaster preparedness of communities and of DRR (Disaster Response and Recovery) after an emergency.  Over the past years, ADRA trained over 530 emergency response team members worldwide and works on combining development skills with disaster response and peacebuilding, reflecting a commitment to handle crises better and support long-term recovery. Over the coming months, as a commitment to its workforce, new tools to support mental health and psychosocial support for Emergency Response Workers will be launched.  An emphasis on HR and staff care was also looked at in another group discussion led by Derek Glass, Program Director ADRA Norway and throughout the meetings.

ADRA in Europe aims to be more prepared for emergencies, helping communities recover faster and more sustainably. Much appreciated exchange happened among offices, that had encountered rapid growth following the start of the Ukraine crisis – Valentina Sturzu Cozorici, Program Director of ADRA Romania, shared the example of their office.

Volunteer Engagement and Impact

Volunteers are a key part of ADRA’s work. As global humanitarian arm of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, ADRA in its nature is rooted in local communities.  Stories from different countries such as Portugal, Italy, France, Czech Republic and Switzerland highlighted how important volunteers are in responding to disasters and running community programs. This focus on volunteers will likely build a stronger, more engaged volunteer network, expanding ADRA’s reach and impact in local communities also in Europe.

Collaboration Between ADRA and the Church

A significant discussion on one day centred around the collaboration between ADRA and the church. Daniel Duda, President of the Trans-European-Division of Seventh-Day Adventists in Europe, emphasized that every role, whether in ADRA or the church, is a holy calling. Both Matthew 24 and 25 are important aspects of our message. We are called to live a life reflecting Gods kingdom and using the gifts He has given us. Let us pray every day: “How would you like me, God, to be a vehicle of your compassion to people I encounter as I walk through my world?”. This collaboration encourages everyone, not just pastors, to live out their faith and compassion in their daily vocations. By embracing this vision, ADRA and the church aim to transform lives and communities, creating a world where compassion and justice prevail.

Antony WagenerSmith, Director of Mission and Evangelism in the Trans-European-Division, shared inspiring daily worship with the participants. On Tuesday, he reflected with participants among other, how ADRA in its work emphasizes Jesus ministry of healing, while the church’s primary expression is often teaching. To win a new generation of young ADRA leaders, it is important to position humanitarian work as a valid professional path for young people that want to express their faith in daily life.

Program Quality and Innovation

Ensuring high-quality and effective programs was another key topic. Guillermo Lizzaraga, Senior Director for Program Effectiveness at ADRA International, shared their model of training Programs and project leadership that ensures the backstopping of large government funded projects. The world around us changes faster and faster. Sonya Funna Evelyn, VP for Sustainable Development at ADRA International shared about potential changes in the US government funding international development and humanitarian aid, and how new players such as China, by building infrastructure and supply chains, shape trends in donor funding.

Also in Europe, the space for NGOs is shrinking with cut-backs of institutional funding and an increasing shift of funds to the private sector. ADRA Austria Country Director Marcel Wagner shared on best-practices when working with public donors like the European Union. Reem Aljebzi, Program Director ADRA Sweden shared about their approach of building the capacity and working with local partners.  Technology gives new innovative ways to improve the living conditions of the poorest in this world. One example is the transfer of cash (e.g. by mobile applications) in emergencies instead of commodities or the opportunity to link smallholder farmers to markets through mobile phones. Data collection and analysis at large scale are important for deeper insight. Pia Reierson, Technical Learning Lab Leed, shared more about the Technical Learning Labs at worldwide level that bring together experts from different technical fields in ADRA. Adopting and being ready for these trends as well as continuous education of staff are important so that ADRA’s programs will become more effective and innovative, finding creative solutions to complex problems.

Harnessing the power of technology

A major topic during these meetings was the focus on using digital tools in project management. The discussions showed how important it is to use digital systems and keep all data in one place. Jose Herranz, Technology Coordinator of ADRA Europe explained ADRA Source, its benefits, and key software tools. LogAlto, ADRAs project management tool, is very important for using resources wisely and planning projects well. It helps make processes smoother and more efficient, and allows, once adopted by all offices, better insights into the worldwide impact of the ADRA network. Corinna Wagner, Fundraising Coordinator of ADRA Europe shared about the value of CRM and Automation software for improved and tailored communication in private donor fundraising.

Advocacy, Peacebuilding, and Localization

Advocacy and peacebuilding were also important topics. Effective advocacy strategies were presented by Igor and Dragana Mitrovic at the example of ADRA Serbia’s work with homeless people and ongoing peacebuilding efforts in conflict areas show ADRA’s dedication to promote justice and peace. Focusing on local needs and priorities in aid programs emphasizes a bottom-up approach, empowering local communities and civil society organizations at community level. Gabriel Villareal, Emergency Coordinator for ADRA Europe, shared about a joint initiative by ADRA and PARL (Public Affairs and Religious Liberty) to look deeper into the topic of peacebuilding. This focus will ensure that aid is more relevant, sustainable, and impactful.

Faith-Based Organizations in Europe

Ruth Faber, CEO of EU Cord, highlighted in one presentation the unique position of faith-based organizations (FBOs) in Europe. While FBOs have historically connected faith and social action, they now face challenges like political shifts and increasing scrutiny. However, there’s also a growing confidence in their identity and mission. FBOs like ADRA must navigate the politicization of religion and the sacralization of politics while staying true to their core values. By fostering hope, engaging in prayer, and demonstrating genuine compassion, FBOs can continue to make a significant impact, even in complex and changing political landscapes.

Addressing Planetary Boundaries and Global Challenges

Rilli Lappalainen, President of Concord, highlighted the urgency of addressing planetary boundaries and climate change. The impacts extend beyond heatwaves and wildfires to include worker productivity, property damage, mental stress, diseases, and food shortages. Additionally, the rise in state-based armed conflicts and the shift in funding from official development assistance (ODA) to military expenses were discussed. The EU’s Global Gateway initiative, aimed at connecting goods, people, and services sustainably, and the projected population changes underscore the need for strategic investments in people and the planet. By focusing on the principles of the Agenda 2030 and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — People, Prosperity, Peace, Partnership, and Planet — and leveraging governance, economy, finance, individual and collective action, and science and technology, ADRA can navigate these complex challenges. A renewed social contract involving the private sector, state institutions, civil society, and individuals was expressed as crucial in this endeavour.

Adapting to New Trends

These presentations on new trends, as well as others reporting on changes in EU humanitarian aid policies, climate change, digitalization, and gender equality offered important insights. In groupwork, ADRA leaders discussed how these trends bring both challenges and opportunities for ADRA in Europe – followed by action steps to take immediately, mid- and longterm.

Thomas Petracek, Head of Programs at ADRA Europe, shares his thoughts after the meetings: “Working in programs means searching for solutions to help the underprivileged live a life in dignity and with perspective. In times of increasing crisis, we need success stories, that prove that change and improvement are possible and investment in people is the best warranty to make the world safer, just, and more hopeful again. The exchange between the program colleagues is essential to learn from each other, discuss the challenges,  and strengthen our partnership. As human beings each of us has great value, we all are partakers in the creation and are forming the way of life in our immediate surroundings. But as ADRA Programs we influence lives of thousands of vulnerable families and individuals across the globe, by changing their situation through Health, Education, Livelihood and Emergency response. This a privilege that we humbly recognize, and which motivates us to work on solutions with our partner in the field for a better and peaceful future.”

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