Washington — Lebanese civil society leader Baria Daye says the destiny of her country and region rests with the youth.
“Youth constitute the majority of the population in the Arab world, as well as in my country Lebanon,” Daye said. “Therefore, empowering youth and letting them voice their concerns, express themselves, their demands and aspirations, and having them participate in shaping their own future is extremely crucial. They simply cannot be ignored.”
Daye is co-founder of the Tripoli Youth Forum, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that helps young people communicate with policymakers, government officials and public institutions. In addition to engaging in local issues, the forum joined people around the world in 2009 and 2010 to participate in the United Nations Millennium Campaign’s Stand Up Against Poverty initiative.
In recognition of her efforts, the State Department’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs invited Daye and 17 other civil society activists from around the world to tour American NGOs as part of the International Visitor Leadership Program. During the seven-city tour, from February 14 to March 4, Daye met government officials and leaders at American NGOs to discuss strategies and approaches to better serve the public.
For Daye, finding out how to get youth involved in NGOs was a crucial aim of her trip. During her visit to Salt Lake City, she met Americans who described methods to attract young volunteers and retain them over the long term.
“These include treating youth volunteers as employees who go through a recruitment and selection process involving interviews, job descriptions and commitment contracts … empowering them in terms of trainings and development seminars and recognizing their efforts and appreciating their work input,” Daye said. “This eventually leads to volunteer retention as they feel a sense of integration and belonging to the organization and its mission.”
Lebanese and American NGOs, Daye discovered, share challenges such as attracting volunteers, maintaining financing and developing cross-collaboration on projects. Solid management is vital to making NGO programs successful.
“NGOs in the U.S. really function very much like businesses, except that they are not-for-profit; they are very well-organized and committed to their causes and missions,” Daye said, adding that American colleges and universities offer degree programs in NGO management.
Daye said that NGOs in Lebanon, including her own Tripoli Youth Forum, must examine better management strategies. “NGOs need to realize that just because they are charities that work for the greater social good is no excuse for not following a fully professional approach if they are to grow as an organization,” she said. “After all, they are in the business for the public good.”
But organizations working for the public have a tough time covering their costs. Daye said American NGOs often generate funds by working together.
“One thing that I particularly admire is that NGOs have a better chance at winning grants if they apply in a coalition,” Daye said. “This promotes cooperation among NGOs and leads to a greater synergistic impact in achieving highly efficient results than if NGOs were to work separately.”
Back in Lebanon, Daye plans to cultivate the relationships she made with like-minded civil society leaders from across America.
“I made a lot of contacts with Americans on this trip that I do plan to use for potential future projects and mutual collaboration, hopefully through the establishment of long, fruitful partnerships,” Daye said.