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Attacks from wild animals, natural disasters, poor infrastructure and the sexual harassment of women are among the many challenges facing the poorest farming families of Sri Lanka. Many farmers currently sleep in trees in the fields on a rotating basis, lighting firecrackers to keep marauding elephants away.
A Deloitte team of young leaders including Lily Burt, Melody McAllister and Jean-Marie Voon recently learnt just how tough life is for many Sri Lankans. In June 2018, they joined Oxfam Sri Lanka on a field trip to visit three different communities, each of which receives much-needed support from Oxfam.
The field trip was part of Deloitte Australia’s National Impact Mission, a six-month, multidisciplinary pro bono project that aims to revitalise charitable giving for Oxfam Australia.
The mission is an initiative of the Young Voice Directors of The Deloitte Foundation Board and Deloitte’s Responsible Business team. It’s a response to the fact that the humanitarian aid landscape is changing.
Charitable donors are demanding greater transparency, immediacy of impact and human connection with charities and people in need. Given Oxfam’s ambition to tackle poverty, there is a need for continuous support to ensure they stay sustainable.
The Sri Lanka trip enabled the Deloitte project team to understand in depth the strategic, project-based nature of Oxfam’s work and to gain the non-government organisation’s on-the-ground perspectives on the viability and feasibility of a potential solution to Oxfam’s fundraising challenges.
Asked what was most inspiring about the Sri Lanka trip, the team agreed it was their visit to a group of predominantly female weavers in Batticaloa, in the east of Sri Lanka, who had been upskilled by Oxfam with machinery, business skills and value chain connections.
“Their energy and drive to keep continuously improving their business and their lives shone through their eyes, animated gestures and the very much they had to say,” said Jean-Marie Voon, Young Voice Director of The Deloitte Foundation Board. The moment became even more special when the Oxfam staff explained that just nine months ago, the women had been too shy to speak to them.
The team also emphasised that the field trip — complete with tasty samples of coconut roti, fish curry and dhal — would not have been possible without the Oxfam in Sri Lanka team whose insights and hospitality were invaluable.
Lily Burt said the most challenging aspect of the trip for her was witnessing requests for help from people in a remote village in eastern Sri Lanka and realising how Oxfam’s declining donor funding can only stretch so far.
“I quickly realised that Oxfam is often not in a position to be able to support all of the requests they receive from beneficiaries. It’s hard to see them having to say ‘no’. Of course, you just want to be able to help everyone,” Lily said.
The team visited an Automated Water Management System (AWMS) that benefits 8,000 farmers — expected to grow to 14,000 — by helping them to make informed decisions in their cropping processes.
The AWMS, developed by Oxfam in partnership with Sri Lanka’s Department of Irrigation, also improves farmers’ safety. This is because they now know via SMS messages when water will be delivered, so no longer have to endure a dangerous wait overnight in the fields ‘in case’ it arrives. The system has also reduced tensions in the community as it provides everyone with the same access to water information. This means downstream farmers are less suspicious of upstream farmers ‘stealing’ their water.
Communities benefiting from a Weather Index Insurance Scheme and the Handloom SUNRISE project, which nurtures women-led enterprises in agriculture and access to handloom value chains, were also part of the Deloitte team’s field research.
Sri Lanka is the second-most disaster prone country in the world. The Weather Index Insurance scheme transfers disaster risk to institutional third parties, protecting vulnerable people (2,000 have so far elected to take out the cover) from loss of assets and livelihoods. Oxfam is seeking to attract more insurance providers and to diversify products. The SUNRISE project champions the economic empowerment of women through the development of the Rapid Care Analysis methodology used to understand unpaid care work by women. Eighteen SMEs and 184 weavers have received support from the program with flow-on effects to their families.
Here is the conundrum: while many donors might want to see or know the stories of the specific individuals their money helps, the economics of humanitarian aid often mean that large-scale projects that help thousands of people in communities are the ‘real’ story.
This is what Deloitte’s global project, WorldClass, is all about – helping 50 million futures by 2030.
This blog was authored by Sonya Voumard.