Back to News

Right Work and Right Team: How BRAC UPGI is Aspiring to Become a Truly Diverse, Global Entity

 September 1, 2021 • 34 minute read

What are the advantages and disadvantages, if any, when an organization can start almost with a new slate? How do local authorities, local and national governments respond to localization push for an initiative like BRAC UPGI?

By Tosca Bruno-Van Vijfeijken | Founder and Principal Consultant, Five Oaks Consulting and Rasha Natour | Senior Advocacy Manager, BRAC Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative

In this transcribed interview, Tosca Bruno-Van Vijfeijken of Five Oaks Consulting and Rasha Natour of BRAC UPGI discuss two big strands of work: ‘Right Work’ and ‘Right Team’, and the different functions they play in becoming a truly global entity. This is a transcription of NGO Soul + Strategy podcast episode 26, Right Work and Right Team: How BRAC UPGI is Aspiring to Become a Truly Diverse, Global Entity. It has been lightly edited for clarity. The original podcast can be found at here, or via the embedded YouTube video below on the Five Oaks Consulting YouTube channel.

Tosca Bruno-Van Vijfeijken (T): Global South-founded civil society organizations have been in ascendance for decades, and they increasingly and vocally critique Global North-founded NGOs for what they see as a prolonged “not walking the talk” on shifting power as well as resources to Global South-founded organizations, a.k.a. the movement called #ShiftThePower.

At the same time, the Bangladeshi-founded and decidedly transnational NGO BRAC for several decades now has been among the largest NGOs in the world. So when I had an opportunity to interview a senior leader at BRAC’s high-profile Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative, or UPGI for short, about their strategy towards diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, I jumped at that opportunity. Listen in to my conversation with Rasha Natour, Senior Advocacy Manager at UPGI, about their two-pronged strategy. First, Right Team, which is about how to emphasize diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging values in recruitment, as well as in performance management, and second, Right Work, which is about how to shift the locus of decision making and authority to people most close to the impact. Have a listen.

Hello and welcome to NGO Soul + Strategy, the podcast for NGO leaders and managers who look change right in the eye. My name is Tosca Bruno-Van Vijfeijken and I’m the founder and principal consultant of Five Oaks Consulting.

I have over three decades of experience helping leaders in civil society manage change, invest in cutting-edge leadership development, lead organizational culture change, and strengthen effectiveness. I’m also a thought leader on these issues, including as co-author of the book Between Power and Irrelevance: The Future of Transnational NGOs, which is read by civil society leaders across the globe.

If you are such a leader, and want to look change right in the eye, this podcast is for you.

Hello, everybody. This is Tosca at NGO Soul + Strategy and today I have a guest with me: Rasha Natour.

She is the Senior Advocacy Manager at BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative, or UPGI. And Rasha came to us because we wanted to talk about ways in which the Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative is going about its new strategy in new ways and how it’s building in forward-looking ideas around diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging into that new strategy, which made me really interested and wanting to know more. So welcome, Rasha.

Rasha Natour (R): Thank you.

T: You’re so welcome. I’m looking forward to this.

So to my audience, just to introduce Rasha, she’s, as I said, a Senior Advocacy Manager at BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative.

She is a former Strategic Direction Manager at CARE International, also a former Knowledge Management and Global Advocacy specialist at CARE. And also, interestingly enough, Rasha had a role in research on civil society at the London School of Economics, which, of course, is very famous.

So Rasha, the Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative, that’s a mouthful. Everybody knows BRAC as a brand name in civil society globally. Everybody. No, not everybody. People here in the US, some people in our community know BRAC USA. So tell us a little bit about the initiative programmatically and from a mission perspective. And tell us how the initiative fits in both BRAC USA and in BRAC International.

R: Sure. So as you mentioned, the Ultra-Poor Graduation initiative is quite a mouthful. So moving forward, I’ll just reference that as UPGI. Otherwise, it could take a very long time.

So, just to share a little bit about UPGI, I think going back to BRAC and how it started is really important as our origin story. So BRAC, as many people know, who are familiar with the institution, was founded in 1972 in Bangladesh, following in response to the aftermath of a really devastating war of independence and cyclones. And so it was really founded as a relief organization to support the recovery of those who were affected. And because of this and because it started so close to the work and really built from the impact communities, it grew into a global organization that is really rooted in evidence of learning and what works.

And it really develops innovations and iterative processes to ensure that the programs and initiatives are really achieving the impact that’s envisioned. And the reason I bring this up is because that leads us to the Graduation approach.

The Graduation approach was founded in 2002 by BRAC, and it’s a holistic intervention that addresses the multiple needs and multidimensional needs of the extreme poor. And the reason why I mentioned extreme poor is because it was designed specifically for the extreme poor after realizing a program intervention that we were leading was actually not having the same level of impact for the extreme poor as those who were in lesser depths of poverty. This was designed to really address extreme poverty in a multidimensional, sustainable way.

And what was found is that it actually is an extremely sustainable and long term intervention that, I believe, 93 percent of the participants from the Bangladesh program actually continue on an upward trajectory, even seven years following the program end, which, as you know in the development sphere, is actually really unique and really, really powerful that it’s not a program that ends and then they fall back into poverty, but that we actually are able to break the poverty trap for the extreme poor for the long term. And so there’s obviously a lot of potential and evidence and learning there.

And so UPGI was then created. So we have BRAC International, which does a lot of implementation programming outside of Bangladesh. BRAC, which has head offices in Bangladesh, focuses on scaling nationwide and addressing issues within Bangladesh. So BRAC International does implementation of the programs, including the Graduation program, outside of Bangladesh with a global portfolio.

And then UPGI is very specifically focused on scaling the Graduation approach globally, specifically through government intervention. And so just seeing the level of impact that the Graduation approach can have for the extreme poor, we really want to take that initiative and scale it into government programs and policies in an effort to end extreme poverty globally, and in contexts that really have a high burden of extreme poverty as well. So we’re currently housed in BRAC USA for administrative purposes, but it’s really a global program that is focused on addressing extreme poverty across the globe.

T: Got it. I just want to pull it down a little bit more for our listeners in the introduction to this episode programmatically. So, in a nutshell, what are the main program components of the Graduation approach for those who are not exposed to that?

R: Sure. So the Graduation approach has four core elements, and the interventions with each one varies depending on the context. But the core components that we feel are necessary for it to really break the poverty trap for the extreme poor are meeting basic needs, financial support and savings, income generation, and then also social empowerment. That social empowerment component is really key to us because that includes coaching and mentoring that really ensures that the program participants have the support throughout the implementation phase to address any unexpected changes in their situation, any shocks, and also to ensure that they’re really absorbing the different trainings and applying them throughout the process.

T: Thank you. That’s very helpful. From here on, I’d like to have our discussion more at the organizational level, but I felt it was important to make it a little bit more tactile…

So you won a very big grant, right, the Ted Audacious Project grant. What made that possible for UPGI, which you couldn’t achieve before?

R: Sure. So, the UPGI vision was a word, the Audacious grant, which is a long-term flexible grant for over the course of multiple years, which really allows us to put our vision into reality, into the impact that we want to see into the world.

So BRAC UPGI’s mission and our impact goal is to break the poverty trap for 21 million people by 2026. And we really see that obviously, that’s a really big goal. It’s more than one actor can and should try to take on.

And so it really relies on partnership and working through and with governments and other key stakeholders at the global, regional, and national level. And so the Audacious grant is really a dream and reward, but it really allows us to fulfill our vision and our impact and the work that we were doing, actually predates the Audacious grant, but it allows us to expand in ways that would have been probably piecemeal without it and wouldn’t allow us to really think about our long-term strategic vision. And so it really enabled us to, one, think about what is our strategic vision and also gives us the resources to build that and to build around it and to really think about what do we need to accomplish this and gives us the resourcing over a longer period to to build that flexibly and also with agility as we need to respond to different situations and circumstances. And so it really is really quite the gift, because it allows us to, one, have that security and our strategic vision, but also to have the flexibility and the agility that’s really required for such a large-scale vision. That requires working with different actors in different ways to accomplish such an ambitious, or audacious, goal.

T: Yes. So it’s both the strength of core funding, it’s the security that comes with it, and the long term character. But also, you highlighted the flexibility and agility that is built in, which is enormous. So, now you and Lindsay and UPGI contacted me first and said we want to be on your podcast because we are embarking on a new strategy. It’s quite different from past strategies. And there is a link to diversity, equity, inclusion, and also belonging to it and to the hashtag kind of movement #ShiftThePower. You talked to us about the shifting of the locus of authority and power to Global South actors and to localization.

That’s where I would like to dive in deeper. So tell me more about how that is happening and tell me the real story. Meaning, what is really promising? What has a lot of value, and what are the new dilemmas and tradeoffs that are showing up as you are embarking on this new strategy supported by this big Audacious grant?

R: Sure. So, again, it’s not necessarily a new strategy. So it’s really building off the work that we’re doing, but the new opportunity is that we can build our organizational structure and our teams around our strategic vision at a level that we wouldn’t necessarily have been able to do this contract-by-contract. So that really gave us the opportunity to really think about what are we trying to accomplish and what do we need to accomplish that. And there were of course, diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, which we refer to as DEI&B, and decolonizing development were really key principles that we felt were really important to building into our organizational growth. As we think about this big question of, as we’re growing, how can we be the most impactful and the most sustainable? And we felt that those were really core components to that. And so we think about it in two streams that are obviously very connected, but also have required their own level of attention.

And those are the Right Team; that we can bring in the right team and the right staff. And that’s looking at the diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging of our staff and touches on localization, but also pushes us to make sure that we don’t have diversity just in certain levels.

But it’s really diversity and inclusion in decision-making spaces and leadership positions, because, again, we feel that that is an added value to our strategy and is going to contribute to our ability to be more impactful and for our programing and policy changes to be more sustainable.

The other approach is Right Work. And this is touching on something that’s a little bit more, might be seen as external, but really acknowledges that you can’t divide our external change from our internal change. If we really want to see something happening externally, we need to ensure that we’re built internally to enable that.

And so this ensures that the impact that we’re working on is building in these principles and that the ways that we work are built on principles of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, as well as decolonizing development. And that includes not just internally in the way that we’re working, but the way that we work with impacted communities, the way that we work with local civil society partners, the way we work with the governments. Are we really giving voice to those spaces? Are we really enabling true partnership and a participatory approach across our different ways of working? Because oftentimes in the development space, it can be very extractive processes.

And so it recognizes, one, the internal and external stakeholders that we’re engaging, but also internally ensuring that we don’t place too much authority in decision making in a head office if the impact that we’re seeing is at the local level.

And we also are trying to be really cognizant of where decisions are being made and where leadership is based to ensure that every part reflects the impact communities and those closest to the work. Because, again, we see that the way that you’re going to have the most sustainability is by having those voices from the very beginning and not just as a consultative process at some point in the process that are defined and determined. So we’re really looking at how we can bring those two streams together to ensure that our internal change is really enabling the external change that we want to see.

T: I see. So now I want to really further unpack that. Tell me, Rasha, what do you do differently now or what are you in the process of starting to do differently? Right. When it comes to, let’s say, recruitment and onboarding as a first thing, and then I’ll ask you about some other aspects.

R: Sure. So I think it’s important to emphasize what we’re trying to do. So it’s not that we made it and we’re done. This is very much our intention. But we are trying to build in the accountability systems to make sure that it results in the impact that we’re seeking.

But as far as what we’re trying to do is, we’re trying to really challenge ourselves in our ways of working to veer away and ensure that we are recruiting diverse staff. And so one way that we did it was we considered what platforms are we posting these sites on? And is it the platforms that are accessible and that are used by diverse candidates? We also established really clear principles that our decision making and leadership is that we want that post to be reflective of those who are closest to the work.

So this is a little bit beyond the recruiting and onboarding, but in the recruitment process, we do actually include our DEI&B principles to make it really clear that these are our priorities and these are our principles, and this is the type of person that we’re going to need in these roles as someone who feels like these values align with their personal values. And so we embedded it in the recruitment process, but we also took a look at the way that we word our JDs as well, and thought about, sometimes we kind of just inherit some old language and really found ourselves asking what is really required for this role.

T: And just to be clear. Sorry to interrupt you for a moment, but for our audience. So when you use the word JD, I just wanna make sure everybody knows: job descriptions.

R: And so when you’re looking at job descriptions, we’re thinking about how can we build that in equitable ways, because the research has shown that women of color and women don’t apply to roles unless they 100 percent fit the qualifications. How can we encourage, how can we put a truthful job description out there? There is a master’s degree required for an administrative entry level role. What are the skill sets that are actually needed?

So we diluted the- we took off some of the qualifications that are actually not indicative of skill sets and really focused on this is what this role is going to be responsible for delivering and for doing on a daily basis, or on a strategic level, or whatever that is, to ensure that the job description isn’t recruiting staff that, the same kind of candidate of people who have the same kind of degree and the same kind of experience, but that it is open to people who are also interested in the role for different reasons and have different experiences, but have the relevant skills.

R: Have experience profiles and lived experiences that are just as relevant, if not more relevant, for the actual skills and competencies that you need, rather than the kind of signals such as what university degree you have and where the university was, et cetera. Right. Right.

So talk to me also about, if I think about the arc through which staff in an NGO such as UPGI may move. Right. So I can think about task assignment. I can think about talent management and promotions as such, rewarding staff, stretch assignments. How does UPGI try to embody those DEI&B, as you said, principals in those processes?

R: So those are conversations we’re very much in the middle of, and so we are bringing on a Vice President of People & Operations, and we’re having those conversations. We have internal conversations with our staff where we co-created our DEI&B principles and our commitments of, this is what we want, to be really clear, these are our commitments to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. And then we asked staff, what does living into these commitments look like for you?

And really actually created a code and opened it up so that it’s an inclusive process and that it’s not something that’s defined at the executive leadership level that’s actually really disconnected from the experiences of staff. Some of the things that came out of that was having a performance management system that is very much tied to your performance goals, rather than, I like this person. This person does X, Y, Z, so that you can kind of remove those implicit/explicit biases, being really clear about promotional development opportunities, which BRAC was already doing quite well.

It’s just that we have this opportunity to really remove these processes that usually have these implicit biases baked into it, whether we intentionally or unintentionally think about it. Really thinking about asking staff, what will make you feel like you’re in a diverse place, that you are included, that you belong, that you are equal to those who are around you and your peer group above you and below you. And so we really opened it up to staff to define that. And then the VP, the Vice President of People & Operations, is really meant to bring that to life. But we really wanted to open up to staff to ask them, what does this look like for you?

T: So that’s, kind of, a couple of examples and not exhaustive, but, on the Right Team side of the workstream list you talked about, can you also give us one or two examples of actual kind of business processes or systems that are being- are undergoing change as a result of your diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging principles on the Right Work workstream side?

R: Sure. So I think one of the examples that come to mind are the conversations we’re having around how we work with local civil society actors. And so traditionally, we’re Global South, but we’re still an international organization.

And so when we’re going to be entering into some of these countries with a country office, we need to recognize our position there. And so the way that we’re planning on working with local civil society actors has really been a topic of conversation for us of how can we work in a way that is truly supporting these local civil society institutions to support them in their efforts as credible, legitimate, and strong institutions, regardless of BRAC, and regardless of our strategy. And so a typical partnership is usually very focused on implementation, but we’re also looking at ways that we can work with them differently and really serve the purposes that they need. And we really saw the value of local civil society actors in COVID when you really relied on a local presence to be able to respond to community needs. And so the value of these institutions to our long-term vision is a really key component.

And so we are looking, as we’re building out our new ways of working and systems and processes, we do want to leave flexibility for responding to the needs that are coming out of key stakeholders that we identified as local civil society actors that we want to really be supporting and investing in. And that might be flexible funding. That could be a facilitating role into global processes, c0-creating advocacy opportunities, it could be capacity support. There is such a variety of ways to interact, but we really want it to be a true partnership and to really remove the dynamics of, we’re a funding INGO, which we will not be enough because we’re going to be a local- we’re going to be working with governments and stakeholders in country, but we really want to be promoting true partnership and a partnership approach with local civil society actors and hear from them how we can support their work and provide that, and not be bound by our internal structures of, well, this this is the way that we can support you, because we have to wait till we have a contract and put you as implementing partner, which is a traditional model. But we really want to be moving beyond that, especially as we think about our advocacy and policy change.

We want to bring those voices into the processes and systems that we’re working on.

T: Got it. I want to move to a question on tradeoffs that you’ve encountered and dilemmas and complications. Before we go there, kind of a question that came up for me was, so BRAC as a whole is a Bangladesh-founded global organization.

As UPGI went about its work of inserting diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging into your strategy expansion, because unlike what I said in the beginning, whether it’s really an expansion and broadening of your strategy rather than a new strategy, but, did it matter that BRAC’s identity is that of a global NGO founded in Bangladesh? Did it matter for how you went about diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging?

R: I’m not sure I understand. Did it matter?

T: Yeah, so what I’m asking is, the identity of BRAC as a global NGO that was founded in Bangladesh, did that have an imprint on how you went about thinking about diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, or not necessarily, I’m just curious.

R: Yeah, I can understand why that would be a question, because usually a lot of the international organizations are born in Western countries. I think that the process that we’re undergoing is actually very aligned with how BRAC has started, formed, and grown. And so localization and the value of local voices in shaping these programs in that close proximity to the work and the impact communities is a big part of BRAC’s work. And so we’re really bringing that same ethos to these conversations, this is just at a different scale.

So whether you’re from the US or from Bangladesh going to Uganda, you’re not from Uganda. And it really is looking at how can we really leverage local expertise and local experience and local evidence and learning to design these solutions.

And we are bringing something, we’re of course bringing in our Graduation approach that has some evidence on scaling and everything, but it also is meant to be adapted, and that’s also the beauty of it. So built in the Graduation approach, built into BRAC’s growth, whether it’s international or different components, is a recognition of, this needs to be built with local communities. And so it’s not, I wouldn’t say that it’s different. I think that it’s just a different application of it.

T: Okay, I was just just curious. Popped up in my mind. Now, now to my question of, as you are expanding your strategy in this way, what are new dilemmas or tradeoffs that you’re encountering as you have this greater focus on decolonizing aid, Right Team, Right Work? Are there new problems popping up that you did not have to think about before?

R: That’s a good question. I think, this may seem overly positive, but I don’t think that there are any dilemmas, I think for takeaways, I think that this is something that the international organization should really be doing. And so I think it’s actually a really great opportunity. And of course, it’s a change process, it’s changing the way that you think, it’s changing the status quo of the sector, but I think it’s actually a really exciting opportunity and hopefully will, if successful and if it does result in what we’re hoping of more sustainable and more local, more impactful programs, because it’s more locally based and because we were able to really center the work where we’re at the national level, we’re hoping that that can actually provide learning and evidence for other actors in our space and peer organizations.

So, of course, it’s definitely- it requires you to challenge yourself. It requires you to think about, is the way that we were doing it- is there a different way to do it than the way that we’ve been doing it to align with our vision, to align with our principles.

And so it does require you to challenge yourself and to challenge each other. But again, the whole reason we’re doing it is because we do feel like that’s going to be more- that’s what needs to happen. And so it’s not a takeaway as much as this is a process that it takes to reach that, and so it definitely is a really interesting opportunity that I think is so important to be able to just step back and build something for purpose rather than getting this working through systems that don’t necessarily serve your vision, that don’t necessarily serve the new and different ways that you want to be working.

And so I would say that there’s no take aways. I mean, it just, it requires a lot of time. You’re doing something different, so it requires you to sit and think about what do we need to build and have conversations, of course, with external stakeholders and local communities to ensure that you’re also not baking it yourself, because that goes against the principles of what you want. And so I think that the only thing is that it takes time and you need to dedicate the time to that and the staff and the resources.

But I wouldn’t say that that’s a dilemma or a takeaway. I think it’s a really good use of your time.

T: Right. Right. How do local and national governments in the countries where UPGI works respond to this focus on decolonizing aid, localizing decision making authority to the lowest possible level, working in a different way with local civil society, and working presumably in a different way with them as government entities, right? So what do you see as the reactions- positive? Is it a combination of positive, neutral and negative? I’m curious.

R: So we’re still in the process of building our teams out that will be based, probably, obviously COVID really delayed that process. We have been working previously, as I mentioned, with governments in supporting the strengthening of their social protection programs and policies.

And I think that our approach is actually very welcome because we’re not trying to work in parallel with the government, we’re trying to embed our learning and our evidence and collaborate and partner with these local actors, the national government or local civil society, to strengthen what they’re doing based on global evidence and learnings as much as it serves their goals of ending extreme poverty or whatever it is that they defined as their mission. So we’re really looking to scale through their existing efforts and their existing vision and commitments and not coming in and enforcing this is our agenda.

And so we really hope that they see us as a partner for accomplishing their own goals and the impact that they want to see in country. And that’s also why we’re hoping to enter these conversations and why we’re trying to build our structure in a way that enables that so that it is not a, we’re here, this is what we’re doing, but that we’re entering in a very consultative, collaborative, partner-based way on, how can we support your efforts and the work that you’re doing. So we’re really entering as a partner rather than, this is what we’re doing and we’ll work with you sometimes, but working through their efforts and working to support their national agendas.

T: So what you told us earlier about working, aiming to work more in true partnership with local civil society. Does that objective and the implications thereof being more responsive, as you said, to their evolving needs- does that ever bump up against local or national government hesitation around their very role or giving them more agency?

I could imagine that the government, your government partners love to have the extra agency because that’s what most human beings like, right? But how about when it comes to your civil society actors?

R: Sure. And that’s a great question, because I think that oftentimes governments and civil society actors are seen as opposites- two people who are doing two different things, but we’re working with governments on their social protection systems and their policies and programs that are in place to support the people living in poverty or extreme poverty in their community.

Civil society actors have a variety of agendas and purposes that they’re serving in country. And so they’re not necessarily, you know- our mission is looking at ending extreme poverty. And each actor brings a unique value add to that space as an international organization, as a civil society actor, as a government.

And so part of our process as we’re entering in a country is we’re having those conversations with governments and with local civil society actors. And what role do you want to play? What is it that you’re trying to accomplish?

And it could be that they actually don’t want to be- some civil society actors might be like, we actually don’t want to be involved with an international organization at all. Some might be like, actually, we really want to be addressing this global policy that isn’t being implemented here or that we need to be implemented here.

So it requires a consultative process to see and a really comprehensive strategy to ensure that, one, we’re also not pitting them against each other, because that’s obviously not what we want. But seeing how can we support both actors in sustainable ways in what also makes sense for us as an international actor who has a lot of evidence, and it could be that with local civil society actors, we’re really a facilitator with a lot of the access to learning and evidence and innovations that we have in this space.

That could be what they really need if they’re an isolated local organization. And then it could be that or it could be that they want to facilitate a coalition space where- a multistakeholder space where it is bringing together governments and civil society actors who are really working towards the same thing.

And so I think that we’re- I think that we’re really looking to see how we can contribute to each of their goals, and there’s a really specific opportunity with the Graduation approach to work with governments on their social protection systems and policies and anti-poverty programs and policies to make them more impactful for the extreme poor.

But we also have a different stakeholder with civil society actors who are going to have a different agenda and different goal, and it’s going to require conversations with those actors to see how we can best support them so that we’re also not enforcing our idea of what they need from us or what we could do to contribute to that. But we certainly see it as critical to at least have those conversations with both actors and see how we can- what makes sense for us as BRAC to support them.

T: I have two more questions. You told us before that you used to work in CARE International, and there, too, there has been, before you left, there was a discussion around how power is distributed, right? And links to diversity, equity, and inclusion. What did you learn in CARE? What observations did you take with you into your work in UPGI that proved to be helpful?

R: Sure. So the last five years that I was with CARE, it was based in D.C., but before that, I actually started with CARE at the field office. And so that really shaped my perspective of the development space by seeing the experience of a country office in a really large international organization.

And so my takeaway has just been the importance of speaking to people, the staff and the partners at the level of impact and who’s working with the communities and who are the closest level of proximity to that work and really having, centering those voices and those perspectives in the decision making process from the very beginning.

And so when I was at CARE in D.C. in my role with the policy and advocacy department, a part of it was supporting the U.S. government engagement, a part of it was supporting our regional advocacy and national advocacy. And what I saw was really important was, the value, the knowledge that is at the local level is so critical. And if we really want to be having the most impact, those voices and the staff that are working there really need to be empowered to be making the decisions that they need to make in order to do their work and not have burdens placed by head offices, but to be able to operate and have that authority and that flexibility and agility to to work. And so what I have taken from that- what I will always take with me is just the value of having diverse and- beyond value, the importance- of having those who are closest to the work in decision making and leadership spaces.

T: That’s what I hear you say time and time again in this interview.

R: Yeah, I think without that, you’re not going to have a significant change. If they’re just brought in, if those perspectives are just brought in at different moments, then, that’s not going to result in the change and sustainable impact that that we’re looking for, which is really what drove all of us who are in this field to this field.

T: Right. Right.

R: So I really see that as closely tied to the impact of these organizations. And again, it’s not that we won’t be impactful. It’s that our work will be more impactful and will be more sustainable if we do this.

And so that’s something that I’ll take with me forever.

T: Right. So let me ask an open-ended question and ask you to just finish the sentence. So it’s actually not a question. It’s a sentence that I’m going to start.

I’m asking you to finish it as we get towards the end of our interview. Before we, as UPGI, make our next move in this strategy expansion, we cannot neglect to: …

How would you end that sentence?

R: I’m a broken record at this point. Not neglect to center the voices of those closest to our work in the decision making process.

T: Okay, fair enough. So Rasha, if people want to learn more about you as an individual and also about UPGI’s journey, where should they go?

R: Sure, so they can follow me on LinkedIn. My name’s Rasha Natour on there, of course, and then for BRAC UPGI, if they’re interested in following our work, which I think is very exciting, then they could follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter.

T: On both these channels? Okay, good. We will put that in the show notes. Well, thank you, Rasha, for all your insights today and thank you listeners. If you found this podcast episode stimulating, then please check out the other episodes both on the audio podcast on my website,, as well as on my new YouTube channel where all the recent episodes have been posted as well. We also, in our book, co-authored with George Mitchell and Hans Peter Schmitz, are talking about some of the issues that Rasha talked about today. The book is called Between Power and Irrelevance: The Future of Transnational NGOs.

So for any and all information, up over to my website, This is Tosca, and I look forward to spending time with you next time again.

For more on the role of civil society in poverty eradication, read Why We Need to Leverage Civil Society in the Fight Against Poverty and Bridging the Civil Society Gap in West Africa: A Conversation with Nana Afadzinu.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter