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30 October 2014

Pioneering work for women’s rights: Medica Liberia continues its work as an independent organisation

In a difficult time for Liberia, where the Ebola outbreak has led to the declaration of a national emergency, we are nonetheless continuing the work towards one of the greatest milestones in the commitment of medica mondiale to the country. During the coming months, the feminist, Liberian women’s rights organisation Medica Liberia will take over the reins of the work there.

In June the Board of the new organisation was sworn in, in the presence of representatives of the Women's Ministry and civil society. The staff are all very proud of founding their own organisation, which they want to turn into a leading pioneer of women's rights in Liberia. Setting up Medica Liberia does not mean the end of the close cooperation with medica mondiale in Cologne, however, because the young organisation will still need support. What this support will look like is described here by the Program Director for Liberia, Sybille Fezer.

What will change with independence? What will the future cooperation with Medica Liberia look like?

In future, the organisation will look after all of its own finances and sign its own employment contracts - this was all previously the responsibility of medica mondiale. Caroline Bowah Brown as Director will take the important strategic decisions together with the new Board of Directors. We will only be involved as advisors. The switch will not be made all in one go, but Liberia will no longer be a "medica mondiale program". Instead, we will be partner organisations. So the cooperation will be a dialogue between two partners, with the focus on many questions such as: What do you want? What do we need? What projects do you want to take up alone? Where should we work together? How can we, as an established organisation, make use of our international contacts to carry things forward for women in your country?

What very practical assistance do the local staff still need?

Many of our local colleagues' career paths were interrupted by the war. Over the years they have had to work hard to acquire skills such as data collection, analysis and report writing. So in Liberia, as in all our other project regions, too, further training will continue to be a main focus to help the team there in their aspirations to constantly improve the quality of their work and continue the development of their integrated, community-based approach. For this, our know-how is a great support. And our cooperation with further project partners. The Liberian colleagues wish to continue benefitting from our expertise in trauma work and psychosocial counselling. And they also still need practical assistance with tasks such as financial management, personnel management and organisational development. Sometimes it is also helpful when we give them feedback on a grant application they will be submitting.

Are the financial procedures already being managed locally?

During recent years our Liberian colleagues responsible for the finances have been prepared very well for independence. Training sessions were held and a book-keeping system was introduced. Nonetheless, even in this area, support from the finance department in Cologne will still be needed. We also have a constant obligation to our donors and funders to ensure that funding for Liberia is administrated efficiently and that its usage is monitored. As an independent organisation, in future Medica Liberia can apply for its own grants from funders or foundations. However, those funds will not be sufficient to continue its work in more than a few provinces, so that is where we in Cologne come in. Firstly, because we have better access to international funding opportunities. And secondly, because in Germany we can also approach private donors - who are almost non-existent in Liberia itself. For example, it is the commitment of our donors in Germany that made it possible to implement this transition to independence for the project in Liberia in recent years.

How will your role change?

I will no longer be Caroline Bowah Brown's superior. Instead I will assume the role of a coach. I am sure I will not find this change difficult since our work together in the past few years was already like a partnership, and Caroline is very committed and skilled. She appreciates our view from outside and likes to reflect upon major decisions with me. On the other hand, we in Cologne do continue to bear the final responsibility for some of the larger projects which are being carried out in Liberia. And furthermore, I will still be looking for specialist staff for Liberia who can assist our colleagues there with short missions and provide expert advice on certain specialist topics. I will also be providing support to our colleagues there when it comes to the development of new projects. So we can look forward to exciting times. Recent decades have repeatedly seen Western Africa shaken by cross-border conflicts, so we will be assessing the potential and possibility for future co-operation with women's organisations in Liberia's neighbouring countries, such as Sierra Leone or Ivory Coast. Networking the organisations in the region can be of great benefit for sharing experience or for organising political actions.