If there’s one word to describe the Beth Nahrain Organization for Women (BNOW), it is “resilient.” BNOW, a local nongovernmental organization formed in 2002 that works to empower women in Iraqi society, has endured decades of conflict and upheaval. In 2014, it faced an even heavier blow—the organization was displaced from its locations in Qaraqosh, Bartella, and Mosul due to the invasion by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which threatened religious and ethnic minorities like the BNOW team and the populations they served. BNOW was fractured, and members were in survival mode—not at all in a position to address long-term organizational capacity needs.
Even after returning to work after the defeat of ISIS, there was little spare time, energy, or money for BNOW to spend on rebuilding its organizational structure and developing management, leadership, and administrative skills. Instead, the organization poured its resources into its impactful, on-the-ground programming, particularly into efforts supporting women’s livelihoods by training them as hairdressers. “Training the trainers” took a back seat, as it does for many small organizations.
However, because organizational health is important to long-term sustainability, one of the first questions that USAID asked when BNOW was selected as a USAID New Partnerships Initiative (NPI) award recipient was, “What would you think about using part of this funding to strengthen your organization’s own capacity?” Capacity, in this context, refers to an organization’s ability to grow sustainability and to manage donor funding and requirements through adequate staffing, processes, and expertise.
Weaving Capacity Development into Funding Mechanisms
The $57,000 award that BNOW received in 2019 was structured as a fixed amount award, enabling substantial flexibility, which was an excellent opportunity to invest in the organization’s capacity. USAID and BNOW co-created a program that provided professional hairstyling training to 20 women, as well as management training to BNOW staff, to rebuild the organization’s capacity post-ISIS.
While unusual, this type of organizational support can and does sometimes occur through USAID funding mechanisms, depending on the flexibility of the instrument. Building organizational capacity would have important long-term benefits that would amplify the larger goal of the NPI award, which is to support local organizations and the religious and ethnic minorities they serve in the wake of ISIS destruction.
As part of the NPI award, a total of 12 of BNOW’s staff received management training at the organization’s training center in Qaraqosh. Topics included organizational growth, market analysis, humanitarian principles, monitoring and evaluation, financial and program management, and selection criteria and vetting.
This management training not only improved the organization’s knowledge base, but it also helped BNOW retain staff who otherwise might have emigrated for professional reasons. Instead, all 12 participating staff members have committed to continuing to serve their community through their work with BNOW.
In addition to new skills, the capacity-building training provided valuable insight into the talents and strengths of the BNOW staff. This awareness, together with the more efficient organizational structure, enabled BNOW to operate more decisively. According to USAID, “In the midst of Iraq’s turbulence, and certainly in the Ninewa Plain, this is an enormous added value.”
Securing Follow-On Funding and Planning for the Future
BNOW’s USAID NPI award ended in 2021, but the organization continues to expand and improve its programming, widening its scope to include men in recognition of the need to change the mindset of both genders regarding women’s participation in Iraqi society.
As BNOW put it, “We are not that classical women’s organization only focusing on women’s emancipation. We also try to change the community, the people’s mentality, and that is why we also work closely with men.”
As a result of the successful completion of its NPI award, BNOW staff have gained expertise in organizational, management, and technical areas and have built confidence in approaching follow-on funders.
This professionalism has paid off already, as the organization recently was awarded $10,000 in follow-on funding from Shai Fund, a U.S.-based organization, to expand their hairdressing vocational program to another 20 trainees, beginning August 2021.
According to USAID, “The best part of the capacity-building training was that, in addition to being able to write more effective proposals and leverage the the technical support [provided by USAID], BNOW developed the confidence that they could do it themselves.”