Dr Annette Massmann is the Managing Director of Zukunftsstiftung Entwicklung at GLS Treuhand. Working with its project partners, Zukunftsstiftung Entwicklung has developed a profound understanding of the causes of poverty, hunger, and hardship, as well as their deep roots in natural and socio-economic interdependencies throughout the world. Collaborating with 77 project partners in 18 countries, its projects focus on organic farming, women, self-administered microloans, small businesses, education, health, renewable energy, human rights, and environmental protection.
In 2019, Zukunftsstiftung Entwicklung organised a study trip to Kenya for Neuguss employees, and in doing so gave them a very special gift. Could you tell us about it?
The ten-day study trip was all about the momentum of direct encounters, getting to know people, exchanging information and ideas, and directly experiencing one another’s perspectives through working together. Accompanied by four ZSE staff, employees from five companies within Neuguss Group went on a journey to visit our long-standing partner, SACDEP. The Neuguss Group visitors spent ten days being trained by SACDEP staff, tackling theory work in the morning and practical tasks in the afternoon. So for example, one morning was taken up with a theoretical module on water and water supply in Kenya, followed by time spent constructing a water tank with a team of builders in the afternoon. Participants had a fantastic day getting fully involved in the project, and everyone was touched by the experience. I think everyone who went returned to Germany with their horizons greatly expanded, and full of motivation for the question of how they would contribute to the world.
I was very pleased to be able to extend this opportunity to Neuguss companies. Neuguss, a supporter of charitable projects though GLS Treuhand for decades, is a model for corporate social engagement. Even though the Foundation itself is not directly funded by Neuguss, we were very happy to organise this educational trip for their employees as a result of our partnership with GLS Treuhand.
How would you describe the work GLS Zukunftsstiftung Entwicklung does?
We collaborate on a long-term basis with 77 partner organisations in 18 countries, to support people living in rural or slum areas by helping them to build lives with dignity. The objective is always to ensure that initiatives are socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable.
How should we respond to suffering? With compassion or co-determination?
The people we work with are agents of change. They grasp the opportunity to sustainably improve their lives through collaboration with their communities and groups, whether that involves organic farming, building schools and educational centres, learning trades, setting up small businesses, or providing basic healthcare.
What role do women play in development work?
Anywhere in the world that we find crises and poverty, it is primarily women who are making a difference and really being committed. It is mostly women who do the difficult work in terms of reproduction, carrying water, searching for firewood, looking after children, working in the fields, or taking poorly paid jobs in factories that serve global markets. They are the people most committed to working for change. On all continents, it is mostly women who get involved, across all collaboration projects.
During this pandemic period, the focus has tended to be on emergency aid. How much does GLS Zukunftsstiftung Entwicklung focus on emergency aid, or fire-fighting?
We take a continuous, holistic approach to development in the sense of empowering self-help. At present, the pandemic means a catastrophic economic situation in all our partner countries. Take Uganda for instance: its informal sector has collapsed by more than 80%; schools have been closed for the last 21 months. For many years we have invested in educating and training teachers. Now, if they don’t receive a salary because the schools are closed, they will leave the profession out of necessity. This is one reason why we are providing help in the form of “short-time” money, and are helping needy children and families with emergency aid. Generally speaking, we provide emergency aid if our partners can manage and deliver it in a structured and targeted way – in other words if they can guarantee that it reaches the people who need it. However, we always try to transform emergency aid into development assistance as soon as we can. To give an example, sending aid money so people are paid a wage to construct irrigation canals, which then help to expand the cultivation area available, enhances people’s ability to feed themselves in future.
How can people effect social change?
In terms of development collaboration? Within the context of our work, I see that people effect social change above all when they have ideas on how they can improve their living conditions by working in partnership with their community; when they try to implement their ideas for change, fully aware of the problems local to them, regardless of whether or not the money is there to do so. Community-building is the key to change.
How are successful relationships formed? With and among partners on the ground, but also here in the network?
From my perspective, relationships are always formed by meeting and listening to people, devoting yourself to others, wanting to try to understand other people, their problems, their abilities, their approaches, and their commitment, and then to help them move forward.
“Just do it” – what would your next project be if you had any amount of freedom to choose it?
My next project is to expand our now-independent foundation, GLS Zukunftsstiftung Entwicklung, with all of our young colleagues. That’s demanding all my attention right now. However, it really is also high time there was a vocational training centre for unaccompanied refugees here in Germany, to offer them a clear way of integrating into society.