Building with an open heart: Writing a strategic plan for Romania -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Building with an open heart: Writing a strategic plan for Romania

By Zamfir Todor

For more than five years, I’ve participated in the efforts of Romanian Habitat affiliates to reduce construction costs and to find solutions that will allow the most needy families to own a decent house. Even so, we too often have been unable to help families living in inhumane conditions, families with no income or with an income so low they can’t afford to pay the no-interest, no-profit mortgage.

An important change in HFH strategy came at an opportune time—when more than 150,000 Romanian families, whose income is barely enough for their food, are in urgent need of housing.

In my opinion, the main highlight of the new strategy is changing the focus from the number of "houses built" to the number of "families served." This simple approach opens the way to innovative solutions to serve the families in greatest need first and offers a fertile ground for partnering with other organizations that are committed to solving the problem of poverty housing.

I asked my colleagues for their reactions about the process of developing the national strategy, and everyone agreed that there were many challenges: especially time constraints related to the overload from being involved with our Floods Relief Project, and lack of experience and knowledge regarding the elements of successful strategic planning and the process of developing a strategic plan.

According to Mario Demezzo, HFH Romania’s Resource Development manager, “It was teamwork between the Communications, Resource Development and Program departments coordinated by the national director. The objectives were correlated in a way to complete each other and to be united.”

“The process was inceptive because of the surprise change in direction in HFH Europe/Central Asia and because change and innovation were permitted at a higher scale. It was specifically influenced by the scale of the 2005 flooding disaster across the country,” elaborated Adrian Ciorna, national director of HFH Romania. According to Ciorna, this change in strategic direction closely corresponds with his vision of a Habitat affiliate as a four-fold business model:

  • A Christian charity raising money, cultivating donor relations, bridging the gap in the community between the affluent and the less fortunate, stimulating volunteerism.
  • A construction organization/contractor.
  • Hosting work teams (Global Village, volunteer programs, etc.).
  • A financing organization/bank in the biblical manner (see Exodus 22:25).

Ciorna further explained, “To this structural vision I had initially a target vision of 3,000 families served in seven years. Very daring! But now, with the innovation and new methods in the new strategy and diversification of families to be served, it makes the initial vision very feasible, structurally and target- wise!”

The Program department, through information received from national directors at the Area Strategy Meeting in June 2005, helped make the plan more realistic. The Program department altered the strategic directions initially proposed in the process and also accepted the challenge for growth.

The Program department had an important role in introducing HFH E/CA’s strategy to the seven affiliates, discussing it with the affiliates and gathering the information about each affiliate’s capacity to increase its impact in the community. However, “all the steps of gathering information, the analysis and processing it into a long-term strategic plan took place in a too short period of time. We lacked the needed period of time for brainstorming, which would have helped us get out of the existing patterns.

The participation of the affiliates was limited. They were asked, in the first phase, to project the increase of the program from the point of view of the number of families served. This is their only contribution. A meeting with the representatives of all the affiliates would have been needed in order to generate new ideas and a first draft of the strategy,” said Raluca Bunea, senior program manager of HFH Romania.

As a final conclusion, the new national strategy gives Romanian affiliates the opportunity to explore their community from a different angle in terms of the need—they will be better able to identify potential homeowners who might be helped with micro-credit financing, or the affiliates will feel better supported in case they want to partner with a another NGO. Best of all, it shows affiliates that there is exciting growth nurtured by the national organization so they can dare to dream to serve more families. The following FY07 projections are a clear demonstration of “daring more”:

  • Recognition by the public of Habitat for Humanity as a credible/key partner in the elimination of poverty housing in Romania; national awareness to increase to 50 percent of population that are connected to TV stations in country.
  • An extra 27 families served (over approved targets per FY07) during the EuroHabitat Blitz Build event.
  • Tripling the local fund raising of the affiliates involved in the event compared to end FY05 figure.
  • Increase in local/national volunteerism at all levels.
  • Stronger and more fundable local programs and national program.
  • Open door for financing and grants from the European Union (for infrastructure, Roma housing, etc.).

Zamfir Todor is the Communications manager for HFH Romania.