A winning strategy born out of necessity: HFH Egypt’s CBO partnerships -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

A winning strategy born out of necessity: HFH Egypt’s CBO partnerships

In the early 1990s, Habitat for Humanity began working in Egypt as a result of a strategy being pursued by the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services (CEOSS), an Egyptian-based NGO with long experience in community development. With well-developed programs in health, education and economic development, CEOSS was looking for a way to improve housing in El Motomedea, a garbage collectors’ community on the outskirts of Cairo.

The project was implemented by CEOSS staff, which educated the community on Habitat principles, facilitated the development of the local committee and ensured that payments were made on time. Repayments were kept in a separate CEOSS bank account and used to fund additional houses in the community.

The houses that were constructed were in stark contrast to the existing crowded shacks, where families had been living amid the garbage, in close proximity to pigs, chickens and goats. Repayments were on time, and soon the revolving fund was able to support additional house building in the community.

While fairly unorthodox at the time, the strategy of working under the umbrella of a partner organization was clearly a “win” for both Habitat for Humanity and CEOSS. This successful project in El Motomedea never would have been achieved if Habitat had followed the traditional model of engaging the community, registering locally and setting up a Habitat affiliate. In fact, Habitat for Humanity only received official registration as a branch of Habitat for Humanity International in 2004, after many years of following legal ups and downs.

In 1997 HFH Egypt started thinking of having its separate identity, forming a national office with a new national director. While exploring the need in Egypt, an overwhelming fact unfolded: An estimated 20 million Egyptians live in inhuman conditions. HFH Egypt made it its vision and goal to reach up to 10 percent of this number in 20 years using the existing resource of 17,000 community-based organizations (CBOs) working in Egypt.

Since that time, HFH Egypt has continued to expand its operations under the umbrella of CEOSS and established partnership arrangements with five additional CBOs. Even after its legal registration, HFH Egypt continues the strategy of working within these partnerships. These partnerships leverage limited resources while delivering greater impact to families who are struggling daily with the multiple and complex problems of poverty.

HFH Egypt determined its role in the communities through funding, training, evaluation, monitoring and technical support to and from its partner CBOs. The key to successful implementation has been setting clear criteria for the selection of the partner agency. In choosing a partner, HFH Egypt looks for organizations with the following:

  • Experience in managing development projects, especially macro-loan programs.
  • Technical, management and financial skills.
  • Provision of complementary services or programs to the community.
  • Legal registration with the government.
  • An office in the community for directing the project.
  • Clearly defined operations and administrative capacity.
  • A defined geographic area for project implementation.
  • Acceptance of Habitat parameters and regulations, as defined in the partnership agreement.
  • Acceptance of any changes to the organizational structure required to implement a housing project.

HFH Egypt has identified five primary reasons for the success of this strategy:

  • Expanded networks. Local organizations and associations have access to funding, government resources and skilled consultants.
  • Reduced administrative costs. The partner organizations already have offices in the community where they are working. Habitat has been able to share these facilities, equipment and staff.
  • Local knowledge. Each CBO is already accepted within its community. The CBOs know the families and can make better decisions in family selection, ensuring that repayment rates remain high.
  • Accelerated implementation. The CBO staff is trained in development work, legal structures are already in place, and families know and trust the organization.
  • Comprehensive development. The local CBO is engaged in various projects that complement the housing component, including income generation, environmental issues, women’s empowerment, education and health.

In addition, HFH Egypt seeks partners only in communities where there is a demonstrated housing need. In spite of not having an official presence until 2004, by the end of December 2005, HFH Egypt's methodology of working with partners had successfully reached 15 communities, helping as many as 6,700 families to better housing with repayment rates at 97 percent (current or paid within 90 days).

HFH Egypt has taken to heart the Bible verse “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work” (Ecclesiastes 4:9) and the traditional Egyptian saying “The basket that has two handles should be carried by two.” HFH Egypt—by using an unorthodox strategy of working first under the umbrella of a partner organization, then independently contracting with other CBOs—has evolved into an example of one of the centerpiece initiatives of HFHI’s strategic plan: to leverage resources through partnerships.

Yousry Makar is the national director of HFH Egypt and can be contacted at no@habitategypt.org.