EDTF: Q&A with Dr. Bisrat Aklilu

Dr. Bisrat Aklilu is a member of the Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund's Advisory Council. (Courtesy photo)

Tadias Magazine

By Tadias Staff

Published: December 6th, 2019

New York (TADIAS) – It was a year ago this month that we had participated in a press conference held by the Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund (EDTF) at the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington, D.C. where the fund’s advisory council members briefed the media on their organization’s objectives, fundraising status as well as future plans to engage the larger Ethiopian Diaspora community.

We also published interviews with EDTF advisory council members including Dr. Bisrat Aklilu and Professor Lemma Senbet, and reported on major updates such as the naming of the EDTF Board of Directors who oversee the organization’s projects in Ethiopia.

More recently, we followed up with Dr. Bisrat Aklilu regarding the current status of EDTF’s fundraising efforts, challenges and their plans moving forward.

Below is our Q & A with Dr. Bisrat:

TADIAS: Can you tell us some of the main developments and milestones achieved by EDTF since our last last interview a year ago?

Dr. Bisrat: A lot has happened since our last Tadias interview in November 2018, which was one month after the start of the EDTF online donation. Since then, EDTF mobilized about 26,000 Ethiopian diaspora members in 93 countries and received about US$5.2 million.

In March 2019, a highly qualified small Secretariat team was engaged in Addis Ababa thanks to a generous two-year funding EDTF received from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). UNDP’s funding is a vote of confidence on the integrity of the EDTF mechanism.

In May 2019, EDTF appointed an eleven member Board of Directors, with five members representing the Ethiopian Diaspora (in North America, Europe, Africa and Middle East); three members representing the Ethiopian Civil Society (women, youth and the public at large); and three members from the Government.

By July 2019 we launched a rigorous ‘Call for Project Proposals” which resulted in the receipt of over 400 project proposals by the due date of 16 September covering the various EDTF eligible project areas.

In September 2019, EDTF received from the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) a 501c3 tax exempt status, as a public charity organization, making donations to EDTF tax exempt as of 27 September 2018.

TADIAS: What are some of your current challenges?

Dr. Bisrat: The first challenge we faced was, and still is to some extent, making our donors understand that EDTF is a completely independent non-governmental, non-profit organization governed by its own “Terms of Reference” totally outside of Ethiopian Government control. EDTF strives to promote dignity, freedom, equality and economic opportunity and national unity based on peaceful cooperation among Ethiopia’s diverse communities without regard to ethnicity, religion or other sectarian considerations.

The second challenge is to explain to our diaspora donors and the public why reasonable time is needed to mobilize funds and receive, vet and fund projects. Learning from the past, we are determined to maintain thoroughness in the project funding process to ensure proper use and accountability of the donated funds.

The third challenge is to satisfy the needs of the disadvantaged people and communities in Ethiopia that EDTF is established to address. The projects so far received will require at least 10 times more funds, i.e. $50 to $70 million, compared to the present $5 million available. We need significantly more donations than what we have received to-date. As part of such an effort, the Advisory Council will hold an EDTF Fundraising dinner on 12 December 2019 in Springfield, Virginia, in the suburb of Washington D.C.. We are encouraging all our 46 EDTF Chapters in the US and around the world to hold similar fundraising but combined with community engagement events in the coming months.

TADIAS: We understand that EDTF is now accepting project proposals for funding in Ethiopia. Please give us an update. How does the process work?

Dr. Bisrat: At the end of the ‘Call for Project Proposal’ period on 16 September 2019, EDTF received about 400 projects. Subsequently, about 300 were found eligible for further review having met the submission requirements. In line with the EDTF policy of transparency and accountability, these projects are currently being reviewed by 75 volunteer Ethiopian and Diaspora volunteer professionals organized in teams of three, with each project reviewed independently by three professionals. By 23 December, the shortlisted projects will be announced to the public. This will be followed by presentation to the Board in late January 2020 of projects that have been vetted for their proper institutional capacity. A summarized indicative timetable of the project review and approval process is posted on the EDTF website www.ethiopiatrustfund.org.

TADIAS: Can you tell us a bit more about your network of volunteers and their contributions?

Dr. Bisrat: Unlike other similar non-governmental organizations(NGOs), EDTF is a totally volunteer driven organization that utilizes 100% of its donations for projects it will finance. No other NGO does that. In fact during the EDTF legal incorporation and subsequent submission to IRS for our 501c3 tax exempt status, we were asked repeatedly how EDTF can operate without using part of its donations to cover operational and administrative costs. In the EDTF, starting from the Advisory Council to the Board and the countless diaspora volunteers organized in various functional teams such as Donors Support, Chapters Support, Website Management, Communications, Volunteers Engagement, Graphics Design and Finance and Audit and recently Project Review, all work on a pro bono basis sacrificing their time. EDTF volunteers are located in different cities and countries and yet work seamlessly as a team on different tasks.

TADIAS: Is there anything else you would like to share with our audience?

Dr. Bisrat: I would like to take this opportunity to thank the 26,000 Ethiopian diaspora for responding to the call for assistance of our disadvantaged Ethiopian sisters and brothers. My deepest thanks goes to the EDTF unsung heroes, the EDTF Secretariat and the many EDTF volunteers, that work day and night to ensure the transparent and accountable operation of the EDTF. EDTF is a labor of love for many of us. There is nothing as gratifying as working together with so many committed volunteers on such a noble cause, with no sectarian consideration, for the sole purpose of ‘giving back a little’.

EDTF Ethiopia Board Announced
Ways to Boost Donor Participation for the Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund
Few Takeaways From EDTF Press Conference at Ethiopian Embassy in DC
Interview: Dr. Lemma Senbet on the Diaspora Trust Fund & Chapter Formation
Interview with Dr. Bisrat Aklilu About the Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund
A Diaspora Trust Fund for Ethiopia (Tadias Editorial/July 10th, 2018)

You can learn more about the fund at ethiopiatrustfund.org.

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