Our Concept – Help for Self-help

Our goal for our projects in Ethiopia:
not to be needed anymore soon.


How will we achieve this goal:
by enabling people to help themselves and including all spheres of life in our work.

Our goal always is to enable people to free themselves from poverty, thereby becoming independent from foreign aid. The participation and personal responsibility of those supported is an essential prerequisite for our work. We do not give alms, and do not see the women, men and children as passive beneficiaries but as equal partners on eye level who, with our help, are able to sustainably improve their lives on their own.



In Detail: How we help and why

In rural Ethiopia Menschen für Menschen develops entire project regions by means of an integrated approach involving the population affected with the objective of making the region independent from foreign aid after about 10 years.

So far so good. But what does this mean in practice? Was does “integrated” or “sustainable” mean? Let’s consider these questions one step at a time:



Why entire project regions?

In the truly poor rural areas of Ethiopia, where we work, all people, across the board, lack access to clean water, medical care or schooling. Our projects aim at developing regions and their inhabitants in their entirety in all spheres of life and not pick out individual groups are spheres. Through projects in all spheres of life from water to agriculture and health to education ultimately all inhabitants benefit. This reduces social differences and facilitates better sustainability as well as the implementation of projects in cooperation with the population or village community, since everyone benefits. Consequently, donations can be used more efficiently since the population helps implements projects within the means at their disposal, for example by digging a well.

(Learn more about individual project areas here >>)

Some examples: When constructing a well an entire village has water. When showing farmers how to improve planting their fields their neighbours will follow suit. A microcredit bears rich fruit not only for the woman receiving it but for her entire family and everyone she does business with. Over the years, a new school provides many thousands of children with the skills needed for an independent future and a profession to support themselves with.

MfM development project map German

What is an “integrated approach“?

In everyday life the areas nutrition, health, water, education and employment (in rural Ethiopia almost exclusively agriculture) are inextricably linked. As a consequence our “integrated approach” contains all of these areas and also incorporates connections between individual areas.

Each individual measure achieves a considerable improvement of livelihoods, but they only unfold their complete strength together. There are interactions between the individual areas of life that are stronger than expected at first glance. Disregarding them would result in some projects having almost no effect. But if they are recognised and taken into account the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts.

Examples: Only if there is a well nearby do women, who traditionally fetch water, have enough time to found a business with a microcredit. Only if agriculture makes enough profit do children not have to help in the field and can attend the newly constructed school.


In what way is the affected population involved?

The people’s self-initiative and personal commitment is a deciding factor. We can only support. Changes must be implemented by the people themselves. This is the only way for us to provide help that beneficiaries are pleased to accept, understand, value and continue.


Our support is meant to give concrete assistance to ease people’s lives. Those affected are best suited to tell us what they need. Due to our long experience, our employees are usually able to offer solutions quickly. But we never draft project plans without prior discussion of their needs with the people in the respective region. And with that we mean everyone: women as well as men, children as well as village elders, daily labourers as well as “mayors”.

Once the requirements have been clarified, those affected have to be informed about possibilities available for the improvement of their situation. Nothing is imposed on anyone. It is always crucial to explain the benefits of measures and what they can achieve. People should not be made dependent on our work, but accept the chances offered in order to free themselves from poverty.

The need for explanation that may be necessary in some cases should not be underestimated.

Some examples: For parents who never learned to read and write it is not directly evident why they should do without the urgently needed help of their children on the farm and send them to school instead. Farmers, too, take a high risk when trying new cultivation methods without knowing how effective they are. In poor areas a bad harvest threatens the survival of an entire family. For this reason a high level of trust is required between farmers and our employees to try new methods. Particular courageous farmers become model farmers. The first significantly more successful harvest is often enough to convince neighbours to participate. Such improvements cannot be enforced. Understanding for the reasons behind the many changes has to build up first.

When projects are being implemented people from the surrounding areas have to help wherever possible. By doing this they learn a lot and later on it will be easier for them to continue what could already be achieved. As anywhere else in the world: investing in one’s own work makes achievements more valuable and kept in better condition.

Example: When we build a well, the men dig the hole themselves and help our expert to line and finish the well. When women get a wood-saving stove, they have to buy it from their own money at a subsidized price. When we build a school the municipality provides the plot of land free of charge. We provide the people with what they cannot contribute, such as very expensive building materials or equipment for a well, school or road for poor rural communities. That is our start-up support. But the people have to contribute their work power and effort. And they eagerly do once they are convinced of the project.

Almost all of our employees in Ethiopia are Ethiopians themselves. They come from the same humble beginnings as the people we support, and therefore have a great understanding of what they need. They assist and advice the families in the period after the implementation of innovations. They live with in the same villages as the people they advise and immediately notice when there are problems.

For instance, problems with the implementation of a family planning campaign occured in a village since women refused to use condoms. Rebukes by the men came to nothing. Only when our employees talked to the women did they find out that it was thought condoms were only used by prostitutes and not by respectable wives. However, this opinion could be changed and brought to a satisfactory conclusion in an empathetic discussion of the subject. But this was only possible because the problem was identified and solved in cooperation with those concerned. This ensures that later on projects will continued independently and reach sustainable improvements.


Independent from foreign aid – wishful thinking?

In the Austrian project region Derra (with a surface of 1,500 km² it is about half the size of the Austrian state of Burgenland) this has successfully been achieved after 13 years! The 182,000 inhabitants do not need our help anymore. Repeated visits after the completion of the project demonstrated this. Menschen für Menschen laid the foundation. Further development will now be brought about by the population. A great step for the people in this region, and the confirmation that with your support lasting and continuing success is possible.

Some examples of achievements in Derra: At the start of the project work only 2% of the population had access to clean drinking water. Today it is 90%. In 1997 only 13% of the children there could attend school, compared to 87% today. In the past Derra was almost treeless and erosion presented a great problem to agriculture. Thanks to very successful reforestation and regulated forestry the area has become an important supplier of timber for the emerging construction industry in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. (Find out more about Derra >>)

A great success that we can repeat in other areas – with your help!