Listening to the Experts


Aleem Jivraj


3 minutes read

There is a lot of need in this world, and for philanthropists and funders, deciding what cause to support and how to best support it can be a daunting task. There are many different approaches – personal passion and experience, aligning with business activity, and research, to name a few. While there is no right or wrong way to go about making a decision like this, one of the many learnings along my philanthropic journey has been to listen to the people whose lives you seek to transform. They are the experts on their own lives, and they know best about their own needs, challenges, and unfulfilled opportunities.   

In the private sector, firms that succeed take a client-centric approach. Apple has become one of the largest companies in the world with a laser focus on client experience and long-term engagement. In banking, it is essential to fully understand our clients’ needs and deliver an integrated service that establishes a long-term relationship with us. And in many other sectors, best practices include regular surveys of customers, and focus groups prior to rolling out new products. 

The philanthropic sector has made significant progress in the last few years to better understand how we can maximise impact, designing programmes based on lessons learned and enhancing Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E). There is more to do though. All donors are well meaning; but to be as effective as possible, the people and communities that will benefit the most and understand the local realities on the ground need to be intimately involved in the design and implementation of the programmes. 

The positive news is that this picture is evolving – fast. Increasingly, philanthropists and funders are listening to experts on the ground and are adjusting pre-existing views of what is best for others. They are putting the experts at the forefront of planning how to best utilise funds and design programmes. And more funding is going directly to NGOs founded by community leaders who truly understand the realities on the ground. To give a few examples:  

  • The #ShiftThePower movement is a global collective of changemakers which has come together to champion the empowerment of local communities, granting them a pivotal role in determining their own destinies
  • GiveDirectly has championed cash transfers to families in poverty so they can choose how best to use the funds to improve their lives
  • MacKenzie Scott has directed a number of her grants to organisations led by community leaders
  • The Children’s Rights Innovation Fund is a collective challenge to reinvigorate and transform the global children’s rights field by building power with youth activists and their allies. They have launched a pooled fund in partnership with We Trust You(th), enabling a cohort of donors to fund participatory youth-driven grantmaking – when young people from communities will be charged with making final decisions on where resources are allocated.

EMpower has long believed that local individuals and organisations are the experts, with four thriving youth councils in Indonesia, India, Mexico and South Africa, where a group of young people provide inputs into grantmaking strategy and programme design. These individuals have provided valuable insights into how to roll out initiatives that will be welcomed by the community. More recently, EMpower has launched a Circle Portfolio only supporting organisations led by local founders who truly understand the communities they work in and importantly, know what is best for them. 

What is common amongst all philanthropists and funders is they want to maximise impact. This is about more than just the value of your monetary donation – it is about being strategic, and ensuring that your investments are guided by expertise. As we continue to engage local communities and individuals in the design of our programming and ensure that their voices are truly represented, it can only help to improve our philanthropic efforts.


A. Environmental Stewardship
To protect the environment, we organize programmes like mangrove nursery and Reforestation, Coastal and River Clean-Up, Community Based Environmental Solid Waste Management, Environmental IEC Campaign and Eco-Academy

B. Food Security and Sustainable Livelihood
To ensure a sustainable livelihood for the community, eco-tourism include Buhatan River Cruise Visitor Center Buhatan River Mangrove Boardwalk are run by the community. Others include Organic Vegetable and Root crops Farming, Vegetable and Root crops Chips and by-products Processing and establishing a Zero waste store.

C. Empowered Communities
To empower the community, we provide product and Agri-Enterprise Development Training, Immersion and Learnings Exchange Program, Earth Warrior Training and Community Based Social Entrepreneurship Training


Aleem Jivraj

COO, Global Markets at Nomura and Co-Chair of the Asia Board, EMpower

Aleem Jivraj is the COO, Global Markets at Nomura and Co-Chair of the Asia Board, EMpower – The Emerging Markets Foundation. Over the last 10 years, he has been active as a funder and supporter of many philanthropic organisations, particularly in Asia. In this bi-monthly blog he hopes to share his insights into how the skills, experience and mindset of the private sector can be harnessed to achieve sustainable impact over the long term for young people and their communities.

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