What has been/What will be–Hagar Update

Without burdening you with too many details, I do want to offer you a picture of what my work life has been like these past 12 weeks or so.  I’ve learned a lot so far and have much more to go! So perhaps we can learn together.

My life as the “Social Programs Officer” at Hagar has been a bit of whirl.  Within my first week, after a thorough briefing by my supervisor, she headed back to the states where doctoral applications called her back home. So, I found myself the sole guardian of the institutional knowledge of an international social program on the verge of implementation in three countries. But not abandoned! While this may sound overwhelming, I do have remote support from my physically absent supervisor and the wisdom of my cohorts here at Hagar International. Our office relatively small, close-knit bunch composed of a few Swiss-Italians, a German, a Malaysian and a Cambodian.  Makes for entertaining lunches 🙂

Right now, our office is gearing up for the promising start of operations in India, Vietnam and Laos. What’s keeping us, you ask?  Good ole HR and a world-wide funding crisis.  We are in the midst of vetting applications and hoping for the right leader for the job, as well as raising funds for the new projects.  So…if you know any one with experience in management and gender/trafficking/vulnerable women and children issues, do tell.  Seriously.

But this waiting (for money, for leaders) could be, in all actuality, a good thing.  This period of time is helping the organization to catch its breath after over a year of intense grant seeking, research, travel, and partnership building in the new countries. Strategy is important, and ALL of Hagar is trying to cast a realistic vision for this next year.

Hagar International (not to be confused with Hagar Cambodia, which has been around for over 15 years) was formed in 2006 in hopes to implement the social and economic empowerment models Hagar Cambodia made so successful. Hagar Cambodia’s programs are vast in breadth and depth—spanning from catch up schools for young children, water filter’s for rural communities, foster care, women’s social program’s for domestic violence, career mentoring, farm communities, and even a soy milk factory for one of our three social enterprise businesses…

Hagar International is trying to keep things a bit more focused at this point. Through our research, we discovered that reintegration of survivors is very difficult, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone working in social services. Reintegration is basically the transition from the supportive environment (the shelters, social programs) into an independent, self-sustainable life (a job, a home).

Our target populations, those at risk of domestic violence, sex trafficking, rape or sexual exploitation, have gone through incredibly traumatic experiences that have shaped their emotional and physical well being forever.  Simply climbing up and out of this sort of nightmare is difficult without reliable support over time.  Therefore, when it comes to leaving the place you’ve come to trust and thrive in, maybe for the first time in your life, the “real world” becomes very scary.

Throughout its 15 years in Cambodia, Hagar has developed a program that has successfully reintegrated 80% of its beneficiaries.  Our model of social programs + social enterprise has been a huge part of that success.

Therefore, for the expansion projects that I am working on, we are aiming to combine our strengths with the strengths of already established NGOS and set up partnerships with them.  We don’t want to reinvent the wheel, we want to complete it and strengthen it.

Round Up
While I’ve found my sea legs and begun to learn how to navigate Hagar internally, I’ve had a crash course in exploring the possibilities present within my role here.

Right now, I find myself in the midst of challenging learning opportunities that can be both invigorating and taxing. In the past 3 weeks, two of my colleagues from our small office have transitioned out, for various reasons, leaving me with quite a lot of responsibility. Now, I am not only in charge of social programming and partnerships, but also development and fundraising (i.e. grant writing, proposals, research etc).

It’s not easy jumping straight into an organization in the midst of huge transitions, growth and re-prioritization.  Not easy, but a great chance to learn about organizational evolution, structure, leadership, professionalism and how the internal clock ticks inside this NGO. I feel I have gained an incredible breadth of perspective in the relatively small amount of time I have been here so far.  An organization is like a living, breathing thing that must be cared for properly in order to fulfill its mission. I happily admit that there have been many times where I’ve felt stumped for sure. But as much collaboration and partnering as there is to do on the OUTSIDE of Hagar, I find just as necessary to do on the INSIDE. And there are many intelligent, interesting individuals for me to learn from within Hagar. So I welcome the challenge and look forward to looking back in a few months to see what sort of pattern is taking shape beneath my very eyes.

Hagar in Cambodia, Afghanistan, India, Vietnam and Laos

Hagar in Cambodia, Afghanistan, India, Vietnam and Laos

Here are some brief updates on the expansion countries:

Afghanistan- We have a Country Director that is working diligently on researching plans for a social enterprise appropriate to the culture and security situation. Operations are projected to begin in Summer 2009.  Afghanistan is rather self-sufficient at the moment, due to its particularly sensitive security status, so my personal work doesn’t touch this office really at all.

India- During my first week at Hagar, I had the pleasure of meeting and touring Hagar facilities with two of our partners from the organization Oasis India.  Oasis, along with IJM (International Justice Mission)are our social program partners in Mumbai. It is possible that I could be traveling to Mumbai in the near future for capacity building (i.e. training social workers) but this is still pending. Either way, the social programs are being strengthened in Mumbai in preparation for Operations to begin, hopefully in early 2009. Our social enterprise for Mumbai is a catering business, but it will not start operations until we have hired our Country Director.

As many of you have probably heard on the news, Mumbai has faced some very real, very frightening terrorist attacks this past month.  I have been keeping up with our partners and am relieved to report that they are all safe and well. However, please do keep them in your thoughts, as you can imagine that they are quite shaken.  If there is one thing I am learning these days, it is that our world is so small.

Vietnam and Laos- Right now these expansion efforts are developing organically.  We have identified potential government partners for these projects and have just finished up hosting two government delegations from both countries for a week long

Women's Union Study Tour- Government Delegates from Vietnam and Laos

Women's Union Study Tour- Government Delegates from Vietnam and Laos

educational site visit. These representatives met with our program directors and staff, toured our facilities, and asked great questions which all solidified the partnership we’ve already been fostering with them. They are so eager to learn about Hagar’s model, as both countries are further behind in their capacity to really care for and empower these vulnerable populations.
Both Vietnam and Lao have very similar Communist government structures, and similar capacity building and partnership needs that Hagar can help meet. Because business is so highly regulated, we cannot do any work in these countries without government sponsors and partners. Plus, both parties are eager to learn how to better care for the women fleeing to their shelters.

The social enterprise component of the Vietnam/Laos partnerships will be with a café/bakery franchise that has had great success in Laos.  Hopefully, we will begin operations for these in early-mid 2009 as well.

As you can see, there is much to do, but we are excited and hoping for all the right leadership and funding to come through soon.  Once we have these things in place, we’ll be ready to get things moving.  And I’ll also be traveling to the offices in Vietnam, Laos and India to help oversee and organize capacity building efforts.


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4 Responses to “What has been/What will be–Hagar Update”

  1. amykayp Says:

    Hi Betsy – What a wonderful read! Thanks for sharing and since I’ve not had the internet at home I’ve been missing reading lately. I’ll add it to my work day fun so that I can be more in the loop with your journey. 😉 It is my loss when I don’t keep up, for sure!

    I hope you are finding some peace during the evolution of Hagar’s ministry. It sounds… all consuming. I will be thinking of you…

    w/appreciation – ak

  2. Bob and Muriel Says:

    Wow, Betsy, you have a grest responsibility – but you certainly are equal to the task. Thank you for giving such a great overview of the Hagar work. I know the day-to-day activities are still part of it – and there will be individual stories that merit telling, but those are yet to come. Your mother sent us your blog and we found it interesting, too. Power to you – you are in our thoughts and concerns! It will be interesting to hear what you do for Christmas. Have a Merry one!
    The Leaches

  3. Peggy Poe Says:


    I seem to have lost your current email address unless it’s gmail. Can you send it to me?

    I really enjoy reading your blog; especially as your first real writing teacher!

  4. Cassandra Clifford Says:

    Hope you are continuing to do well my dear and best of luck with everything. You are doing a great job and it sounds like you are on the adventure of a lifetime!

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