Seven years ago, Paul Dillon, associate at Baird’s CMC, co-founded a small aid organisation: Two Coats. Two Coats is based out of Greystones, a little village parish just outside Dublin. The parishioners, through various donations, generate a fund that enables Two Coats to form direct relationships with small-scale overseas development projects. Since its inception, the parish organisation has grown rapidly over the last few years. Paul is now the operations director in pro bono capacity, running 14 projects around the world: three in South America and several throughout Africa and Asia.
One of Two Coats’ most major initiatives is in Nepal. “I have traveled to Nepal extensively, and have some very good friends there now. We’re extremely proud of the work we’ve done there,” says Paul. Essentially, Two Coats is focusing on three things in the country: outreach education, skills development, and basic healthcare. “Nepal is quite an impoverished country and has seen considerable political upheaval. A stable education system, particularly in remote regions, is the need of the hour. We’ve developed an outreach education programme in the Pokhara district. There are now 600 children attending classes, and about 14 full-time teachers. We provide the kids with schoolbooks, uniforms, teachers, and various other supplies,” explains Paul, with a smile. Inspired by Two Coats’ success with the first school, another district’s newly elected official contacted the organisation, requesting them to start a similar programme for the kids in his constituency. The programme began with 20 kids, and now has a 100.
The other project Paul is driving in Nepal is a skills development programme for 50 young women in the slums of Pokhara. The women are trained on practical skills, such as sewing and weaving. At the end of the training session, they each go home with a sewing machine. Says Paul, “The idea is to try and build up basic skills, build the capacity for these young people to generate a small income for themselves. Additionally, the programme has a hugely positive impact on their self-esteem.” Two Coats and the local authorities are in discussions about a proposed skills development centre for the region.
This particular area also had no access to healthcare services, as Two Coats soon discovered while working on the education initiatives. “We decided that to begin with, we’d get a qualified nurse and basic pharmaceutical care for young mothers and babies. We ran it for a year,” says Paul, “hoping someone would notice and step in to support us. Last year, someone finally did. An organisation that specialises in providing healthcare in such regions approached us – they were interested in building a clinic for the community. So we collaborated with them and built a clinic, which now runs immunisation programmes, provides some essential health services, and does all kinds of other things.”
More and more local communities around the world are getting together and trying to implement such initiatives. Paul has been invited by various other local groups around the world, asking how Two Coats does the work it does. Paul elaborates, “An important skill I bring to the table is an international understanding of communications, public affairs, and strategy. If you can bring these elements to communities, it like turning a light on – they can gather round it and build its own momentum. They can learn and develop their own skills and begin to take on initiatives themselves. I think people get very tired of simply providing funding and resources – they hardly ever know what the end results are. Communities are more interested in building relationships, in doing things that really matter, and in bringing about long-term change.”
Working on projects in some of the most turbulent and poverty-stricken regions of the world brings its own set of peculiar circumstances and challenges. There is the need to bring about a clear understanding of why the organisation is doing what it is doing. According to Paul, this is imperative for any project to really take off. “If people feel you have another agenda, they’re going to be skeptical and resentful. If however, there’s a clear understanding that this is a response to a community need and has no other purpose than to meet that, then people become truly convinced about the project and its integrity. It helps immensely if the community itself is broadly supportive – which they usually are since our programmes benefit their children,” says Paul.
Of course, there are other challenges as well: logistical difficulties owing to the remoteness of many project areas, funding shortages, lack of awareness, government red tape, and so on. Says Paul, “There are days when it looks like nothing is working and days when it looks like everything is working. Any project like this involves a great deal of patience and an awful lot of talking so that everyone involved understands each other.”