Coalition of islanders seeks new ways to support local NGOs

From left, PIANGO project officer Akmal Ali, MANGO secretary Maxine Lazelo, Variety feature writer Sophie Perez, PIANGO chair Sarah Thomas-Nededong, former MANGO public relations officer Emma Perez, MANGO co-vice chair Frances Sablan. Picture: MARIANAZ VARIETY

SAIPAN – “The greatest challenge for NGO’s is [finding] resources to fund not only its programs but more importantly the hiring of full-time, skilled talent,” said April Peebler.

Peebler is the executive director of Heirs to Our Oceans, a U.S.-based non-government organisation “housed” by Chamolinian Cultural Village Inc. that supports local youth in developing their leadership skills and ocean literacy.

Heirs to Our Oceans is one of the many NGOs operating here in the Marianas, where the challenge of starting community programs often revolves around a basic lack of funding and administrative know-how.

NGOs commonly begin as a brainchild of someone with a specialised skill and a dream for how that ability can be wielded to help the larger community. Rarely do people enter into the venture already knowing how to accomplish every task associated with running a non-profit; they’re forced to learn about HR, accounting, payroll, marketing, grant writing, and fundraising  on the fly. And, unfortunately, these complicated hurdles can prevent the nonprofit from reaching its potential.

That’s where the Marianas Alliance of Non-Governmental Organisations or MANGO hopes to help.

MANGO is the local chapter of PIANGO, or Pacific Islands Association of Non-Government Organization, a Blue Continent-wide coalition of islanders dedicated to “strengthening and building the capacity of the civil society sector.”

PIANGO unites NGO organizers from 27 Pacific Island countries and territories by helping them start their own local chapters (FSM’s is FANGO, Belau’s is BANGO, and so on).

PIANGO chair Sarah Thomas-Nededong and PIANGO project officer Akmal Ali attended MANGO’s most recent meeting on May 17, where they discussed with MANGO leaders Frances Sablan, and Maxine Lazelo, and Emma Perez how to make MANGO a more powerful ally for Marianas NGOs.

PIANGO project officer Akmal Ali said that PIANGO can serve as a “voice amplifier” for Marianas-based NGOs “through support in terms of capacity strengthening.”

PIANGO also offers resources like the Civil Society Organisation or CSO Capacity Building Program, which aims to invest in skill-building and increased technical aptitude for CSOs across the Pacific.

But, as Thomas-Nededong explained, ultimately “it comes down to people on the ground.”

“People from the outside can only do so much if it’s going to be sustained,” she said. “It’s got to come from the roots. It’s got to come from the people.”

Emma Perez said before MANGO can become an ally for local NGOs, it must strengthen itself with “solid, committed, skilled leadership,” and other financial and technical resources.

With the right assets, Perez said MANGO “could bring millions of dollars of funding into the community for nonprofits and allow them to focus on their program work by reducing the administrative burden and helping ensure compliance with government regulations and grant requirements.”

In addition to acquiring additional resources for itself, MANGO’s next step will be to better its understanding of what local NGOs need. They will start by holding a reorganization meeting at the WestCare Pacific Islands CNMI Office today, Tuesday, at 5 p.m. They may also plan a non-profit congress for later this summer, during which representatives of local NGOs can share their knowledge and experiences.

Ali said the more NGOs take part, the more assistance MANGO can offer.

“The best way to be involved in the Marianas with PIANGO is by getting your local NGO, faith-based organisation, community-based organization, sporting organization, and cultural groups to become proactive members of MANGO,” he explained. “More membership would mean MANGO being able to secure more funding to be able to support its members.”

Hope, the ocean, and care for local communities constitute a few of the common threads that everyone can hang on to across the diverse landscape of CSOs based in an area as vast as the Pacific:

“I have hope for our kids’ futures if our youth are given the tools they need now through well-supported NGOs who truly work to develop leadership,” April Peebler told  Variety. “Until there is significant education reform, the next generation is reliant upon committed and effective NGOs who will support them to not only understand the state of the natural environment they are inheriting and to start on a journey of being a part of the solution not the problem, but also, sadly, to connect with their natural environment again by getting into the ocean as often as possible and observing it.”

“I feel hopeful because I know that there are a lot of good people here doing a lot of good work,” Thomas-Nededong said.

But as she stated earlier, the responsibility for MANGO’s success lies squarely on the locals’ shoulders; MANGO may help the Mariana Islands become stronger than ever, but only if local NGOs are interested in banding together to make it happen.