Posted on September 29, 2020
3QA is a social enterprise that supports organizations through its programs and services, which focus on holistic organizational management and excellence in governance.
As nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations, also known as third sector organizations, play a crucial role in providing support to vulnerable communities, there is a need to standardize their work, showcasing their integrity and reliability vis-à-vis their donors and the communities they serve.
There has never been a time in Lebanon where 3QA’s work was more relevant than now, since third sector organizations are currently leading on support and relief efforts in the country following the economic collapse and the devastating Beirut blast.
We met with Tara Hermez, CEO of 3QA, to talk about the huge task that the startup has at hand and the importance of its work in ensuring that the quality of services provided by third sector organizations in Lebanon is standardized.
3QA was founded in 2017 with the main objective of introducing trust amongst local organizations in the civil society sector in Lebanon. “This sector is not recognized to its full potential nor is it acknowledged for the work that it is doing. When we launched 3QA we had the idea of introducing an international certification so that there would be an objective body capable of verifying the good work that these organizations are doing,” Hermez explains. The third sector has been leading on welfare initiatives, providing the basic needs of Lebanon’s citizens and its refugees (from shelter to food to reconstruction) in the complete absence of the local government, especially with soaring poverty rates post the recent blast.
“We wanted them to get the right amount of exposure, the right amount of support, and the right amount of recognition. For that, we initially partnered with the National Council of Voluntary Organizations in the UK and we established a partnership to introduce their certification to Lebanon, and eventually to the MENA region.
As we started to implement it, we realized that the standards were extremely rigorous, and the actual capacity of local organizations is not yet at this standard of international best practice.”
Hermez has been working in the third sector for the past 12 years. She has worked with very small grassroots organizations, to medium-sized, all the way up to international organizations. Her area of particular interest throughout her career was mainly monitoring and evaluation, reporting, and understanding how to measure the work that is being done on the ground on behalf of third sector organizations.
“The reason why I found it very appealing to join 3QA at the ideation stage and turn it into a social enterprise is that, after years of working in the sector, all we would hear is criticism and very little acknowledgement of the great work that local organizations are doing in places like Lebanon.” Hermez confirms.
“Most of the funding support today comes into large international organizations that are then disbursed to local NGOs. Due to the lack of trust in the sector, most local organizations are not considered fit to receive direct funding from institutional donors.
As 3QA, we felt the need to equip local organizations with the right infrastructure for them to be able to comprehend significant amounts of funding without necessarily going through international organizations. The only way we can do that is to provide the right foundation, which is one of the reasons why 3QA was created: to build and recognize the work that local organizations are doing for funders and different aid agencies to recognize them.”
“We noticed that we did not want to just support organizations that are well established and have the systems and structures in place; we also wanted to support the smaller organizations that are doing great work but do not have the resources to develop.
This is why in 2019, we decided to introduce the due diligence and monitoring program. This program assists donors in identifying local organizations from across the country that have great impact and access to communities in need.
We started by partnering with entities such as LIFE – the Lebanese International Finance Executive, a Lebanese diaspora groupbased abroad, to support different types of emergency funds, aiming to alleviate the pressure of the average civilian.
The due diligence program looks at the minimum standards that any local organization should be adhering to. We are not talking about international standards; we are talking about the bare minimum: Do they have a board in place? Are their board members friends and family, or are they strategic individuals that are guiding the organization? Do they have a financial audit in place? Is it just internal, or did they include external audits to ensure that the money is being tracked and reviewed not only by the internal teams but also by external experts?”
Following the Beirut blast, funding started to pour into Lebanon. A lot of funders approached 3QA to make sure they are supporting organizations that are doing the right work on the ground and are doing it with the minimum required standards of transparency and accountability.
“This is where we expanded our partnerships to other funds, including Impact Lebanon and Xpatria, supporting them in the selection of NGOs working on disaster relief then monitoring the implementation of every project that receives funding.
Verifying the internal systems and operations of the organisations is half the work; if we do not monitor the projects themselves, then there is no way to measure the outcomes. This is why the monitoring and the due diligence come hand in hand. Once the organization is good to go from the due diligence team’s side, 3QA’s monitoring team ensures that donors receive proper updates and reports about the ways in which the funds were spent, the quality of their activities and interventions, as well as the impact that they are creating on the ground.”
“We joined Berytech’s Impact Rise Program because there is always room for growth, and you must take a step back as you go through the journey and meet with different experts and organizations and learn from them. I think it is a learning journey and one which every social enterprise needs to embark on at some point. Just make sure your team has the time for it! ,” says Hermez.
Toufic Majdalani, a mentor in the Impact Rise program confirms: “3QA is an enterprising idea to help NGOs create internal processes, controls, and a governance structure to conform to the requirements of donors in general and international donors in particular. The concept could not have come at a more opportune time to help all these organizations navigate and stay relevant in an economic environment of increased uncertainty and adversity.
Tara Hermez and her team have been very committed to the idea and proved to be pragmatic, diligent, and resourceful to recognize that, at a particular moment, they needed to tweak their initial model to cater more to the requirements of donors and focus on helping them in assessing the viability, social impact and governance parameters of the organizations they targeted. An idea which will continue to be very relevant for years to come.”
The scaling plan for 3QA is linked to the regional outlook in the coming few months. The startup is planning to introduce its programs to Jordan in the first quarter of 2021. They then plan to scale to other countries across the Middle East boasting a large third sector.
The team also plans on building sustainable funding schemes into the third sector in Lebanon.
“We no longer want to wait for an emergency to ensure that local organisations are equipped to support those in need. Our plan is to set up more sustainable funding schemes for the third sector in Lebanon with a number of funding platforms worldwide.”
About the Impact Rise Program
The 3QA team is currently enrolled in Berytech’s Impact Rise Social Innovation Program, which is funded by the U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI).They are among 16 chosen teams who joined the startup scaling track. They were chosen based on the startup’s business and innovation potential, business model, scalability, team compatibility and expertise, as well as their ultimate social and environmental impact. They are being coached by Elias Akhrass, and mentored by Toufic Majdalani, Ghassan Kozah and Farid Mechaka. All four experts are also enrolled in the Impact Rise Program.