Friendship Belgium launched
Banque de Luxembourg has supported the Friendship organisation for many years. Founded in Bangladesh in 2002, the NGO works in six sectors: healthcare, education, climate change adaptation, sustainable economic development, cultural preservation and promotion of basic human rights.
In addition to financial aid, we provide significant support through our employees' skills in a wide variety of fields, including microfinance, organisation, information management and communication. We learned more about these initiatives in this interview with Marc Elvinger, a Member of the Board of Friendship Belgium, chairman of Friendship Luxembourg and, along with Runa Khan, co-chairman of Friendship International.
Mr Elvinger, it is 17 years since Runa Khan founded Friendship in Bangladesh. Why is there a need for a network in Europe and why is Belgium joining now?
Soon after starting up Friendship in Bangladesh – and the launch of the country's first hospital ship – Runa realised that, if she wanted to continue focusing her actions on the priorities that she identified locally, on the ground, she would need to have closer relationships with her donors and partners.
The aim was to avoid, and indeed short-circuit, long chains of intermediaries which all too easily dilute relationships and the resulting projects.
It was at this point that she became determined to set up her own platform in Europe. It was a matter of chance – which turned out to be happy chance – that the first Friendship entity was established in Luxembourg, followed by the Netherlands, France, the UK, Germany and now Belgium.
The launch of Friendship in Belgium took place in the presence of HRH Princess Esmeralda of Belgium and Yann Arthus-Bertrand. Can you tell us how these two personalities became involved?
HRH Princess Esmeralda of Belgium is a writer, feminist journalist and environmentalist who often speaks out to protect the planet and its populations. She was already a Member of the Board of Friendship UK, so it was natural that we should ask her to become chair of the new Belgian organisation.
And, to our great honour, she accepted! HRH Princess Esmeralda first met Runa Kahn two years ago through Yann Arthus-Bertrand, whose 2015 film “Human” had profoundly affected her. Yann Arthus-Bertrand has had a close connection with Friendship for more than ten years. His involvement led to the film “Climate Change in Bangladesh”, which he produced for us to coincide with COP21, and which we showed again at the Friendship Belgium launch event.
Yann Arthus-Bertrand has taken his commitment a step further, making films on subjects close to his heart, especially through the GoodPlanet foundation which was set up in 2005. We are extremely grateful to HRH Princess Esmeralda and to Yann for their personal commitment, which gives more visibility to our cause.
Yann Arthus-Bertrand, Runa Khan, HRH Princess Esmeralda of Belgium
What tangible results has Friendship achieved in Bangladesh?
In 17 years, Friendship has:
- Set up two additional hospital ships - five more will be added in 2019,
- Developed an integrated healthcare system treating more than 150,000 patients per month,
- Established 78 schools and adult education centres,
- Developed a microfinance programme that supports more than 10,000 farmers and fishermen,
- Launched a rural electrification scheme to help the most deprived,
- Launched a good governance programme based on citizens’ rights,
- Trained thousands of families to adapt to the effects of climate change.
But beyond these figures lies an exemplary attitude that Friendship has instituted in a country where nothing is easy, adhering to its founding values of Integrity, Quality, Justice and Hope.
Banque de Luxembourg has supported Friendship since 2008. What form does this support take?
Obviously, financial aid, particularly in launching a microfinance project to support fishermen in the Bay of Bengal which has developed very successfully in seven years.
But just as importantly, the Bank provides pro bono skills and multi-dimensional logistics support in terms of communication (publications and website) which Friendship needs in Europe and Bangladesh. The Bank also receives Friendship Bangladesh staff for training courses and the exchange of best practices, sends members of its own staff to Friendship Bangladesh on technical support missions, provides premises, etc.
This is all done in a spirit of cheerfulness and diligence!
A new film entitled "The Voice of Bangladesh" has been created to celebrate the dignity and courage of the region’s inhabitants and the empathy of the Friendship teams who work in communities which would otherwise be forgotten.