Change of seats…

Change of seats…
After three years Femke Markus officially stepped down from the Board in June 2015. Having been involved with Max Foundation for over three years, Femke contributed significantly to the success of the organization. We talk with her about her experiences. 

I was intrigued by Max Foundation: how had they managed to achieve so much?

Many of us feel the drive to do good. But how do you do it?
Because of my work, I have sat on many planes, speaking to travelers with the ambition to help the less fortunate. Building schools, raising funds for an orphanage or helping street children. Struck by what they have seen on their adventures, or by an event in their personal life. I guess almost all private initiatives start this way.

But there was something different about the work Joke and Steven were doing. Before I joined them, I had come across Max Foundation before, as I had been active in the field of development aid for a while. But it wasn’t until attending their celebratory event in 2011, with Prince Willem-Alexander, that I realized this: their achievements in Bangladesh and in the Netherlands were so impressive. How were they managing all of this with such a small team of volunteers?

So, it wasn’t so much that I had a link with child health or Bangladesh. What intrigued me was their approach. I wanted to get more involved. Steven invited me to travel with him to Bangladesh. He convinced me this was the best way to experience the work of Max Foundation. Soon after that they asked me to join the Board, to further develop the organization.

At my best as the critical challenger
Though I remained impressed about Max Foundation, it is not my role to just praise. I want to find out what isn’t working and identify pitfalls. And then, of course, solve them. I love being the critical challenger. So I said to Steve: give me something tough to chew on. And I’ll come on board.

I started as Board Member with monitoring and evaluation as my focus area. Then I proceeded to take the role of chairman of the Board. To ask questions, act as a sounding board and challenge Joke, Steven and the team they were establishing, on their way of working. Of course with the final goal to become even better.

In this period the comprehensive programme ‘Max Value for WASH’ was developed, financed by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Bangladesh. It really was an honour to be part of this journey and also witness the rapid maturation of the organization. Different interventions were integrated: WASH, safe motherhood and nutrition. To me this combined approach now seems like a no-brainer for development aid. But apparently it’s not.

It also made sense to give the severely poor certain facilities like a latrine. But anyone who has some money, needs to buy one. The main principle is to ‘pull’ people out of the worst poverty, and to give them strength and confidence to improve their own lives.

What I learned from Max Foundation
I will admit now, that even though I support ‘thinking big’, I had some questions about the Max Value for WASH-proposal. Were we not dreaming too big? Could we really manage our expectations and cultivate the organization to support the dream?

But no. The results are here. More than a million people’s lives improved and thousands saved.

And I think the reason why, is probably the most important thing I take away with me. You can have highly educated and experienced staff. You can have the best business strategy in the world. But if you cannot attract staff that have the drive and passion to move your organization further, expertise has little value.

For me, leaving Max Foundation in 2015 wasn’t ideal timing, but personal circumstances took priority. I would have liked to see the foundation through to the next phase: taking the productive ‘can do’ mentality, and using it to develop into a future proof organization, to scale up all the good work.

On the other hand, at the time of deciding to leave as Chairman, I knew that it was not the end of my involvement with Max Foundation. Currently, i am working as a consultant for Max Foundation to support them with a fundraising acceleration strategy in order to bring Max Foundation to a new level!

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