A New Spin on Charity
Updated: Mar 22
A group of Yemeni diaspora from around the world comes together to address Yemen's issues.
Our history books are filled with stories of explorers braving oceans and discovering new lands. Today, we read about modern-day explorers and researchers who have recently discovered vaccines, created new technologies, and built disruptive yogurt businesses. These courageous souls, ancient and current, are immigrants and children of immigrants. Also known as diaspora, they hail from various lands. Even those who are not famous are remarkable. They do not earn accolades for the extraordinary act of leaving what they know behind to face challenges unknown. Still, we all know stories of immigrants (many are our family members) who have managed to overcome trauma, racism, extreme poverty, and other harsh obstacles to forge a better life for themselves and their families.
It is not surprising then that Muhjar, a non-profit group in Yemen, has bravely redesigned the structure of a charity. The name translates in English to “traveler”--an attempt to capture the spirit of voyagers and explorers. Muhjar created a flat design meaning no one person is in charge of the group.
This group of fifteen members is committed to creating an environment of innovation. Half the team members are immigrants; the other half are children of immigrants, all diaspora from Yemen. Muhjar was born in the rooms of Clubhouse, a social media platform based on voice. A few members met over a passionate discussion on Yemen, its woes, and potential, and the mission emerged naturally and bound them together. This mission aims to boost the capabilities of young people through knowledge transfer. The team envisions a strong, vibrant, and creative future, specifically in Aden. Aden is a city that has been the center of multiple wars and marginalization for decades. A city that was once the capital of a country that no longer exists on maps but lives on in the hearts of many.
How does it work?
Muhjar functions as a team and each member’s vote has the same weight. As a team, they decide who can join and their mission guides their decisions. When a member presents a project proposal, the group discusses it and votes it in by majority. If accepted, the team member that proposes the project leads it. Other members volunteer to help carry the idea to fruition.
A portfolio of programs
Muhjar has launched four programs since its inception in April 2021:
Muhjar Talks: Virtual events with experts in various fields. People join worldwide to exchange ideas about sustainability.
Muhjar Academy: Used to raise awareness through training programs. The programs seek to develop capabilities, knowledge, and professional preparation for the labor market in Yemen.
Muhjar Initiatives: Partners with volunteer clubs and youth clubs to conduct volunteer projects in Yemen.
Muhjar Entrepreneurship: Aims to spread the culture of innovation. Muhjar seeks to empower and encourage men and women entrepreneurs through various means.
You can find more information about these projects on the website.
Changing the status quo
Muhjar’s setup is reminiscent of a tech start-up radically changing the status quo. There are benefits to the flat structure. Firstly, there is a deep pool of expertise to rely on to carry out functions. Charities attempting to achieve low overhead struggle to bring on committed volunteers. Imagine you joined an organization, and from day one, your opinions and votes have the same weight as anyone else—no red tape and no politics. It creates a breeding ground for leaders to gain practical experience.
Since many of the members are immigrants from Yemen, their passion for making life better for the family left behind is fierce. Many have insider knowledge of how things in Yemen operate, the opportunities, and the challenges. This devoted team surrenders much of their free time to pushing Muhjar forward, and it shows in the progress made in a short time.
Since the organization does not rely on a single person to sustain it, this team approach naturally builds in backups for all key positions. No one person can leave and cripple the operation. A potent reminder that the organization does not belong to a single person - it is for the people of Yemen and built that way from day one.
Of course, there will be challenges ahead. Muhjar is a young organization, after all. How will it maintain its group dynamic once it becomes a registered organization that must list a CEO, director, or other positions?
There are solutions. They could list individuals as needed but continue to function the same way, making decisions as a group. Muhjar could also implement some hierarchy but keep the organization mostly flat (we see this in business). Since the team recruits people that share their vision of a flat design, they believe the spirit of Muhjar will endure, regardless of growth.
Looking to the future
Time will tell how Muhjar will navigate the challenges ahead. We will certainly revisit them and watch this experiment play out. After all, this is how innovation happens. Risks are taken. And, who better to take those risks than a group of ‘muhjar’ whose lives are one great adventure.
How you can help
Contact Muhjar at firstname.lastname@example.org to be a guest speaker, sponsor an event, and more! You can also connect with them on Facebook.
Since writing this article, Muhjar Development Organization has become a licensed NGO in Yemen. Muhjar headquarters is in Enma City, Aden, Yemen.