On Aug. 4, 2020, it took Impact Lebanon co-founder Nader Noueiri “a good 24 hours to get hold of people” and check in on them. “But it only took two hours to launch a crowdfunding campaign with fellow board members,” he told L’Orient Today. Within 24 hours of its launch, the fundraiser reached over $1million.
In total, Impact Lebanon raised $9.2 million to invest in Beirut’s post blast recovery.
“We raised the money, channeled it, decided how to grant it and to allocate it upon different NGOs and initiatives,” explains Alexandra Mouracade, Impact Lebanon’s treasury director. From a pool of 150 non-profit organizations, Impact Lebanon selected 18, which they funded to conduct various relief projects.
Impact’s relief efforts, which are nearing a conclusion at the time of this story’s publishing, included reviving 1,807 residential units, 168 heritage units, 434 micro, small and medium-sized businesses (MSMBs), reconstructing and supporting three hospitals and providing sustenance to 729 individuals.
Impact’s efforts have benefited over 25,000 individuals.
Monitoring the work from abroad
While selected NGOs conducted work on the field, Impact’s role was to monitor, discuss and support operations from abroad.
“The fact that you're not registered here [Lebanon], impacted us…by being more constructive, by taking a step back,” explains Noueiri.
Impact Lebanon is registered in the United Kingdom.
“Being abroad helped us by looking at things from the outside … but it also hasn't been easy being the person outside the country trying to help the country,” he adds. “It was a lot of work. We have full-time jobs. We live abroad. We are far from the country. I had to visit the country like ten times a year and ensure everything was going well.”
“It’s challenging to be so far away and to realize that when you approve or not a document, when you take some time, you’re also touching lives. (...) It was difficult to cope with the distance between the actions and the ground,” says Mourcade.
“The biggest challenge was dealing with people that are completely destroyed, whether mentally, physically, that have a lot of damage, whether they lost a family member, whether they had staff that were injured, or whether they were emotionally drained. They're broken from the inside and you had to deal with these people in a very smart way,” she recalls.
A particular focus on heritage
Noueiri is among those enamored with Beirut’s charm.
“I have always loved architecture and always wanted to study it. I have always appreciated heritage buildings. I think Beirut has a beautiful heritage,” he explains.
“I don’t think you know the value of something until you lose it,” he adds, “and I think this is what happened with Beirut.”
Noueiri’s passion resonated with The House of Christmas, an NGO working to improve livelihoods across Lebanon. Impact gave them a $539,200 grant to restore heritage buildings, in partnership with Together Libeirut. The NGO focused on the Tamish and Rif buildings, and the Gholam Cluster in Gemmayze.
An Ottoman era structure dating from the early 1900s, El Rif building was heavily damaged by the blast. It housed eight families, and seven small businesses. One of the building’s residents, 36 year old Krystel El Adem, a philanthropist, was killed in the blast.
Coming together to impact Lebanon
Like some of the NGOs that stepped in to fill the vacuum left by an absent state in the wake of Aug. 4 2020, Impact Lebanon faced some criticism.
“Any organization that does well in Lebanon, that has integrity, that has ethics, that does something good, will face backlash,” Noueiri remarks. “We worked in a jungle. There was no presence whatsoever of governments, of policies, of laws. Nothing. When a government is absent, there is a lot of politics in the country. When you’re apolitical, when you are not sectarian, when you’re just doing the right job, people will fight you. Organizations like Impact Lebanon and others have been fought because they were doing the right job and do not belong to any political party.”
Impact Lebanon was founded amid the Oct. 17, 2019 revolution, from the confluence of efforts leveraging the Lebanese diaspora, to support various social, economic, and humanitarian initiatives across the country and to promote the sharing of resources and expertise.
The organization’s members come from different backgrounds and generations.
“More than 300 volunteers joined Impact at the time [of the blast],” says Noueiri. They were all mobilized over the internet and almost all the work was conducted virtually.”
“When we launched the fundraiser, you could really see how expats and people who left a long time ago came together and put in the effort,” explains Mouracade. “Lebanese communities in Australia raised about $80,000, which they gave to Impact as part of the disaster relief.”
“Impact Lebanon had Lebanese who were of second and third Lebanese generations,” says Noueiri. “We had someone in our portfolio whose grandma was Lebanese. That’s the only blood tie she has to Lebanon. She was one of the people who were working tirelessly on a daily basis as part of the monitoring committees.”
But Noueri does not believe in the “resilience narrative” attached to Lebanon:
“I don’t think Lebanese are resilient,” he says. “If they were, they wouldn’t have remained calm, accepted the new reality and adapted to the new normality. But I think there’s a lot of Lebanese people who appreciate their country, who live abroad, who want their voice to be heard, who want to help with no conditions. We were among those people and we ensured to help with no condition to be heard, even if we were abroad, and to tell the Lebanese and the world that it’s a country that we don’t want to give up on.”