In Conversation With Mark Devadason of CNCF
What will your recent donation mean for this NGO assisting vulnerable children in Vietnam and Mongolia?
We recently launched #TECCommunity, a global initiative comprised of an online forum, ongoing event series and relaunch of our app with new and expanded functionalities. Following this launch, we pledged to donate US$1 to the Christina Noble Children’s Foundation for every download of the app in the week following the launch on April 17. Chairman of the International Board of CNCF, Mark Devadason very generously took the time to answer some of our questions about the foundation, his role, as well as sharing some insights on how our Members can support their initiatives in Vietnam and Mongolia.
Can you share some background information about CNCF?
Mark Devadason: The Christina Noble Children’s Foundation (CNCF) is a partnership of people dedicated to serving children in need, including those at risk of sexual and commercial exploitation and human trafficking by providing emergency and long-term shelter, medical care, nutritional rehabilitation, educational opportunities, vocational training, and job placement. We believe all children have the right to a happy and safe childhood so they may live in peace, surrounded by love.
Our approach is for CNCF to maximize the potential of each child. This is accomplished within the context of the family and the community whenever possible, always with love and respect for the dignity of each child as an individual. Our programmes address poverty at a grassroots level with a long-term focus on providing a nurturing environment for personal development. All children who benefit from our programmes are or have been, deeply burdened by poverty. In addition, many are orphaned, homeless and may suffer from disabilities and disease. Because of these factors, almost all are extremely vulnerable and at high risk of exploitation.
Our Founder Christina Noble OBE arrived in Vietnam in 1989 and formally established CNCF as an NGO in 1991. Over the past 29 years CNCF has established 150 projects providing vital shelter, health services, education opportunities, and, combined with our community development programmes have impacted the lives of over 1,000,000 people.
What is your role with CNCF?
MD: My role as Chairman of the International Board of CNCF has been fairly recent having taken on the role early in 2018. After a professional search kindly gifted by the world-class executive search firm Heidrick Struggles, I was selected to become Chairman and to create a newly constituted International Board. Our role is to provide governance oversight and strategic direction to support the work of Christina Noble, our CEO Helenita Noble, and the passionate and dedicated team of staff and volunteers around the world. Over the past few months we have been assembling a board of directors with diverse backgrounds and expertise to support the work of the foundation as we look forward to the next 30 years of operations.
CNCF has been helping vulnerable children and families in Vietnam and Mongolia for the past 29 years.
Can you tell us about any of your own experience on the ground in Vietnam or Mongolia with CNCF?
MD: Over my long banking career I traveled extensively and often to Vietnam but amazingly, never to Mongolia. In the past two months, I have visited both Ho Chi Minh City and Ulaanbaatar to meet the staff, see the projects and better understand the issues we are there to address. As a Chairman I am keen to understand the wider, macro reasons that have led to the problems in both countries that require a foundation like ours to exist.
Vietnam has gone through amazing changes since the war ended in 1975. The population has more than doubled from 45 million to 94 million people and urbanisation is increasing, with over 44% of the population now living in cities. All indications are that this trend is accelerating. Urbanisation can be seen as a good thing when the population lives in close proximity to decent healthcare, schooling and social services, but what I saw on my visit was that many families are quite literally falling between the cracks. Many migrant Vietnamese people are not registered and have no access to basics social services. They end up destitute and are forced to put their kids on the streets. We are there to seek sponsors to support these kids, to provide remedial healthcare when needed and to provide a haven for the most extreme cases of abused, neglected or abandoned kids.
Mongolia is similar and in many ways very different. It is a huge, desolate and extreme environment with 3.3 million people living in an area the size of Western Europe. It’s brutally cold in the extended winter, meaning minus 20-30 degrees for months. When I flew in it was April and a pleasant 18 degrees during the day and a manageable 0 degrees at night. There is huge infrastructure work flowing into the country from Chinese investments but signs that much of the labor is provided from temporary Chinese immigrant workers. Ulaanbaatar is a fascinating city, but infrastructure designed for 400,000 is suffering under the strain of 1.3 million people pouring in from the country. Our history in Mongolia is shorter than in Vietnam, but it is equally powerful. Christina literally took kids from living under the roads, surviving on scraps and barely surviving the extreme cold of winter. She highlighted the extreme plight of boys enduring Dickensian levels of abuse in the official boys’ prison and effected real changes to the Children’s Rights and Protection Laws in Mongolia.
In both countries things are improving but the issues don’t get any smaller due to the continual flow of people into cities, the breakdown of family structures and simply put, those that are being left behind. The kids we care for and the lives they now lead are mostly joyful and transformed. It is massively rewarding to be part of the process that gives them hope and a future.
How can our Members help support the work of CNCF?
We are always in need of funds for our core projects in both Vietnam and Mongolia. Without funding for these core projects our doors cannot remain open. Currently, our budget is USD$1.2million for Vietnam and USD$700,000 for Mongolia. This amount of funding ensures that we can continue providing holistic, grassroots services to the children and poor communities in our care. Considering the annual impact of our Foundation, this is not much at all. With operational costs in Vietnam and Mongolia rapidly increasing (Mongolia has one of the highest rates of inflation in the world) it is important that we are always expanding our fundraising operations. Each year costs us over 10% more than the last to maintain the same standard of care.
Making a long-term commitment to sponsor a child can have a profound impact. It is important that sponsors realise that this needs to be a long-term commitment, seeing a child through school and perhaps to university.
Other ways to help include making donations to our various projects either specifically or more generally. A family foundation or company can work with us to fund one aspect of one of our projects or to provide what we call “unrestricted” funding which allows us to operate their projects from a BAU basis. The Christina Noble Children’s Foundation has a well-established global network and can provide many outstanding opportunities for mutually beneficial strategic partnerships.
I would like to thank the Executive Centre for their hugely valuable support. By providing our Hong Kong fundraising operations pro bono office space you are making a direct impact on the lives of many children and covering costs we no longer need to fund. We also thank you for allowing me the space to share our story and explain the context for the work we do. We would be delighted to follow up with any of your Members.