A simple methodology continues to produce powerful results for Oklahoma City-based World Neighbors 

World Neighbors president Kate Schecter. | Photos provided
  • c. Stanley Photography
  • World Neighbors president Kate Schecter. | Photos provided

World Neighbors — an independent nonprofit that works to “create permanent change in some of the poorest places on earth” — began with Oklahoma City’s John L. Peters preaching a sermon titled “Let’s Deal with Basic Issues.” 21

More than 60 years later, the international development organization’s president and chief executive officer Kate Schecter said World Neighbors continues that legacy. The organization’s projects begin with simple and practical solutions that progressively target complex challenges, like issues around hunger, poverty and disease, but also natural disasters, migration and climate change. The solutions always begin by investing in the local people and their communities, inspiring them to create their own solutions through programs rooted in agriculture, health, literacy, water, financial management and environmental protection.

Through the organization’s work in Indonesia, where small island villages are vulnerable to a rise in sea levels, World Neighbors planted mangrove trees. The trees fend off rising seas and help protect the islands from stronger tropical storms caused by climate change.

“With the help of the Indonesian government, thousands and thousands of mangrove trees were planted to prevent water rising and consuming the communities on the shoreline,” said Schecter of a recent project resulting from a cooperative agreement with the United States Agency for International Development.

Across the world in Guatemala, where World Neighbors has teamed up with Starbucks Foundation, a priority has been placed on improving the lives of farmers and their families in coffee-growing communities. Early on, World Neighbors learned that families weren’t growing their own food. Through training workshops on community health and sustainable agriculture, locals learned to produce their own crops, like corn and beans, as well as how to produce a surplus for selling and generating income.

“The focus is simple: farmers and their families,” Schecter said. “The farmers are trained to become leaders teaching the next family.”

Mangrove trees in Indonesia and family gardens in Guatemala are just the tip of the work by Oklahoma City-based World Neighbors, which is currently interacting with 500,000 people in 13 counties. The support of World Neighbors has impacted more than 26 million people in 45 counties since its inception in 1951.

click to enlarge A Guatemalan woman stands in front of plastic bottles growing seeds, part of the training provided by World Neighbors | Photos provided
  • A Guatemalan woman stands in front of plastic bottles growing seeds, part of the training provided by World Neighbors | Photos provided

Difference maker

There has long been a view presented by World Neighbors leaders’ that the organization is one of a kind among Oklahoma nonprofits but also other international development nonprofits. The difference is the innovative and holistic approach that World Neighbors has long taken to help strengthen impoverished communities. Programs are established after listening and collaborating with locals. They are implemented with the support of locals and other partner organizations.

World Neighbors’ approach attracted Schecter to the organization in summer of 2014. With a background in international aid work, she had witnessed too many “good intentions gone awry” and recognized the strength in World Neighbors’ programs that create lasting change rather than a short-term fix.

In addition to World Neighbors’ methodology, Schecter saw strength in the support from Oklahoma families who have consistently supported World Neighbors since the organization’s beginning. Because of its high-caliber programs, World Neighbors has also attracted financial support from well-known national foundations such as Ford Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

More than a year ago, World Neighbors and Feed the Children ended their three-year strategic collaboration in which World Neighbors served as a subsidiary of the other Oklahoma City-based nonprofit. The collaboration came after World Neighbors’ financial struggles following the economic crisis that began in 2008. Now, as an independent nonprofit once again, the organization is on a solid financial footing, allowing its programs to thrive and Peters’ legacy to live on hundreds and thousands of miles away from Oklahoma City.

Sixty-six years after World Neighbors began as a grassroots movement for Oklahomans to help their global neighbors realize their full human potential, Oklahomans remain committed to cause. Schecter frequents Oklahoma colleges and civic meetings, making presentations about the work of World Neighbors.

“There is a desire to hear what’s happening,” Schecter said, “and an interest to engage globally.”

Print headline: Small actions; A simple methodology continues to produce powerful results for Oklahoma City-based World Neighbors.

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