Global Impact: Connecting donors to sisters' missions

A busy market street in Lagos, Nigeria. (Melanie Lidman)

Memories of chaos, wild energy, pollution and throngs of people crowded together along the streets bring back the two weeks I spent in Nigeria this past summer. Noisy enthusiasm, creativity and entrepreneurship characterized the sisters of Nigeria sharing excitement about their roles in the church’s mission. Many of them have missions in various countries of Africa and abroad as well. They were eager to learn about Global Sisters Report and the importance their contributions are to creating a global vision of religious life. 

The growing number of sisters in Nigeria and throughout the Global South is a vibrant resource for the future of the church. The church’s missionary role is beckoning sisters from the Global South to go wherever they are called or needed, even to the north. However, for missions to be successful, spiritual, human and professional formation is imperative to make the impact sustainable.

Unfortunately poverty can stifle the missionary impulse. Women religious leaders worry about how to balance financing formation and education programs for new members, care for the growing number of aging sisters, and their home ministries. Services rendered in local parishes or dioceses are rarely compensated adequately to provide for even daily needs, making building of capital often impossible. Fund raising from overseas donors is an everyday activity for most congregations.  There are also growing numbers of congregations founded in Africa now sending sisters to the U.S. and Europe to earn money to send home to meet the growing expenses.

But whether fund raising is done from their home countries or in the missions in the north, gaining the trust of donors is not an easy task. Past missionaries to Africa were able to engage their families, friends and foundations back home to help finance and sustain new projects. Indigenous sisters incorporated into these international congregations benefited from these skills, and today their fund-raising  efforts bear the fruit of donor trust garnered by their former missionary sisters.

Sr. Nicolette Ihenacho, IHM, addresses novitiates at the congregation's Formation Center near Enugu, Nigeria. (Melanie Lidman)

For the indigenous  congregations of sisters founded by local bishops or priests it is not as easy. They start from scratch searching for donors who are willing to risk trusting them with financial assistance for their ministries and other needs. Those sisters in mission in the United States or Europe do not find it easy either to find work or to try their hand at fund raising.

An added burden for indigenous congregations engaged in overseas fund raising is a new set of U.S. rules for international funds transfer. Most foundations steer clear of international banking, requiring Global South congregations to have Global North connections to receive and transfer awards. Most of the congregations, of course, do not have such connections, or are just establishing mission communities to facilitate such transfers.

Here is where Global Impact has stepped up to help the sisters address this fund raising obstacle. Global Impact is an U.S.-based group that “builds partnerships and raises resources that help the world’s most vulnerable people” – and because it recognizes the value of sisters’ educational and social services, it is taking the risk to work directly with them.

A pilot program with the Association of Sisters of Kenya (AOSK) is in the works to raise funds for projects that serve women and children. Fund raising campaigns are presented to employees of government agencies and corporations interested in faith-based opportunities to help bring about a better and peaceful world.

It is an exciting and hope-filled venture for both Global Impact and the sisters that can be replicated by other national sisters’ organizations throughout the Global South. This venture is also a new avenue for Global North sisters who do not have sisters in the Global South to form new partnerships that can strengthen the vision of a global religious life.

The saying goes that if God closes one door, another opens, and this is truly the new door for sisters in the Global South.

[Joyce Meyer, PBVM, is international liaison for Global Sisters Report.]

Check out Horizons, featuring reflections younger sisters.