Learning with InsideNGO: Mustafa Aslamy
Learning with InsideNGO: Mustafa Aslamy
"Learning with InsideNGO" profiles professionals who have taken advantage of our many learning opportunities. In this post, we talk with Mustafa Aslamy of Action Against Hunger. A donor relations officer based in Washington, DC, Mustafa first took a workshop with InsideNGO more than five years ago while living and working in Afghanistan. He has remained an engaged, active member of the InsideNGO community throughout several career transitions.
How many years have you been working in development?
I’ve been working in the humanitarian and development sector for more than eight years both in the US and abroad. My first job was with a USAID-funded program in Afghanistan. That’s how my journey started through USAID-funded programs and international NGOs. Then I worked with another USAID funded program as head of their quality assurance and quality control department, where I was responsible for compliance-related issues. I was leading a team of 60 professionals throughout Afghanistan. It was one of the largest agriculture and food security programs funded by USAID.
Tell us a little bit about your current job responsibilities.
I work as a donor relations officer. My main duties are strengthening Action Against Hunger’s relationship with our U.S. institutional donors, mainly USAID. Part of my job relates to business development—finding new opportunities, building relationships, proposal development, working across our team at the Action Against Hunger network.
Action Against Hunger is an international non-governmental organization whose vision is “A World Free from Hunger” with missions in almost 50 countries We are operating out of five headquarters—in the US, France, Spain, Canada, and the UK—and each HQ is responsible for a certain number of missions, but we’re all working together as a network. We have an international donor relations unit, which I’m also a part of, so we have donor relations staff in our HQs and international offices for each major institutional donor. I’m following our US donors, such as USAID, the Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM), and other federal agencies that are funding us or with which we are building strategic relationships.
Part of my job is strategy development. Recently, I developed a USAID engagement strategy. It’s a five-year strategy which gives us an overview of how US foreign assistance works, how USAID works, and how it aligns with Action Against Hunger’s thematic areas and priorities.
I’m also working on a capacity development program for our staff and throughout the network, which includes other HQs and missions. It will mostly be focusing on USAID: how to engage with USAID, how its funding mechanisms work, its rules and regulations, how grants and contracts work, etc.
When was your first involvement with InsideNGO?
My first involvement with InsideNGO was in March 2011. That was in Bangkok, Thailand. I attended two trainings: The first one was USAID Rules & Regulations: Grants and Cooperative Agreements, and the second was USAID Contract Management. It was quite helpful. From my point of view, in these trainings, you can’t understand everything but they are a kind of reference that you can then always use. These trainings give you a good structure of how to navigate and how to comply with rules and regulations, what to look for, and where to look for it.
You were living in Afghanistan when you went to the training in Bangkok, and that was more than five years ago. You’ve kept your engagement with InsideNGO across your organizations throughout your career. Sometimes we “lose” people when they move to another NGO, because they don’t actively keep up their contact information. What has made it so important for you to you to keep up your engagement?
The main point is that InsideNGO’s work is related to what I do—what I did and what I do in my previous and current jobs, that’s what’s kept me being engaged. The other thing is that InsideNGO provides resources and helpful materials that you can always go back and refer to. There’s a whole community, no matter where you are working in the sector. InsideNGO is the main point of contact if you really want to know how to do things effectively and how to manage funds.
Tell me a little bit about building your own network as an InsideNGO member.
This past summer, I attended the annual conference for the first time. That was really helpful, and I had the opportunity to meet other people who are doing the same job that I am doing, mostly on business development and engaging with the US government. I really liked the business development discussions and sessions around business development and building partnerships, and hearing about how other organizations are doing things differently, and how we can learn from these differences and apply them to our own organization. After the annual conference, my colleagues and I shared everything that we had learned there with our colleagues at our staff meeting. We suggested sending more of our staff to this conference in 2017.
Besides that, I regularly attend the roundtables; they are really helpful. Recently I attended one of the business development roundtables discussion in New York.
New business development can be highly competitive, so when you meet your counterparts from other organizations, they are often concerned about propriety information and approaches. So, in terms of the discussions at the InsideNGO business development roundtable, did you feel like the discussion was rich and that people were contributing their own experiences, not just asking you for yours?
I think it was really participatory. People did share… but obviously we aren’t going into too much detail. But we share general information about how our business development is structured, some positive points or tips that other could use… It’s a good networking opportunity to meet with other organizations working in the same sector, same field, and then you have the opportunity to meet with these same individuals later on, to have some follow-up discussions on partnerships or other issues.
Do you use InsideNGO’s online Member Community?
I do check that regularly and I receive customized e-mails every week just to see what’s going on, what questions are being asked, if there’s an opportunity to me to share or learn. I also refer to the member community if I’m not sure about something because it’s almost like a database, you can just go there and search and see if others have asked a similar question before.
InsideNGO is doing another week of trainings in Bangkok this year, March 2017. Learn more here.