In this interview, meet William Lebedel from Friendship France NGO.
Can you share with us the history of the organisation, how and where it all started?
Friendship is an international Social Purpose Organisation that started in 2002, when Runa Khan decided to transform a French river boat into a hospital to bring access to healthcare to the forgotten communities in the northern region of Bangladesh.
In this region, over 4 million people are living on the so-called Chars, shifting river islands formed from the sand and silt on the Brahmaputra River.
Since then, Friendship has extended its intervention to create an integrated and innovative development model to strengthen the resilience and dignity of the most vulnerable communities.
What is Friendship NGO’s mission and where do you operate?
In Bangladesh, a country facing the humanity’s most pressing challenges, we develop scalable solutions to strengthen marginalised communities, and empower people to transform their lives and reach their full potential. We are mainly working in the shifting northern river islands and in the coastal areas of the Bay of Bengal, as well as in the Rohingya refugee camps. Friendship has four commitments with the communities: saving lives, alleviating poverty, climate adaptation and empowerment. Our programmes connect with each other to support an integrated approach to development, based on the evolving needs of the communities we serve.
Who are your great sources of inspiration?
In my work with Friendship, my inspiration comes directly from the field, and in particular from local and most climate impacted communities. The incredible thing is that being the most exposed to climate change, you have no choice but to adapt, and incidentally inspire the rest of the world. My other sources of inspiration come from humanists such as Viktor Frankl, whom I like this quote “If we take man as he is, we make him worse, but if we take him as he should be, we make him capable of becoming what he can be.”
Who are your best allies to achieve your goals?
Our experience is that if you want to have true long lasting impact, you need to develop cooperation at all levels, starting with local communities, to deeply understand their evolving needs, as well as the local authorities without whom action is not possible. As a local player, our responsibility is to build the conditions for mutual trust and respect, and understand where we can learn from each other to fill the gaps.
You are organising an event during the LearningPlanet Festival; can you tell us more about it?
For the past two years, we have been organising the Inter-Schools Connectivity project, bringing together French and Bangladeshi students to talk about climate change adaptation, encouraging them to imagine solutions and responses they can bring to everyday life.
In 2023, new European schools are joining the project.
During the LearningPlanet Festival, we will organise the first event of this new edition by bringing together all of the participating schools, partners and people beyond to inspire cooperative learnings on climate adaptation solutions. Through this event, we would like to share inspiring stories and methods to better learn from each other on our common climate change challenges and progress thanks to our understanding as well as cultural differences. This event is an opportunity to bring together different profiles, to show testimonies of students and teachers who have already participated in the project, and to understand the power of cooperation.
You attended COP27. What are your key learnings from there and what are your hopes for COP28?
This COP27 was an opportunity for organisations such as Friendship to bring the voice of the unheard indigenous communities, to allow them to tell their stories, their resilience while being at the front line of climate crisis and injustice. I learned a lot from these stories. The agreements signed on “lost and damaged” and the confirmation of the 1.5% trajectory are essential. But the mechanisms and means remain unclear, and need to be clarified as we need to activate them.
William Lebedel is the Chairman of Friendship France.
Since he met Runa Khan in 2012, William has been actively involved with Friendship, an international NGO born and active in Bangladesh.
He has been the Chairman and volunteer Executive Director of Friendship France since 2015. He develops programmes to provide access to health, education and energy to the most climate change affected communities.
In parallel to Friendship, he runs BlueRep, a consulting company dedicated to accompany corporate decision makers in their purpose-led project.