Question: But you don't have to be an engineer to become a member of IOG, right?
Saygin: No, not at all. But when we head off to a project, we naturally need engineers on the ground so that we can make as big a difference as possible with as little manpower as possible.
Question: What is the difference between IOG and an organization like the German Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW)?
Saygin: The THW doesn't help people help themselves, it helps in specific emergencies, like after the tsunami in 2004, by providing an enormous amount of technical equipment and highly trained specialists. Our approach, on the other hand, involves development aid that focuses on the long term. Another difference between the IOG and other organizations is that we attach great importance to volunteer work. About 1,000 of our 3,750 supporting members are actively involved in the work performed by the association or in projects abroad. And they aren't paid for it – our engineers do this in their spare time and sometimes even pay travel expenses out of their own pockets.
Question: Why do personnel and administrative costs still account for 30 percent of your expenses?
Saygin: Unlike many other NGOs, everyone at IOG who travels abroad is working as a volunteer. Project expenses are therefore low in relation to general costs. The ratio would be different if we were able to include the voluntary engineering man-days, but the law doesn't allow this.
Question: 2017 saw a decrease in donations and grants. How were revenues in 2018?
Saygin: We've enjoyed steady growth for the last 15 years, with a dip in 2017 but a new record high of just under 1.2 million euros in 2018, an amount we will probably top again in 2019.
Question: Aside from water supply, what other key areas do IOG's projects focus on? What is the organization doing to combat climate change, for example?
Saygin: First of all, our projects don't focus on water supply alone, we also have a large number of projects that deal with water disposal, which is a completely different area. We also have a bridge construction competence group, which has built a number of bridges in recent years. We are currently carrying out a project involving earthquake-resistant reconstruction activities in Nepal. In Africa, we've built small hydroelectric power stations that bring electricity to villages that are completely cut off from the power grid.
Our energy supply projects focus exclusively on renewable energies. We don't install diesel generators anywhere nor do we help build power plants that burn fossil fuels. Instead we rely on photovoltaics, biogas or solar thermal energy. And we usually use clay bricks instead of fired bricks for construction projects to avoid burning wood. Projects that avoid the emission of CO2 on a large scale are still a bit too ambitious for us, but we are very sensitive to the issue – just on a smaller scale.
Question: How many projects does IOG carry out each year?
Saygin: Last year there were 46 projects running in parallel at home and abroad and this year's number will be similar.
Question: What approach do you take to your projects? You not only plan the projects but also implement them, right?
Saygin: We work with local partners as a matter of principle, which is perhaps also something that sets us apart from other organizations. These are usually small non-governmental organizations that become aware of us through a variety of different channels or as the result of personal contacts. Sometimes students from the respective countries are involved in our regional groups. We now have 33 regional groups in Germany. They propose the projects, collect the money once information has been gathered on the ground and the projects have been approved by the respective working groups, and then implement them. But, as I've said, this is always done in collaboration with local partners and using local materials and manpower.
Question: Do you also collaborate on projects with other aid organizations?
Saygin: Yes, I can even give you a current example. We have just received a request from a large medical aid organization that is working in a war zone and is having difficulties with their logistics. They need a landing strip to get the relief supplies into the country. This is a typical engineering task that we perform, thus making it possible for other aid organizations to take action. We also often have contact with other aid organizations on the ground.