Written by Shonali Banerjee – Fundraising and Advocacy Coordinator

When I say The Branch Foundation (TBF), what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Small charity? South-East Asia? Grassroots? All of these things are true about us. But when you hear our name, would you immediately think… global? I’ve been working with the TBF team for over a year now, and when people ask me, “So what do you do?”, I tell them I work for a global grassroots charity. “A global grassroots charity?”, they ask. “That doesn’t make any sense. How can you be both global and grassroots?”

Let me tell you how.

Last year, I would have been one of the doubters.  Before joining the TBF team, I spent over 5 years working with various non-profit organisations in Washington, DC. As an American, I’m used to big things: massive cars, super-sized food portions… and huge global charities. I worked for foundations with multi-million dollar budgets, ones that could distribute funding right and left.  In my skewed perception, I thought that working for a global charity meant sitting in an office in DC while reports flooded my inbox from people “in the field”. I knew about grassroots organisations- the smaller, localized charities that worked directly with the people they impacted.  But I could never see how the two ideas, global charity vs. grassroots charity, might connect.

In late 2012, I moved to Chiang Mai, Thailand to begin what has been the most eye-opening year of my life. I’d never worked with a grassroots charity before, and I jumped at the opportunity to join a small team where I would be actively involved in many different aspects of the organisation. I accepted the position because by my definition, TBF was not a global charity. Over the course of my first months with the TBF team, I participated in what I considered to be “grassroots- type” activities. I visited our projects at the Koung Jor Shan Refugee Camp and hosted fundraising events.  I even helped write reports that were sent to someone’s inbox in Washington, DC. For all intents and purposes, I was getting exactly what I wanted out of my grassroots experience.

But as the year went on, I began realising something incredible. After visiting our at-risk girls project in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, I began understanding the truly international nature of our foundation. Once I began working with our volunteers in New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, and the US, I noticed how easily connected we all are, regardless of distance. And when mapping out the locations of all our supporters, I discovered the far-reaching impact of our vision. Yes, TBF is a small grassroots charity. We work directly with local partners, regularly visiting the communities to create projects with the highest possible impact.  But what dawned on me is that with projects in 3 different countries, staff from all over the world, volunteers on different continents, and an active body of international supporters… we are a global charity, too. The global label has nothing to do with resources or funding.  I now believe that being a global organisation means your impact is felt everywhere. The projects affect people not only from different countries, but also people in the same country from different ethnicities, religions, and cultures.

I recently relocated back to the US, but I’ve continued my work with TBF remotely. After a year in the middle of the action in Thailand, I’m now one of the volunteers helping out from overseas. Since returning home, I began realising how rare it is to find a charity like TBF. One that’s both small and big, international and local. There are thousands of charities around the world that do life-changing work, but I’ve never heard of one quite like ours.  I believe TBF is truly in a league of its own– a global grassroots charity.