In its efforts to combat HIV/AIDS in this country,the Malaysian AIDS Council constantly needs to raise money to fund its activities. MENG YEW CHOONG reports on how the money collected is used and the MAC's current fund-raising drive.DOES having well-known names help in raising funds for charities? In a resource-strapped world, the answer is yes, though not always. Take for example, the Malaysia AIDS Council (MAC), which has been in existence for 10 years.
Okay, everyone knows that its chairperson is Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir (and who her father is), but does it mean that the MAC's coffer is overflowing with cash, or at the very least, never comes close to running dry?
The truth, according to the MAC, is quite the reverse of popular perception.
“I think people unfairly think that with our chairman, being who she is, will have no problem raising money,'' said Robert Yeoh, one of the trustees of the Malaysian AIDS Foundation, which is the fund-raising arm of the MAC.
“First, people don't give money just because of who she is. Perhaps some do, but the important thing is that most don't. People do give to us based on our merits, and for the causes we support.
“Secondly, people give money not for who Marina is, but for the work she does. She’s one of the best chairmen and presidents of any charitable cause. She's always out there in the forefront, raising awareness, educating people about the AIDS issue, and if people give because of that, then praise be to God. It's not because of her connections.
“Of course, some may give money because of that, but I suspect that is not really the case,'' averred Yeoh when interviewed just as the MAC embarks on another fund-raising mission. This time around, it's called the Riding For Life campaign and will be held this month.
More often than not, said Yeoh, the public end up with the wrong impression about MAC's fund raising because they are usually regaled with tales of who gave how much, but not about those who refused to give even one sen to the cause.
“The fact is that a lot of people also say no to us. People only hear about the amount of money we raise, but I can assure you that at least three times as many people say no to us. As a charity and a foundation, we have to go out to fight for the money, and to explain why AIDS is such an important issue. Maybe with Marina, we can open doors. But opening doors is one thing, getting a person to sign the cheque is an entirely different matter.”
So, where does the money go?
Formed in 1992, MAC supports the efforts of its 37 affiliates to combat AIDS, and its funds are raised primarily through the MAF, which had set a target of RM2mil in a year-long programme that began last October.
MAC’s affiliates range from family planning organisations to those that help people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA), to those that carry out a broad spectrum of educational, prevention and treatment programmes. Undoubtedly, some get partial government funding (which is not a lot), and the rest survive on grants from the MAF.
At least half of what is raised any time goes towards care and treatment of those with AIDS, especially through MAF’s care and treatment programmes that also includes the drug assistance programme. Under the drug assistance programme, MAF funds the third drug in the cocktail taken by those with HIV/AIDS.
And then there is the paediatric AIDS fund, which is intended to help children affected by AIDS (either directly or indirectly). MAF also runs a micro credit scheme to help PLWHA set up small businesses after they lose their jobs. “People may be fired from their jobs, but they can still work,'' said Yeoh, who added that it is only natural that MAF will fail to meet the multitude of needs out there.
Accountability is one word that is increasingly being bandied about in the post-Enron days, and this is something that even not-for-profit non-government organisations (NGOs) cannot avoid. In this regard, MAC had the advantage of being named as one of the most transparent Malaysian NGOs by an Australian think-tank recently.
Of course, accountability is not something new with MAF, which is administered by a board of trustees comprised of five members of Malaysian society and five representatives from MAC. Mindful that every ringgit raised should go towards helping its cause, MAF makes sure its administration costs are kept to the minimum.
“The bulk of the money we have goes to the programmes I talked about, while administration costs are never higher than about 20% per cent. We are very proud of our accounting structure (accounts are audited by KPMG), and our board of trustees are highly credible people in business. We are pretty transparent towards our donors,” Yeoh said.
At the last major fund-raising event (the Red Ribbon Gala held last October), expenses came to less than 15% of the money raised, he said. Claiming it as being a remarkable achievement by any standards, he said: “We are a non-governmental organisation, and we want to be good stewards. In this regard, Marina is a very hands-on person who is very careful in reining in our spending.”
For those who want to help in the fight against AIDS, there are lots of things you can do in addition to opening your cheque book. For example, you can participate in the Riding for Life, an eight-day cycling odyssey (June 1-8) that takes cyclists through 900km as they meander from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore.
A Walk for AIDS programme with the theme Kids Who Care has also been scheduled and in July, MAF will be inviting restaurants to participate in Restaurants Against AIDS – Food For Thought. MAF will wrap up the major activities for the year in August, when the MAC-MAF Street Soccer Challenge will be held.
“AIDS is an increasing problem, and it is not under control. It’s just that we are getting a better handle on it now. Continuous education and raising awareness remain the best weapons to fight AIDS,’’ said Yeoh, who added that four Malaysian conglomerates (Petronas, Telekom Malaysia, TNB, and DRB-Hicom Bhd) have collectively shelled out RM1mil (or RM250,000 each) to MAF this year.
Of course, when viewed from the perspective of this global scourge, RM1mil is but a tiny drop in the ocean of needs.
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