Sharif Delsouze, GC'21

June 14, 2021
Master of Nonprofit Studies graduate conducted a research project on the sustainability approaches of two Afghan nonprofits foundations.

By Olivia du Bois, ’22

When Sharif Delsouze, GC’21, came to the U.S. in 2017, his goal was to learn more about the nonprofit world, international development and humanitarian programs both in Afghanistan and around the world, especially those in countries in crisis. After three years of searching for an affordable program that would work for someone with a family and full-time job, Delsouze heard about the University of Richmond’s Master of Nonprofit Studies (MNS) program offered through the School of Professional & Continuing Studies and decided to enroll after attending an information session.

“I joined SPCS based on the interest and the passion that I had for humanitarian programs and international development.” Delsouze said. “I came from a war-torn country — from Afghanistan — where almost four decades of war has torn down the country, the economy, the infrastructure and everything.

“Being a citizen, I thought it’s my responsibility to assist and contribute to the economic and humanitarian development of my country and to my countrymen — and not just to my country but to contribute overall in the humanitarian sector.”

Through the MNS program, Delsouze not only got to fulfill his goals of learning about the nonprofit world, but also came out of the program with a meaningful piece of original research on Afghanistan nonprofits, which he presented as his capstone project last December.

Delsouze conducted a descriptive, mixed methods — quantitative and qualitative — case study of the leadership approaches to sustainability of a corporate and non-operating nonprofit foundation in Afghanistan.

In order to identify, analyze and compare legal barriers and differing approaches to sustainability for the two foundations, Delsouze interviewed the directors of both foundations. Delsouze also distributed a questionnaire to the foundations’ employees and volunteers. 

The questions for the interviews had to be translated into local languages and, once completed, had to be translated back to English, which Delsouze did himself. Delsouze was later recognized for his work by earning the Joanita Senoga Bbaale Book Award, which recognizes academic excellence by a student whose native language is not English for the 2021 graduating class.

In Afghanistan, there is a growing need for functional, private nonprofits to provide humanitarian aid, especially in the face of withdrawal of foreign funds, Delsouze said, making this project pertinent. 

The potential impacts of this project include opportunities for these two foundations to learn about and improve gaps in their own management, provide insights about successfully achieving private nonprofit sustainability in developing countries and give the public information on how the private foundation sector can better be managed with value creation in mind, Delsouze explained during his presentation.

Delsouze presented his research on Dec. 7, 2020. Attendees included David Kitchen, SPCS associate dean; Andrew Schoeneman, Nonprofit Studies program chair; Kris Waikart, SPCS administrative coordinator; and UR and SPCS faculty who aided Delsouze in his research and classmates.

The presentation ran for about 45 minutes over Zoom. Before starting, a number of participants put messages of encouragement in the chat and, at the conclusion of the presentation, Delsouze received many congratulatory messages from those in attendance. 

All students in the MNS program complete and present original research as a culmination of all they have learned throughout the program and an opportunity to apply the knowledge to their real-world interests.

SPCS’s MNS offers courses in leadership development for nonprofit managers, whether they are just starting, hoping to establish a nonprofit or looking to improve their skills after years in the field. 

The MNS comprises five required courses, four elective courses and an integrative seminar where students complete a community-based, hands-on, capstone project.

The capstone project is an independent research project that students design, develop and conduct with faculty supervision, Schoeneman said. At the end of the seminar, students present their findings and write a paper, giving the capstone project the feel of doctoral level seminar paper, he said. 

“The way we think of [the capstone project process] is that the students go learn all this stuff in the program, and they have all these experiences related to nonprofits and whatever it is that they're interested in,” Schoeneman said. “And then the capstone project, this research project is really their opportunity to tie all these pieces together and also to execute something that can contribute to making nonprofits function better.”

Schoeneman directed Delsouze's project and that of another student from Afghanistan, Abdul Montazir, who also presented his research last fall. Typically, the faculty member who teaches the seminar also serves as the students’ research mentor, Schoeneman explained.

Montazir’s project studied how NGOs in Afghanistan work in relation to international donors, specifically considering how NGOs run by Afghans translate their work into something international donors can understand and fund despite the foreign context of the work these foundations do, Schoeneman said.

Delsouze and Montazir’s projects officially began in August 2020, but both these students had experiences and work they had previously done in the nonprofit sector in Afghanistan that shaped their projects for this course, Schoeneman said. Many of the students in the program have been thinking about the topics they choose to research even before they begin the program, Schoeneman explained.

Typically, students take what they learned from their research and implement it on-the-ground at NGOs they were or go on to work at, Schoeneman said. Students may also present at research conferences, adding to the lifespan of the project, he said.