Bekka Ross Russell

MPA International Development

Class of 2013

I love my work, and I love being able to put my knowledge to use....

Bekka is the Director of The Small Things, a non-profit in Tanzania working with orphaned and vulnerable children, and the Families and Futures Coalition of Tanzania, a collective impact initiative to reform care across the country.

Bekka Ross Russell, MPA.

The year before I joined LSE's MPA program was the most impactful of my life - I went out to Tanzania as a naive volunteer, and ended up meeting my children, finding my life's work, and starting on the path that has led to change for hundreds of vulnerable kids. After a year seeing the challenges faced by organizations caring for orphaned and vulnerable kids, and the need for a new approach in supporting families and communities, I arrived at LSE eager to learn how to make sustainable, long-lasting change.

I learned an immense amount, not just from my classes, but from the amazing individuals around me with their varied passions and approaches. Using what I learned at LSE, over the last decade I've created an organization that now employs more than forty five staff, supports over five hundred families, and contains a children's village housing over forty residential children. Our team has saved so many lives: from the starving twins who arrived at our door after years of neglect, to the premature babies who have received 1:1 care, to the families suffering with tuberculosis and other chronic diseases that have now been diagnosed and treated. By developing sustainable businesses, we’ve also helped hundreds to build lives and livelihoods, and therefore reclaim their children from care.

LSE prepared me perfectly for my role: which is to create action plans, develop structure, and generate funding so that our incredible team of Tanzanian staff can make the necessary change in their own communities. It helped me to think strategically about what incentives families face in making decisions surrounding the care of orphaned and vulnerable children, and how we might creatively shift those incentives to benefit the kids in our care.

For instance, one of our biggest struggles was the acceptance of stepparents for the children of a previous spouse in their home – as they saw the child as a threat to resources needed to support their own children. We have now modified the system to provide partial tuition support to one younger sibling in each family; so the new stepparent sees the returning child as an asset to the family, not a burden. This has helped numerous children to transition back to homecare with a stepparent, when they would not previously have been able to do so. 

The next step in my career is creating a coalition of child and alternative care organizations across Tanzania: providing resources to improve quality of care, advocating for attachment-focused care reform across the sector, and taking a systemic approach to making change on a larger scale. The Families and Futures Coalition of Tanzania is running a pilot project in 2022 to create a district-wide resource hub, and we are on track to co-lead a national care reform movement. I love my work, and I love being able to put my knowledge to use in service of this amazing, resilient community. If you are ever in Tanzania, karibu sana (you are very welcome) to The Small Things – you can find out more at and