Where can one get assistance with a non-profit project in Belarus? How should she/he prepare an application for an international call for proposals? Clearing House is a one-of-a-kind programme providing free consulting services aimed at building capacity of Belarusian civil society organizations. In January-August 2015, almost 70% more organizations sought aid from Clearing House consultants than in the same period of 2014. This increase in the number of requests is due to a number of new opportunities for the "third sector" that opened in international programmes and call for proposals for Belarus.
Since 2011, Clearing House programme has been run by ODB Brussels in partnership with the Office for European Expertise and Communications (Minsk). Over this period, more than 600 Belarusian civil society organizations and initiatives have taken part in the programme events.
Clearing House programme is aimed at empowering and engaging local communities. Maxim Padbiarozkin, programme coordinator in Belarus, shares his perspective.
- Why do CSOs come to Clearing House for consultations?
- First of all, more and more people learn about our activities and decide to request a consultation.
Second, in 2015 international donors announced several large-scale country-specific calls for proposals: "Civil Society Organisations and Local Authorities Enhancing Strategic Engagement with Civil Society and Local Authorities in Belarus", "ENI support to Civil Society and Independent Media working for Belarus", 1st UNDP Contest of Local Initiatives (within the framework of the EU/UNDP project "Support to Local Development in the Republic of Belarus"), Green Initiatives contest (organized within the "Supporting the Transition of the Republic of Belarus to a Green Economy" programme funded by the European Union and implemented by the United Nations Development Programme), etc.
Third, this is due to the fact that in 2015 we enhanced cooperation with the Delegation of the European Union to Belarus and the United Nations Development Programme.
- Have civil society organizations catalyzed their fundraising and project creation efforts? Have local authorities become more active?
- The geographical coverage of our consultations has definitely become broader; regional organizations increasingly turn to us for expertise. However, at the moment it is difficult to say whether this is due to the fact that we have become more active or that they have. There has not been any more calls for proposals open to Belarusian organizations lately, however, we try to find and disseminate information about international donors and grants that have not been represented here previously but are willing to work with Belarus.
As far as the local authorities are concerned, they have become somewhat more active. For example, in 2013 local authorities only sent 3 applications to the EU Civil Society Organizations and Local Authorities call for proposals, and in 2015 there were 15, i.e. 5 times more. And we are very glad to see that project applications are increasingly submitted by local authorities partnered with civil society organizations.
- How would you rate the results of your work?
- We are committed to continuous quality monitoring of our consultations. We have increased the number of our consultants - we used to have 8 but in April 2014 we expanded their ranks to 11 by hiring consultants in Brest and Grodno. We have set a number of success indicators to assess our activities. In addition to getting reviews and evaluations of quality of our consultations from organizations, we also make an effort to collect information about the progress made by organizations that we consulted.
- Have any interesting international projects been launched in Belarus with consulting assistance from Clearing House?
- Yes, there are a number of projects that are now implemented thanks to our help. For example, the project "Engaging Young Disabled People in Environmental Care" by the Belarusian Association of Assistance for Children and Young People, project "My Digital Story" by Healthy Choice, domestic violence prevention project "Safe" that has been launched by SOS Children's Villages Belarus this year.
Anna Baranouskaya, Clearing House consultant, thinks that many civil society organizations need to review and analyze the needs of their target audiences before even setting out to write a project application:
"It is important to take this step: look at the problems not through your own eyes, "as we see it", but through the eyes of your target audience - those people you will have to engage, who need this - in order to structure your steps towards achieving your goals and targets. This is what almost everyone has to deal with. The first stage of project planning is to get down to analyzing your agenda".
Clearing House is primarily an information provider for civil society organizations in Belarus and for the non-profit sector, says consultant Olga Khabibulina: "Speaking about the Belarusian dimension and the post-Soviet past in general, we are not very appreciative of information. That is because we expect resources to come to us with no effort on our part - in this case, both opportunities for funding and partnerships, which for many organizations are based on personal contacts. A lot of organizations lack professional fundraisers and experts on working with international organizations, grant programmes and funds as well.
In my opinion, Clearing House is a sort of information mediator, information provider for Belarusian civil society organizations - between various calls for proposals, funds, on the one hand, and civil society organizations, on the other".
"We try to strengthen Clearing House by bringing in the best international and local expertise on issues of civil society organizations development," points out Alyona Lis, ODB Brussels Senior Programme Officer. "This year, for example, programme events engaged experts from Germany, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Estonia, Sweden, Georgia. We invited the pioneers of fundraising and crowdfunding, such as Alexander Skrabovsky, Dzianis Kandratovich and Ivan Viadzenin, to talk about raising funds for valuable projects domestically. We also carefully studied best practices of social entrepreneurship both in Belarus and beyond, because we think that it is the key to a sustainable future to civil society organizations. We also work a lot with crosscutting issue, such as gender equality, social inclusion, environment, etc. We set practical examples to demonstrate how taking them into account makes projects more effective and results - more sustainable.
Since 2011, our consulting team have become very experienced in project development, and we have plans to summarize our expertise in two manuals: one on opportunities of international assistance to Belarus and the other on financial sustainability, both of which we will be happy to share in 2016".
Request your free consultation with the Clearing House programme here.