The Clearing House Project is continuing its efforts to foster capacity building for Belarusian CSOs in both project writing and the search for EU funding, in order to implement their activities in Belarus. Since December 2011 the project team was actively working on 3 major components:
• Training 6 new local consultants on project development for EU/Member states calls for proposals (for the European commission calls for proposals);
• Delivering a series of six regional trainings for Belarusian CSOs on increasing competencies in project development and application writing for the current NSA&LA call for proposals (from May 12 till June 3, 2012);
• Establishing an efficient counselling system to support CSOs in project writing and seeking EU/Member states funding opportunities.
The major goal of these training initiatives was to inform and consult Belarusian NGOs on the best methods for writing applications for the current NSA-LA call for proposals, with the deadline of submission of the concept notes June 12th. The training sessions took place in Vitsebsk, Hrodna, Homel, Mahileu, and Minsk (2 sessions) from 12 May till 3 June. More than 120 representatives of NGOs and local authorities took part in these events. The programme combined both training and information elements.
Issues faced during the preparation and conduct of the training sessions and the impact the Clearing House project has made:
• Adjusting the training schedule and content to the NSA&LA 2012 call of proposals announced on April 25, 2012 with the deadline for submission of concept notes on June 12, 2012 as a case study for training CSOs on project development and application writing for different EU programmes using the LFA approach.
• CSOs in regions are less active due to the limited access to information and training opportunities in these locations. The lowest number of applications for the training was received from Brest and Brest region. On the other hand, there was high interest expressed by NGOs based in Minsk to participate in these training sessions (as they are more informed about existing opportunities, and the headquarters of many national CSOs are based in the capital while also covering the regions of Belarus with their activities).
The Clearing House project conducted 4 training sessions in regional towns (Vitsebsk, Hrodna, Mahilleu, Homel) for local NGOs to receive sufficient information on NSA&LA call for proposals and to receive training on the LFA methodology for project development. In order to satisfy the need for this type of training in Minsk, and due to the low number of applications from the Brest region, we have decided to move the training from Brest to Minsk. The project team have conducted two training sessions in the capital and organized two additional information meetings for NGOs in Minsk on the specifics of NSA&LA 2012 call for proposals and information on other EU programmes and funding mechanisms of MSs available for Belarusian NGOs. At the same time, the Clearing House project is currently working on improving communication tools and channels to make dissemination of the information among CSOs from the Brest region more targeted.
• Low assessment by regional NGOs of their capacities and potential in the sphere of project development and effective project management. Some organizations refused to participate in the training sessions, saying that the calls for proposals of the EC are too complicated.
Training was focused on the LFA methodology used in EC calls for proposals and detailed information on the NSA&LA 2012 programme. After the training programme, the level of CSO enthusiasm for applying to the EC calls has increased, meaning that they no longer perceive application for EC projects as “mission impossible”.
• A number of new and young NGOs participating in the training (75% on average). Most of the training participants were comparatively new, had never taken part in this sort of initiative and had not applied for EU funding before. However, the capacity of these NGOs in project development and getting support from EU programmes requires further improvement.
The Clearing House project invited new and young CSOs by direct invitation through the recommendation of other NGOs. Some of the “newcomers” from civil society participated in previous Clearing House project activities (as a sectoral working group meeting), thus the project has demonstrated continuity in working and supporting CSOs that stay in touch with the Clearing House project. We have also created an internal database of new and young CSOs that took part in our training sessions, to track their developments and provide ongoing consultation support for the duration of the project.
• State actors are much more active in the 2012 training scheme than in previous years.
Bearing in mind the focus of the call for proposals on non-state actors and local authorities’ cooperation, as well as understanding that successful project implementation and legalization could be challenged without the support of local authorities, the Clearing House project invited representatives of local authorities and state institutions mostly in the regions to take part in the training sessions (those planning to cooperate in their projects with CSOs). Looking ahead, it would be great if there was an opportunity to train local authorities in cooperation with non-state actors.
• Most of the participants represented the social, cultural, educational and environmental sectors.
The Clearing House project paid more attention to social, cultural, educational and environmental CSOs as they better match the priorities of the NSA&LA 2012 call for proposals (sustainable development, promoting Belarusian national and cultural identity and shaping cultural policy, mitigating socio-economic consequences of the Chernobyl accident). Though the priorities of the call were broader and could involve organisations from other sectors, unfortunately, many organisations working in more sensitive fields like human rights, democracy and civil participation and decided not to participate in the training scheme, reasoned by the necessity of project legalisation (all projects under the NSA&LA programme have to be registered as international technical assistance or humanitarian aid). As such, the Clearing House project will focus on human rights organisations during the upcoming EIDHR 2012 call for proposals.
• Very few organisations have prior experience of proper fund-raising activities, including EU programmes (a minority of the participating organisations had applied to NSA-LA before).
• Many participants expressed the need to find a relevant EU partner for their projects.
The Clearing House project is planning to include into its regular newsletters announcements on different international events, such as networking seminars and partnership building activities for different EU programmes for Belarusian CSOs to look for reliable EU partners.
• Many participants have problems with defining major elements of the logical framework in the project proposal (identifying all interested stakeholders, target groups and beneficiaries, identifying key problems, formulating specific objective of the project and expected results).
The consultants of the Clearing House project will provide further support to CSOs (which is very much expected) on that matter.
• Most of the questions from the participants during the training were not about LFA methodology, but more about much more pragmatic issues – budget, approaches to its planning, eligibility of costs, etc. For the team of consultants it was clear signal that many organizations are more concentrated on fundraising tasks and less on correcting their programme strategies.
The approach of the Clearing House project consultants is to train and consult organizations more on LFA methodology as quality criteria for the project to be granted.
• Training participants exhibit significant confusion in understanding EU programme terminology. For example, they understand development as an increasing amount of delivered services or as increased amount of direct beneficiaries; however, they don’t recognise the difference between politics and policy (we should take into consideration linguistic difficulties here – both words have the same translation into Russian); technical support is seen as an investment into equipment, etc.
At the training sessions much time and effort was put into clarifying “EU programme language” in order to have the same level of understanding between trainers and participants. The Clearing House project sees the relevance of organizing additional information days for CSOs on EU programme terminology.
• We still have participants who believe that “establishment of the centre for…” or “festival of…” can be the main objective of the development project. It means that some training and capacity building activities are at a very basic level; explaining the main principles of civil society activity is still very much needed.
At the training sessions the trainer’s team dedicated enough time to give feedback on the “instrumental” project ideas and explained the main idea behind development aid.
Main training and consultation outcomes:
• Overall impression after 6 conducted regional training programmes is that participants are very motivated to learn how to write high-quality project-proposals, and very active during the training sessions and group work. According to the feedback from the participants, their expectations from the training have been met to a high extent.
• After the training several perspective project proposals for NSA/LA emerged. In their feedback, 54 participants out of 120 that took part in training (45%) indicated that they are planning to submit a project proposal for the NSA-LA call. The level of participants’ enthusiasm has increased, meaning that they no longer perceive application for EC projects as “mission impossible”.
• CSOs now have the possibility to discuss the issues that remained unclear for them after the training during individual/group consultations with 6 project consultants.
• Most of the participants expressed their interest in having individual consultations with project consultants during the process of drafting the concept note for the NSA&LA 2012 call for proposals. More than 15 organisations have already used the services of 6 consultants trained in the framework of the Clearing House project.
We believe that this training series has been a good start to do field work with existing NGOs, by increasing their knowledge of EU programmes for Belarus, the requirements for application as well as issues of project development and other technical aspects. However, it is evident, that further capacity building is required in many sectors and awareness-raising about EU programmes should be performed on a regular basis and for each EC call for proposal launched for Belarus. Experience with these regional training schemes also clearly shows a critical shortage of such support for local civil society organisations to satisfy the demands/needs of organisations at the regional level.
The Clearing House Project Team