August 15, 2002

ALLIANCE: CEE TRUST CHOOSES FIRST PARTNERS

CEE Trust Chooses First Partners

Jacek Wojnarowski

Fifteen months on, the Trust for Civil Society in Central and Eastern Europe has selected partner organizations in Slovakia and the Czech Republic and made four developmental grants to Slovenian NGOs. Partners in Hungary and Poland will be selected by the end of the year.

The Trust intends to spend at least $75 million through selected partners in seven CEE countries over a ten-year period with the aim of stabilizing and strengthening civil society in those countries.

Despite significant differences in the stage of development of NGOs and NGO infrastructure and in the dynamism, public image and financial potential of the sector, there are certain common patterns in all these countries. With a few notable exceptions, grant-making organizations are weak and inexperienced, mostly oriented to small grant programmes and tending to take a 'let 1,000 flowers bloom' approach. The Trust intention to empower indigenous local organizations and let them make all decisions on grants, including large institutional development grants, therefore unexpectedly ran into some difficulties.

In Slovakia the Trust finally chose two consortia as partners (one of two organizations led by the Ekopolis Foundation, Banska Bystrica and the other of three organizations led by the Open Society Foundation, Bratislava), partly in response to the loudly spelt out call to move more funding away from the capital. Both partners reluctantly accepted the role of making large institutional development grants (a difficult task in Slovak society, which is highly egalitarian). Their coherent workplan was a result of the hard work of the infrastructural organizations in Slovakia - mainly the Donors Forum.

The situation was very similar in the Czech Republic. All the short-listed proposals looked very similar since they were based on the strategic plan and needs assessment prepared under the auspices of the Czech Donors Forum. This made the Trust's decision very difficult. Luckily the Czech candidates foresaw the possibility of close cooperation between them, so all the good ideas will get a chance to be implemented by the VIA Foundation, which was selected as the Czech partner.

In Slovenia, in contrast, NGOs do not cooperate with each other, there is no infrastructure serving non-profits, there is no common agenda setting out the most pressing needs of NGOs. Nor is there any grant-making organization ready or able to take responsibility for designing and implementing a strategy addressing Trust objectives. The Trust therefore decided to make four smaller developmental grants focusing on legal issues, management training and NGO centre development rather than identifying a partner organization.

Jacek Wojnarowski is Executive Director of the Trust for Civil Society in Central & Eastern Europe.

First published in Alliance, Vol. 7, No. 2, June 2002. See www.allavida.org/alliance
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