Estonia launches 2.3 million NGO fund
A €2.3 million NGO fund was launched at a conference in Tallinn on 22 November, along with the fund’s first call for project proposals from NGOs and social partners.
"This is a real push to the creation of a modern society with strong social capital in Estonia", Mall Hellam, Executive Director of Open Estonia Foundation, said at the launch event taking place as part of the 5th Estonian Civil Society Conference.
Over the coming 3 years small-scale grants will be provided to Estonian NGOs and social partners within the focus areas democracy and civil society, environment and sustainable development, and social integration and local development. Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway are supporting the Estonian NGO fund with €2.1 million, with the Estonian government providing the remaining ten percent of the fund. The first of a total 6 open calls for proposals was launched on 22 November, and applications can be submitted to the fund manager Open Estonia Foundation until 29 January 2008.
In her speech, Elisabeth Walaas, State Secretary in the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, warmly welcomed the decision by the Estonian authorities to allocate a share of the EEA funding to an NGO Fund. "From the very start, it has been our hope and ambition that the EEA Grants should contribute to strengthening civil society in the new member states", Walaas said. She also commended the Estonian Ministry of Finance for the inclusive process through which the NGO Fund was prepared, enabling the NGO community to play an essential role in laying the fund`s groundwork.
Tea Varrak, Secretary General of the Estonian Ministry of Finance, highlighted the importance of matching people`s initiatives in participating in public life with the necessary financial means. She thanked Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway for their financial support and said it was likely that Estonia would increase the funding to NGOs in the future.
The importance of the fund in ensuring financial sustainability for Estonian NGOs was underlined further by Hellam of the Open Estonia Foundation. She also stressed that the establishment of the NGO Fund signaled that Estonia acknowledged the necessity of not only dealing with economic achievements in society, but also with civic participation and cohesion. "Civil society is an important pillar in a society. To give an example, NGOs are often the actors best suited to facilitate social integration as they are local players who know their surroundings and the good solutions", Hellam said.
Grassroots cooperation with NGOs in the European Economic Area is welcomed under the fund, and 20 Norwegian NGOs were present at the launch to explore opportunities of engaging in partnership projects. Among the ones eager to elaborate on existing partnerships were Kaie Tanner of the Estonian Choral Association and Kåre Hanken of the Norwegian Choir Association. One of the project ideas they scribbled down during the launch event was a joint research project on the significance of choral singing for people’s quality of life. "It would be interesting to look into the role signing can have in connecting a local community, by creating a meeting place for people and an arena for dialogue", Tanner said. Eha Reitelmann of the Estonian Women’s Shelter Union was also looking into possibilities of continuing an existing cooperation with a Norwegian counterpart. "We have a great cooperation with the Norwegian Shelter Movement, and we would very much like to develop our shelter movement further with their help", Reitelmann said. She added that one of their ideas was to establish a national hot line, where battered women can call for advice.
In order to have their projects assessed within the first call for proposals, the NGOs and social partners have until 29 January 2008 to submit their applications to the Open Estonia Foundation. Further details on the open call and the NGO Fund is available at the web site of Open Estonia Foundation.
Photos: Kari Ertresvåg, FMO