Experiences and the way forward
NGO fund managers from 12 beneficiary states gathered in Oslo on 16 and 17 of June to discuss experiences and the way forward. The conference was organised by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In his opening speech, political adviser Tarjei Skirbekk of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, highlighted the role of NGOs in reducing social and economic disparities and developing democracies in Europe, and many of the presentations clearly portrayed the high importance of the support provided to the NGO sector through the EEA and Norway Grants.
One of the most interesting perspectives was given by Jan Jacub Wygnanski, President of the Forum of Non-Governmental initiatives in Poland. Wygnanski, who also goes under the name "Kuba", discussed the content of the term civil society, and the different roles non-governmental organisations play in a modern democracy. He underscored the importance of giving civil society room to flourish and develop without government control, but also the need for governments and NGOs to find common ground for discussion and understanding in order to spur development in society.
Widening the scope of civil society action
A survey undertaken before the conference showed that small organisations with less than 50 members, many of them local and community based, are the primary beneficiaries of the funds. Large and well established NGOs only benefit to a limited extent. This indicates that the funds contribute to widening and strengthening the scope of civil society actors in the beneficiary states.
Alexandra McGehee, from the Czech intermediary Civil Society Development Foundation, gave an account of the civil society in Central Europe with a special focus on the Czech Republic. In a situation where many organisations are experiencing a difficult situation due to the financial crisis, the project support of the NGO fund has made a substantial positive impact on the Czech civil society, Mcgehee said in her presentation.
This was the second time around that NGO fund managers met to address common issues, together with representatives from the donor states, the Financial Mechanism Office and Norwegian partner organisations. A new seminar to round up the experiences of the NGO funds is foreseen in 2010.
Photo: Anders Nielsen, Norwegian Helsinki Committee