Funds for Non-governmental Organisations

Key facts

Programme Operator:
Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation
Programme ID:
Date of approval:
Total amount:
EEA Grants fund:
Norway Grants fund:
€ 0
Programme areas:

Currently available funding

Programme Summary

Why was the programme needed?The ‘Cidadania Ativa’ programme was established at a time when the economic crisis created substantial challenges for Portuguese civil society. The primary objective of the programme were to strengthen Portugal’s civil society development and enhance the sector’s contribution to social justice, democracy and sustainable development. The programme also aimed to increase cooperation between NGOs in Portugal and institutions in the donor states, thus fostering mutual understanding and the sharing of knowledge. The programme was initiated in March 2013 and had a total budget of €8.7 million. These funds were in high demand with nearly eight times the number of applications as support available. Portuguese NGOs were the only eligible applicants, but many non-NGO organisations (public bodies, private entities and academia) took part as project partners. What did the programme achieve? In total, the 113 supported projects engaged 156 NGOs and 88 partner organisations. The direct beneficiaries of the programme are estimated to be about 81,200 – about half of them young people. The supported projects aimed at achieving one of four outcomes: Increased involvement of NGOs in policy and decision making processes (12 projects supported with €737,000): these projects fostered participation of NGOs in public policy design and implementation at all levels, namely through partnerships with public entities. Advocacy activities and citizen direct participation in setting public policy priorities were also promoted. Democratic values, including human rights (43 projects supported with €2,417,000): the programme aimed to strengthen civil society by increasing its capacity to act in this critical area of concern; and in particular, at a time when an ever increasing number of people was experiencing social vulnerability. This objective has therefore drawn nearly two fifths of all the demand, by far the largest share – the funding required NGOs to carry out projects in an area which generally receives little support in in Portugal. The experience gained by these NGOs was therefore very valuable and will help bolster capacity in this key area. Strengthened capacity of NGOs and an enabling environment for the sector (31 projects supported with €1,656,000): while capacity building was a key concern from the beginning, and therefore all projects were required to incorporate it to some extent (namely through good practices in project management), the programme also supported this set of dedicated capacity building projects, many of them of considerable size (actual support was up to €111,000). These projects allowed many NGOs to strengthen their technical capacity and financial sustainability.Empowerment of vulnerable groups (27 projects supported with €2,141,000): during the economic crisis, youth unemployment in Portugal peaked at 40% in 2013, just as the programme was initiated. The EEA Grants reserve for Portugal was therefore entirely allocated to address this concern, thus creating an additional objective of the programme. The programme addressed the challenge of supporting youth employability and inclusion – an immediate concern for many families and youths in Portugal. These projects focused on capacity building for employability, entrepreneurship and job creation, and social inclusion of youth in vulnerable situations. In addition to these 113 projects, the Fund Operator of the programme, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (CGF), also carried out additional activities, such as contributing to the Council of Europe’s ‘No Hate Speech’ campaign. This work also involved the creation of the first Portuguese edition of a Council of Europe manual on hate speech. The programme also organised the first national NGO fair ever to be held in Portugal, with 128 participating NGOs. In addition, two study trips to the donor countries, workshops and developed three seminal studies: A Survey on the Portuguese NGO Sector (2014) filled important knowledge gaps and provided important contributions, namely on the existing capacities and needs of civil society in Portugal. A Study on Social Innovation in Cidadania Ativa Programme Projects (2014) reviewed the approved projects, at a time when their implementation was on most cases in the early stages, and considered that they had, on average, a considerable potential for social innovation. This was later confirmed when the programme was evaluated, and is being confirmed today – many projects did contribute towards social change and innovation for the entire sector, by enabling the dissemination of good practices and examples. The Independent Evaluation Study on the Programme, carried out in 2016, assessed its foreseeable impact in strengthening Portuguese civil society and elicited lessons for the future: 78% of the interviewed promoters indicated they would not have carried out their projects without the programme’s support, and most of the remainder would have only implement them in part. 90% of them considered that their project had inspired the development of new projects, of which 87% indicated that those projects were already being continued, or would be continued shortly. Regarding social impact, the evaluation team considered that about 70% of the projects undertaken directly relate to the improvement of living conditions and well-being of the intended target groups, particularly by promoting human rights and fighting discrimination; contributing to the social inclusion of disadvantaged groups within the population; and facilitating youth access to the labour market. The evaluators considered that the Programme focused on high-priority areas of social development and on key aspects of NGOs’ needs. Contribution to the technical and organisational capacity building of the beneficiary NGOs was also very positive, as it enabled the acquisition of know-how and capacity to disseminate and transfer knowledge, increased NGO visibility, strengthened the technical capacities of human resources on key areas, updated governance practices, and improved sustainability and operational capacity of NGOs. For the CGF, to ‘strengthen Portugal’s civil society development’ always meant a strong focus on capacity building, which is why the programme allocated a large portion of the available funds to this purpose. The evaluators later concluded that the success of the programme is a reflection of the focus on capacity-building. Capacity building  was present in all supported projects under the programme. For example, the requirement of formal partnerships for larger projects helped fostered collaboration between NGOs, public administration and the academia and broadened the impact of civil society’s activities.How were bilateral relations strengthened? Seven project partnerships with donor country organisations were also an important contribution to the programme. The NGOs implementing these projects pointed out that relevant expertise was the most important input provided by the donor partners. The cooperation therefore led to capacity building of the Portuguese NGO sector. The Programme also supported 27 bilateral cooperation initiatives involving 25 donor country organisations. Most of these initiatives had a capacity-building focus. Projects and initiatives implemented in partnership between Portuguese and donor organisations accomplished noteworthy results, on three levels:
  • expanded networks between organisations working in different countries on similar areas of activity/target audiences, and which may jointly implement projects in the future;
  • acquisition of new skills, methodologies, experiences and ideas, by both Portuguese and donor organisations;
  • strengthened sustainability through the acquisition of knowledge and tools for communication, advocacy, fundraising, etc.
What will be the impact of the programme? The programme was the most important one in Portugal that specifically aimed to strengthen civil society organisations. There is no expected national or EU funding to continue a programme with such objectives, meaning that only a new cycle of EEA Grants may support projects addressing NGO capacity building as such. The programme identified several weak areas of the supported NGOs such as governance, technical skills, strategic development, financial management, quality performance, communication, fundraising and volunteer management – this knowledge will be retained and disseminated in future support schemes. There are also many examples of dissemination and replication of best practices under the programme, confirming that most projects held considerable promise of social innovation and scalability potential. The visibility of the EEA Grants in Portugal, particularly within the NGO Sector, was significantly enhanced through the programme. Besides the efforts made by the CGF and the supported NGOs, it should be pointed out that the programme coincided with the hiatus between two programming periods of the EU’s Structural Funds, a time when funding sources are scarcer, which was also very relevant for various NGOs, particularly as this also coincided with the most critical stage of an economic crisis. The programme has also been a source of learning for the CGF and provided insights for future improvements: at the project selection phase the role of the Foundation should be more active in order to ensure higher social impact; at the management phase, administrative and financial requirements should be simplified and rendered more flexible; at the monitoring phase additional support to NGOs should be envisaged and indicators and quantified targets should be clarified; finally, at the end of the Programme an independent evaluation study on results and impact both regarding projects and the management system proved to be very useful to better assess achievements and draw recommendations for the future.