Report: a stronger Civil Society sector through the EEA Grants

A strong civil society is a fundamental pillar of a strong democracy. However, in many European countries, the civic space is shrinking and civil society organisations are facing critical challenges. Here's a report looking at how the EEA Grants have helped support and strengthen civil society during the 2009–2014 funding period.

 Citizens for Democracy programme represented during the VII NGO Fair in Warsaw Photo credit - Adam Rostkowski
Citizens for Democracy programme represented during the VII NGO Fair in Warsaw Photo credit - Adam Rostkowski

In the period 2009-2014, the EEA Grants helped fund a diverse range of programmes to support civil society generally and to help address some of the key challenges civil society organisations are faced with. To examine these efforts, a team of Nordic Consulting Group consultants and associates conducted a rapid assessment of civil society funding by the EEA Grants, 2009–2014.  Their independent findings reflect on the EEA Grants’ experience in supporting the civil society sector.  

Topics covered included the grants’ institutional set-up, support provided for civil society work on democratic principles and fundamental rights, and efforts to build the capacity and resilience/sustainability of the civil society sector.  The report highlights major achievements, identifies key factors influencing results and provides 10 recommendations for future programmes supporting civil society.

 ‘Our Mother Centre shares its space in a local community centre together with other organisations. I think this as a good way of working together while also contacting other organisations. To build a community means to cooperate. We can establish contact and find what is good and not just to emphasise what is wrong; [it is important] to pull the best out of people and the whole environment’. 
—Daniela Konečna , founder and director of Mother Centre Klokancek in Slovakia

The rapid assessment focused on the experience across seven countries—Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia—and included interviews and focus groups with project promoters, Fund Operators, civil society experts, and EEA Grants Financial Mechanism Office staff.  Three online surveys and a document review supplemented these data collection efforts. The report finds that most civil society organisations experience challenges in accessing funding, leading to limited capacity in terms of resources and staff. The EEA Grants present a unique funding model that allows for organisations and projects that could otherwise be easily overlooked by donors to secure funding.  This model has a clear opportunity to support the strengthening of the civil society sector and thereby improve democratic processes.

Success and lessons learned

  • Capacity development: Developing the capacity of the civil society sector in terms of administrative and technical aspects and in terms of establishing solid organisational identities are important to solidifying the role of civil society actors.
  • Relationship-building: Partnerships, networks, and coalitions can play a central role in expanding coverage (both in number and types of beneficiaries) and the type of activities undertaken, as well as help build civil society actors’ capacity and strengthen the sector by solidifying different actors’ roles and uniting their individual voices.  
  • Watchdogs and monitoring: Conducting watchdog and monitoring activities is important and requires subject-matter-specific capacity; these activities function best when all parties understand their purpose and benefit.
  • Civic participation: The population of most countries in this rapid assessment have limited experience with civic participation, which means finding ways to induce their participation is important. Rallying around issues relevant to them individually and promoting volunteerism have proven effective in jump-starting participation.
  • Countering discrimination: Arts and culture are highly effective conduits to promoting common understanding and appreciation for people from different cultures and backgrounds.  This shows that although nationalism is on the rise, key opportunities exist to curb this type of rhetoric.

Download the full report here, and the executive summary here

Find out more about our Civil Society programmes here