We are finalising the second phase of the Project: ‘Clearing House: Ensuring Sustainability’ (CH) which is implemented by the Office for a Democratic Belarus (Brussels, Belgium) in cooperation with the Office for European Expertise and Communication (Minsk, Belarus) and supported by the European Commission.
During six months we have organised a training for CH consultants on evaluation of projects results and reporting, four information days on the EU programmes and opportunities for Belarusian organisations; six working meetings on elaborating and implementing international projects, and three meetings of the CH Advisory Board (AB), while our team of consultants has been providing counselling services for Belarusian civil society organisations (CSOs) in project proposal writing, offering suitable open calls for organisations, monitoring, evaluation, reporting and other project management issues.
The previous phase of the CH showed that Belarusian CSOs from the regions of the country do not actively participate in the Commission’s calls-for proposals for a number of reasons including lack of positive experience. That is why while planning the regional trainings under the Action we chose to use the following strategy.
First of all, we invited local organisations to become our partners at the events. They were responsible for spreading invitations, adjusting agendas to the local needs, as well as advised the local speakers for the events. The local experts openly shared their own success stories in implementing international projects, gave advice on where to look for and how to establish relations with partners from other countries, how to strengthen their own organisational capacity with no funds available for these purposes, how to build trustworthy relations with local authorities, and many other useful tips accompanied by vivid examples. The idea behind focusing purely on the regional experience was not only to show that successful operation is possible but also to stress the role of local front-runners who could become experts for CSOs in their own regions.
Each regional meeting had a team of two consultants, at least two local speakers, one of whom would explain how the European values could become cross-cutting issues in every project, and the CH project coordinator in Belarus – Maksim Padbiarozkin. Teaching the basics of the logical-framework approach became the essential part of each event. Our consultants have prepared a short presentation and a number of practical exercises when the participants had to fill-in the LFA (logical-framework form) and present the results of their group work for comments. Additionally, the consultants offered the audience a short exercise on avoiding typical mistakes made by Belarusian organisation when applying for the Commission’s calls for proposals in the previous project cycle. Practical work in the groups and informal contact during coffee breaks created an opportunity for representatives of Belarusian CSOs working in different sectors to establish new contact and start thinking of joint projects which brought added value to the meetings.
Having noticed how enthusiastic our participants were about the work in groups we decided to introduce 15-20 minutes sessions in the format of international café, when the participants holding a cup of tea in one hand could switch the tables together with the topics being “logical-framework approach”, “project budget and “registration of the project”, “how to select your own call for proposal”, and “project management”. This format gave them a chance to ask the consultants more questions and receive detailed answers.
At this stage of the project a lot of attention has been paid to gender balance and gender equality. One of the leading experts in Belarus on gender issues, the chairwoman of Gender Prospectives Iryna Alkhouka, prepared a presentation “Gender Approach in Programming and Project Activities of an Organisation” that was presented at each regional meeting by her colleagues and added by very concrete examples of their own activities. Mrs. Alkhouka is a member of the Clearing House Advisory Board who regularly shares her expertise with colleagues working in different sectors, including during the AB meeting that took place in November 2013 and was attended by representatives of the EU Delegation to Belarus. It is worth mentioning also that the regional component of the Board has been strengthened in the last six month by inviting more experts from the regions, who joined it in July 2013.
A strong synergy with other programmes and initiatives offering organisational development services has become the second pillar of our work during these six months. The first master class on successful projects writing – “Fingers crossed” in the frames of the 2nd Market Place event for organisational development took place in October 2013, while the programme coordinator Elena Khoroshevskaya, attended each CH meeting in the regions to present opportunities offered by the Market Place to Belarusian CSOs. Besides, the representatives of Eurasia Establishment, and regional coordinators of German Federal Government Support Programme for Belarus also took part in the meetings while information on the USAID Community Connection programme and other open calls and programmes was distributed among the participants.
Given the fact that the EU calls-for proposals are only announced two-three times a year and small organisations are afraid to apply, it is important to show other opportunities, offered by small-grants programmes that would give them a chance to later switch to bigger programmes and widen cooperation with their colleagues from Eastern Partnership countries and EU states.
We as the organisers would like to proudly admit that the number of participnats 1.5-2 and sometimes even three times exceeded the number of participants we could afford. We have received 92 applications for the training in Minsk on 25 February, that made us organise an additional information day in Minsk on 27 February 2014. And those whom we had to deny participation received a full package of materials elaborated for the training.
Apart from participation in our information days and working meetings Belarusian organisations could claim their requests in the application forms and evaluation questionnaires. Among the most popular remain: choosing the appropriate foundation (call for proposals), logical framework approach, and looking for Belarusian and international partners. It is important to say that so far the demand for counselling services in project evaluation and reporting is relatively modest. A lot needs yet to be done for Belarusian organisations to become aware of the important of this aspect.