2011 Bulgaria: The National Network for Children: Achievements, Challenges and Sustainability Prospects
The assessment was implemented in May – July 2011 by CREDA Consulting Ltd. It was designed to fit the formative nature of the evaluation. The applied approach was participatory and facilitative in order to stimulate reflection, feedback and strategic thinking forward on behalf of the members of the network, as well as of related key outside stakeholders.
The evaluation was commissioned by UNICEF to explore the effectiveness and impact of the support provided to the National Network for Children upon its organizational development, institutional positioning and effectiveness as a national network for advocacy and promotion of better policies, environment and practices for fostering the rights of children in Bulgaria.
NNC has made an impressive progress for the short period of two years. Based on this assessment and compared to most of the civic networks in Bulgaria it is one of the most dynamic and successful ones – visible and legitimate with institutions and the public, meaningful and committed to bring for better environment and wellbeing of children. Some suggestions for further attention and improvement include:
1. Strategic coherence
1.1. Better focus and clear priorities both strategically and tactically, based not only on the needs and diverse interests of members, but also on careful analyses of the feasibility of the desired change, the existing and/or needed resources and the means of developing the missing ones. Priorities must be situated in a clear timeframe – defining the short-term and the long-term priorities will help build developmental space for testing approaches and increasing capacities and resources.
1.2. NNC needs to develop shared vision on the growth of the network
• It can consider activating some of the adopted by the Board but still not practiced provisions for associated members. The network can also provide for mobilizing supporters or associates on regional basis – with one or a group of existing member organizations in the relevant region providing for coordination of the regional efforts.
• More focus on growing capacities at the local level is considered of critical importance by members and outside stakeholders. The increased capacities of the NNC members, especially in the field of advocacy, are an investment not only in strengthening of the local NGOs but also in the future success of NNC in implementation of children rights.
2. Further optimization of structures and organization for increased impact in advocacy
2.1. Optimizing the work of the Board
• The established good principles of work of the Board from the previous mandate should be formalized as internal Standards of Work of NNC Board, defining roles, responsibilities and functioning. The standards may be discussed during the planned meeting of the former and newly established Board;
• It will be good to introduce the practice of concrete thematic or functional responsibilities of individual Board members in overseeing aspects of the work of the NNC. They can serve as coordinators of broader Board committees or consultative groups thus better contributing to the growing needs of the NNC.
2.2. Optimizing the work of the Thematic Groups
• There is a need of further upgrade of the thematic working groups. The role of the chairs of the thematic groups, as well as the forms of engagement of the members, needs to be clarified. Based on suggestions of members, smaller sub groups (ad-hoc, problem solving or on more specific issues) may help better utilizing the participation and resource of members;
• Better link between the work of the Thematic groups and the Board can be considered, by organizing expanded meetings of the Board with participation of the Chairs of the groups.
2.3. Increased presence in the regions. NNC must increase its work on the local and regional level towards both mobilizing members from one region and more effective interaction with local and district administrations. NNC should not develop regional structures, but rather empower select members to organize and coordinate processes and initiatives on behalf of the whole network. These can
involve regional meetings, regionally based campaigns involving local members, concrete local advocacy actions, etc. In the longer term, this can bring for expanding the outreach of the network by mobilizing active member organizations to serve as coordinators for broader circles of supporters and associates. Developing partnerships with the regional associations of municipalities will
greatly aid the process of expanded work on the local level.
2.4. Further growth and upgrade of staff. Three main capacities of the staff will be of critical importance in the future: capacity development of members, advocacy and policy work and donor communication and fundraising. The recommendation is that these capacities are developed within the existing staff members.
3. Fundraising – Strategy
3.1. Thanks to the support of Oak and UNICEF, in the last two years the main efforts of NNC have been focused on the development of the network as influential, respected and visible advocate for children rights. The time allocated for additional fundraising has been limited, although the Secretariat and the Board have discussed potential sources of funding and some steps had been made in approaching leading donors available in the country, e.g. America for Bulgaria Foundation. The possibility for attracting direct State subsidies is high on the agenda, as NNC can claim to be nationally represented association.
3.2. In the coming period NNC needs to elaborate a thorough fundraising plan. This by itself will be a long process requiring at least 6 months – the pros and cons of the available types of funding should be explored (in terms of effort, harmony with the mission and goals, acceptable level of compromise, etc), the practical dimensions of avoiding competition with the members should be defined, the fundraising plan with its priorities and types of projects to be developed should be agreed by all members, targeted relations with prospective donors should be established, the opportunities offered by EU programs managed in Brussels should be specially monitored and analysed.
3.3. For drafting the fundraising strategy NNC may consider developing a Fundraising consultative group consisting of members with experience in fundraising, the secretariat, representatives of the Board, as well as outside consultants to assist exploration of sources and feasibility of funding.
3.4. The support by UNICEF and OAK will continue to be of critical importance for the success of the network and its further sustainability. It has been an investment rather than just a grant, as it has provided strategic space and resource for systematic work for consolidating the network, establishing its institutional positioning and credibility. From this perspective, we would suggest that next phase of support is provided as a core support, or institutional grant, rather than a project one. This will respond best to the needs of NNC and greatly aid the accomplishment of its long-term goals.
4. Fundraising – identifying and raising resources for the network
4.1. Approaching key donors in Bulgaria
• The donor environment in Bulgaria has changed. There are no donors providing institutional support to civic organizations and networks. Those that have done it in the past have phased out from the country with its European membership. Those that stayed, provide support to projects and programs in the framework of their priorities;
• The few existing donors that can potentially support the network for projects related to its civic nature (advocacy, advancing participatory culture, effective interaction with government, etc.) usually react to the area of children rights as “social work” and/or service provision. They do not consider it as part of their priorities of good governance, civil society, policy work etc.;
• This narrow perception of NNC needs to be addressed. If NNC just applies to such donors (e.g. America for Bulgaria Foundation, Trust for Civil Society, Balkan Trust for Democracy) its chances for success will be minimal, unless its shifts away from its nature and core goals in order to fit within their preconceived areas and types of activities/programming;
• Approaching the above donors needs to be perceived as part of the advocacy and lobbying work of the network for its cause – the needs of the reform processes and the capacity building nationally and locally to turn reforms into working practices. In other words it needs to be preceded by a focused and consistent donor education and building relations.
4.2. Direct State subsidy as a nationally representative organization
• This option exists in the strategy of NNC and some steps had been made to explore it as a possibility. Though in theory it may be possible, it will hardly be feasible in the coming fey years. First, NNC should be included in a special law, i.e. the Child Protection Act. The process of lobbying for such a decision will be challenging due to both its high political implications and the frustration of some governmental officials by the public criticism of NNC to certain state policies and approaches. Furthermore, the current Government is very skeptical about the use and effectiveness of providing funds from the national budget to NGOs and may cut them significantly;
• There is no shared agreement among the members on the benefits of this type of funding. While for some of them it will greatly contribute to the sustainability and the legitimacy of the network, others consider that it will seriously affect the independence of NNC. Based on the evidence in Bulgaria and internationally, if subsidized by the State NNC risks clashes with its advocacy role as a critical and independent civic voice for policy change.
• A strategic question for the NNC is what will be the cost of the state financing as efforts, time, resources and as compromises.
4.3. Project funding
The main potential for attracting funds are the structural funds (Operational programs) and other EU programs open for member countries. A challenge in exploring this potential is how to identify projects that will not be in competition with the members of the network. (Avoiding competition with its members has been a clear policy for the NNC.) Some suggestions that came from this assessment that may be of use for the discussions on project funding:
• Joint or “cluster” projects of groups of members. NNC can thus facilitate access to resources of smaller organizations, and within these joint projects provide for capacity development and learning;
• Advocacy projects – for example in relation to coming elections and need to advocate with newly elected local officials for adopting children rights based policies;
• Advocacy campaigns, action research etc., related to larger-scale EU initiatives;
• Capacity development projects – training and education in different thematic areas. Some European programs (for ex. the European Citizenship) can provide for expanding capacities through learning and exchange with other EU countries.
4.4. Raising support from other sources
• Together with the Bulgarian Donors Forum, a strategic partner of NNC, the network may develop a strategy for fundraising from businesses and individuals. An opportunity in this direction will be eventual support from the C. S. Mott foundation for developing philanthropy around the issues of children. As corporate support is still underdeveloped in Bulgaria and many NGOs try to attract it, NNC should manage the risk of competing not only with its members, but with other partner organizations;
• Service and resource provision may be a source for funding in the longer term. At this stage the planned resource center will be more useful if targeting the needs of capacity development at the local level – by providing training to local stakeholders, institutions and its members. It is unlikely that the Resource Center will become a serious source of income from paid trainings; however, it can serve for raising project support, as well as raising the credibility of the network as trusted resource provider.
• It is not likely that the membership fee can grow to provide for sustainability of the network. Based on the experience of networks with large income from membership fees (e.g. the National Association of Municipalities in Bulgaria), the organization will be still dependent on project funding – it will have to learn how to integrate in the projects some of the institutional costs for salaries and administration. As shared by the National Association of Municipalities, their current sustainability is due to the fact that they have one decade of institutional support provided by USAID and other donors, which guaranteed their establishment as organization and credible stakeholder. Another lesson from their experience is related to their role as resource center and trainer of local administrations. Again, the proper fulfillment of
this role required years of marketing, testing and competing with other resource and training providers – NGOs, universities, businesses, international organisations, etc.
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