New development opportunities for NGOs from Georgia, Moldova and UkrainePublished: Sep 19, 2023 Reading time: 8 minutes
A year ago, 12 Ukrainian Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) were given the opportunity to participate in a regional strengthening and development project being implemented simultaneously in three Eastern Partnership countries: Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. During the two years of participation in the project, the selected CSOs will work out their own development strategies and use of the grants provided within the project. In the year that has passed, the interim results have been inspiring.
The project "Resilient Civil Society and Media Response to the Ukraine War" was launched with the call for grant applications. In Ukraine, 7 CSOs with significant previous experience in the humanitarian sphere and 5 that had been launched in response to Russia's full-scale invasion of 2022 passed the selection stage.
One of the project participants was the NGO "YES", which was established in 2018 to develop civil society, youth, and democracy. The organisation implemented regional initiatives in Zaporizhzhia, Dnipro, and Donetsk oblasts, as well as national and international social projects.
Russia's invasion of 24 February 2022 dramatically changed Ukraine and the vector of YES's work. During the occupation of the organisation's founders' hometown of Tokmak, the association members helped their fellow compatriots in any way they could—despite the constant threat to their lives. They delivered humanitarian aid to the needy, evacuated residents from the war zone, and delivered medicines.
"It was a difficult period. The feeling of pressure is a feature of three weeks of life under occupation, which seemed to last forever. We started the day very early and tried to finish by three in the afternoon. We understood that there was a high probability that we could die or be shot. After all, some people were killed in Tokmak, and some were imprisoned. But it so happened that all the people who were there are now here," says Askad Ashurbekov, programme manager at YES.
When the threat reached a critical level, the volunteers were forced to leave their hometown, but they continued their activities in Zaporizhzhia Oblast. Near the contact line, YES members set up a humanitarian aid centre where people who had fled the war zone could receive food, hygiene products, medicines, psychological, and legal assistance. Currently, the centre's activities primarily focus on supporting communities on the frontline. This is done by 30 volunteers seeking opportunities to provide humanitarian assistance to Ukrainians every day.
Through participation in the project "Resilient Civil Society and Media - Response to the Ukraine War", the organisation gained new knowledge about effective humanitarian action and opened up planning horizons. At the initial stage, the participants mastered the Organisational Capacity Assessment Tool (OCAT), developed by People in Need specifically for the project. Based on the results of the OCAT, representatives of each organisation and individual mentors developed strategic development plans to outline activities for the next two years.
Valeriia Ovcharova, head of YES, noted the timeliness of the planning: "Usually, there is not enough time to analyse our own weaknesses, but now we are already working on it. We plan to develop and implement a feedback mechanism for our beneficiaries. We are also focusing on introducing a person into the organisation who would constantly monitor each of our projects. It is very important for us to understand how effective the project was. We were told that in your experience, some organisations started their work and then stopped. Because they organised their work incorrectly and misjudged their potential. Our task is not only to support people with food. We try to look ahead; we understand there is a great need to integrate IDPs into the city's life, so that we all benefit the community and the budget. Therefore, this project has become a reliable support for us."
For the YES team, participation in the project was a new direction.
"We interviewed 2000 beneficiaries and 300 residents of the frontline. The representativeness and results of the survey gave us an understanding of the true needs of people. Thus, we discovered that many newcomers have problems receiving medical services, as they need treatment regularly but do not sign declarations with family doctors. The situation with employment is similar. One in two newcomers has a university degree but is unemployed. So, this is a matter of potential. In other words, the study considers numerous segments allowing us to properly provide care. We also included a question about the frequency of assistance and found that most people receive assistance once every three months, and another small part of people receive it once every two weeks. The frequency of assistance is considered to be once a month. Only a third of beneficiaries receive assistance with this frequency, which means we have a skewed and uncoordinated approach between the players providing support. The study has clarified that the number of food parcels is already too high, and other types of assistance are needed. So, this study shed some light on our future activities, and we are using it now. That's why all the applications we are writing to now are successful," YES volunteers share their experiences.
According to the project's logic, upon completing training and determining the future direction of their activities, all participants received a service grant, allowing them to expand their work in their chosen area while developing their capacities. The YES team used its financial resources to strengthen its capacities. It purchased office equipment for maintaining and printing documents, installed a CRM (customer relationship management system) system, equipped an office, a sanitary room and a waiting area, and allocated part of the budget for salaries.
"We see this as a grant that helps us, relatively speaking, to develop from within, to grow as an organisation. That is, not to spend all the money on humanitarian aid, but to allocate some resources to the organisation to be more efficient and work better. Thanks to this grant, we have allocated money for salaries for the first time. However, to avoid losing momentum, we have only allocated 30% of the total amount to stimulate ourselves to find additional resources. Nevertheless, this is the foundation that has allowed us to work with projects that do not provide resources for administration. In addition, we have a CRM system and can digitise our warehouse. Everything is now more transparent and clearer. You can access the system at any time and analyse who took what and how much they gave out. We also bought a heater because this room was not heated in winter and was freezing to work in. Very few projects provide resources to strengthen and improve organisations and their working conditions. This is very important. Now not only our beneficiaries feel comfortable. For example, during visits from donors, government or community representatives, our office has become a comfortable place for important meetings for people of different levels. Last week, we had representatives of the Swiss Embassy and, before that, the head of the regional council, so people come to us. Perhaps it's just that the atmosphere is comfortable, but the conditions are now such that we are not ashamed to receive people. They understand that there is a point of humanitarian activity here not only to distribute aid boxes but also to communicate on important topics," says Valeria Ovcharova, Head of the NGO YES.
The future aspirations of YES are not limited to the humanitarian field of work. Currently, the team is preparing to conduct a study of the needs of young people in Zaporizhzhia: their portraits, interests, problems, needs, and acceptable formats of engagement in activities.
"We have a global task - to fight for people. The fight to keep them living here. The economy and people's involvement are essentially the key challenges for Zaporizhzhia Oblast. By the time the war ends, many people will have left and will not return. Then it will be a depressed, smouldering area that may never become attractive. There is a great risk of this. Even before the war, Zaporizhzhia had always fought for people and lost in this struggle, and now the turbulence of these processes has increased dramatically. And the problem is that people who left have seen how to live in Europe; if they were doing manicures or something similar here, they would be 10 times more successful there. What's the point of returning to a city where the environment is bad, there are not enough resources, and there are risks? There can only be one motivation: if they are involved in the changes and understand how to change the situation. And for young people, this is a critical need. And these are exactly the projects we would like to be involved in," sums up Askad Ashurbekov, programme manager of the NGO YES.
"Resilient Civil Society and Media - Responding to the War in Ukraine" is a regional project implemented by People in Need in a consortium with the Prague Civil Society Centre (PCSC) and the Netherlands Helsinki Committee (NHC) and funded by the Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR) of European Commission.