This article presents some thoughts I have after being involved in projects funded by the EEA and Norway Grants over the last 15 years or so. As well, it is a commentary on a workshop I participated in that addressed the role of Norwegian partner organisations in these projects in Romania (Kristiansand, Norway, 27-28 October 2022). The workshop was organized by Fundaţia pentru Dezvoltarea Societăţii Civile (FDSC), Romania, and Frivillighet Norge, both NGOs and Active Citizen Fund (ACF) Romania Fund Operators.1/ The ACF, a program area under the EEA and Norway Grants that operates in 15 countries in Northern, Central, and Southern Europe, provided financing. The workshop's focus was on Norway, and the civil society part of this funding mechanism was addressed.
The EEA and Norway Grants receive funding from Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway.2/ The Grants have two goals: (1) Contribute to a more equal Europe, socially and economically and (2) Strengthen the relations between the donor countries, on the one hand, and the beneficiary countries, on the other hand. In other words, the objective is to contribute to reducing social and economic disparities and increase bilateral relations. This is, in turn, assumed to strengthen the internal market, leading to a more prosperous Europe. The Grants are composed of to separate funding schemes: (1) EEA Grants and (2) Norway Grants.3/ The main difference between them lies in where the funding comes from and which countries receive funding. The EEA Grants are funded by all three donor countries, with contributions according to their size and GDP (Norway provides 96%, Iceland 3%, and Liechtenstein 1%). The EEA Grants are allocated to 15 countries: Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. The Norway Grants are funded by Norway alone, and are allocated to the 13 countries which joined the EEA after 2004.4/
The ACF supports civil society through strengthening its role in promoting democratic participation, supporting citizenship, and protecting human rights. It supports initiatives that, in general, address democracy, human rights, social justice, and gender equality. More specifically, it seeks to:5/
- Increase citizen participation in civic activities,
- Support consultation between public institutions and civil society organisations in decision-making processes,
- Raise citizens’ awareness of human rights, including gender equality,
- Empower vulnerable groups,
- Create more effective, accountable, and sustainable civil society organisations, and
- Strengthen regional cooperation within civil society.
2. EEA and Norway Grants and CBNRM Networking and Supras Limited
I represent two Norwegian legal entities, CBNRM Networking (NGO, I founded it and work as Coordinator) and Supras Limited (consulting firm, I founded it and work as CEO), that are partners in several projects that have received funding from the EEA and Norway Grants (some projects are ongoing as of 2023). They have been partners in around 20 projects in Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Latvia, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia, spanning all the three five-year financing periods.6/ Furthermore, they cover a broad array of foci and issues, inter alia, alternative energy, conflict management, energy effectivisation, inclusion, networking, participation, project management, social development, and strategic communication. Several projects, as available in different countries, focus on Roma. Photos from many of these projects are available.7/
The EEA and Norway Grants have devoted much online space to explaining details about the role of Norwegian organizations that work as partners in projects.8/ As is evident, project partners from donor countries are understood to be in a primary and close operational relationship with project promoters.
This is not the time and place for an overall evaluation of the work of CBNRM Networking and Supras Limited as partners in these projects.9/ Instead, at this juncture I will address some aspects of the involvement of Norwegian civil society organizations that have been – or at the present time are – working as partners in projects funded by the EEA and Norway Grants, specifically those that receive funding from the ACF. What follows, then, is: (1) Description of some aspects of the October 2022 workshop and (2) Presentation of some ideas that has been on my mind ever since I became involved with the EEA and Norway Grants.
In lieu of an evaluation of the present financing period, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently commissioned a report that aimed to highlight how Norwegian support has helped to achieve the following two objectives: (1) Reduction of social and economic disparities in the EEA and (2) Stronger bilateral relations between donor and beneficiary states.10/
3. The Romania-Norway Workshop
The Norwegian and Romanian participants in this were:11/ Bjerkaker LearningLab, CBNRM Networking, Civil Society Development Foundation (ACF Romania Fund Operator), Circular Ways, ECPAT Norway, Fretext Pluss AS, Frivillighet Norge (ACF Romania Operator in the Consortium), Fønix AS, LHL International, Nedland Kultur, Newschool AS, Norges Frivillighetssentraler (The Norwegian Volunteer Centrals), Norsk Moreno Institutt, Sex og Politikk (IPPF Norway), and Stiftelsen Norsk Nødhjelp.
The goal for this workshop was to facilitate the exchange of best practices and lessons learned regarding bilateral cooperation, to identify opportunities / challenges and optimal ways to address them, in order to ensure successful implementation of projects and to strengthen bilateral relations.
Workshop Program, Day 1 (27 October 2022)
The program included a brief introduction to the workshop, presentations of the project that each organization was involved in, and a focus on the differences between civil society in Norway and Romania. This was followed by a discussion of: (1) Type of activities undertaken in the projects funded by ACF Romania, (2) Specific outcomes from the projects, and (3) Challenges during project implementation.12/
Workshop Program, Day 2 (28 October 2022)
The second day was devoted to discussing bilateral relations, best practices, and ideas and plans for the future. Some of the conclusions on perceived implications on strengthening bilateral relations were:12/
- Direct dialogue and contact is valuable,
- Social part – meet people, understand people, and create social relationships,
- Understand the issues people are facing by getting to know them,
- Transparency on what each organization wants to do,
- Can also learn from what people did wrong. Share this,
- Understand the welfare system in each country,
- Understand the levels of expertise in each country,
- Access to understanding through getting to know people,
- How to teach trust?,
- Get more attention in the media,
- Norwegian NGOs: Ask for something in return. What do they need from the Romanian NGOs?,
- The beneficiaries are the experts on their needs,
- Calls encourage more partnerships,
- Good to hear about other projects that Norwegian NGOs are involved in,
- Workshops and meetings/ training/ more information on what is needed from the Norwegian NGOs' side, and
- Network for Norwegian NGOs involved in partnerships.
4. Networking Actors Involved in the EEA and Norway Grants: Internal Relationships
In this part of the workshop I presented my thoughts and concrete ideas on the role of the donor countries' project partners, and of networking these project partners. This became an important discussion that engaged all particpants, and it is listed as the last item in the above lists of bullets. Three relationships between relevant stakeholders can be recognized:
- Between project promoters (beneficiary countries) and partner organizations (donor countries),
- Between EEA and Norway Grants and partner organizations (donor countries), and
- Between partner organizations (donor countries).
Relationship No. 1 – Project Promoters and Partner Organizations
This is the primary and well-known stakeholder relationship. It is the basis of all projects, and underlies their management. It is, certainly in theory, a horizontal relationship between like-minded stakeholders, while the practice may differ somewhat. It will not be addressed further at this point.
Relationship No. 2 – EEA and Norway Grants and Partner Organizations
The second stakeholder relationship is a vertical one, with the EEA and Norway Grants positioned at the apex. My concern here is that the communication between the partners, on the one hand, and the EEA and Norway Grants, on the other hand, does not appear to be very strong. After having worked on these projects since the very beginning, I feel strongly that the substantial experiences that the partner organizations have accumulated over the years remain largely unknown, underutilized, and actually untapped, in the EEA and Norway Grants, including the Financial Mechanism Office (FMO) (Brussels) and Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Oslo). It can actually be argued that this relationship does not exist, or is at the best a case of an indirect relationship. There are of course the odd electronic survey that partners are invited to take part it (and as a rule never receive any feedback on), but the multiple choice question approaches here leave much useful information to be desired. I prepared a figure at the October 2022 workshop that summarizes aspects of this (Image no. 1).13/ It aims at making clear the relationship between the EEA and Norway Grants, on the one hand, and donor country partner organizations, on the other hand. As can be seen, there are several intermediary levels in this vertical relationship, here represented in a simplified way, with reference to Norway and Romania (Figure 1):
Figure 1 – EEA and Norway Grants, Stakeholders and Relationships in Romania Projects
Parliament (Norway) –> MFA (Norway) –> FMO (Belgium) –> ACF (Romania) –>
FSDC (Romania) –> Project promoters (Romania) –> Project partners (Norway)
Key channels of communication are basically limited to stakeholders immediately above and below oneself. As for decision-making it is essentially top-down. The donor country partners are at the very end(read: bottom) of this communication and decision-making chain, with the only relationships they engage in being with project promoters. The October 2022 workshop represents, to my knowledge, the only official and formal occasion where partner organizations have interacted with national fund operators and other partner organizations.14/
Relationship No. 3 – Partner Organizations
This stakeholder relationship, which is closely connected with the second one, is a horizontal one. During the early years of operation, there were more or less regular gatherings in recipient countries, as a rule following the opening of a financial period. On these occasions, donor country organizations that were interested in taking part in projects were invited to travel to a beneficiary country in order to meet with local organizations that considered submitting project proposals. The idea was to make it possible for likeminded organizations to meet and agree to collaborate on submitting proposals. I have participated in such events in, inter alia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Romania, and Slovenia. They provided opportunities also for representatives of Norwegian organizations to meet, and I developed relationships with several that were active in the EEA and Norway Grants, especially those had been involved over several years. In this way I came to discuss informally the position, roles, and responsibilities of our work as partners in projects. Early on it became clear to us that we had valuable experiences and insights in project management that would benefit other partner organizations, especially new ones, and in this way contribute to benefiting the outcome and success of projects.
In this way I came to develop a close and personal relationship with William Evans at the Norwegian Association for Adult Learning (NAAL).15/ We shared views on the important role of the EEA and Norway Grants, as well as on the donor country partner organizations as part of the EEA and Norway Grants. The latter included of views on the role that the partner organizations could potentially play, in relation to the EEA and Norway Grants, as well as in relation to other donor country partner organizations.
5. Networking Actors Involved in the EEA and Norway Grants: Proposal
The overall goal was understood to be to establish connections between the broad field of Norwegian civil society organizations that were involved as partners in projects funded by the EEA and Norway Grants at the present time, as well as those organizations that would be involved in the future. It was clear to us that we would have to devise means of establishing efficient communication channels vertically (between a management level and network members) as well as horizontally (between the network members). Further, that such communication channels would be able to channel and share information and knowledge to and between all members, while at the same time keeping channels open to external stakeholders involved with the Grants.
Identifying efficient ways to achieve results through sharing of information and knowledge management were key to us. It was clear that Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) would have to be used in order to network Norwegian partner organizations as prospective network members, including communicating along vertical and horizontal channels. We both had extensive experience with virtual networking based in ICTs that guided us in realizing our networking ideas.16/
We registered a dedicated website, www.grants.no, at the beginning of 2013, and proceeded to develop the site. That is, we prepared several trial versions and tested them on colleagues. We received useful feedback, and went back to the drawing board to revise the site. In late spring of 2013 we considered that the site was ready to be launched. It consisted of the following pages, listed in the order in which they appear (see also image 1 above):17/
(1) Home (Hjem). (see Image 2 to the right)
(2) About the site (Om møteplassen)
(3) Users (Brukere)
(4) Forum (Forum)
(5) Documents (Dokumenter)
(6) Links (Lenker)
(7) Bilde galleri (Bilde galleri)
(8) FAQ (FAQ)
(9) What is happening? (Hva skjer?)
(10) In the media (I media)
(11) About us (Om oss)
(12) Contact us (Kontakt oss)
Our next step was to request a meeting with the Ministry of Foreigh Affairs (MFA) in Oslo. The purpose of this meeting was to present the website, and argue why we considered networking, communication, and sharing of experiences between Norwegian partner organizations to be useful, for the individual projects we all were involved in as well as for the overall success of the EEA and Norway Grants. It was implied that, if the proposed network would be realized, funding would be necessary, and the MFA was the only place such funding could come from, via the EEA and Norway Grants. Several senior staff members&n