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SIX NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANISATION LEADERS PROVIDE THEIR EXPERIENCES AND INSIGHTS INTO HOW THEY GET THE JOB DONE IN SLOVAKIA, AND WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE TO ENCOURAGE HEALTHY THIRD SECTOR GROWTH IN THE F

Survey: NGOs play a vital role in nourishing a strong society


NGOs are pressed to become even more professional and develop unique expertise and know-how in a wide range of developmental strategies, say selected NGO leaders who see limited finances as a crucial problem for the sector in a survey conducted by The Slovak Spectator.


CHILDREN benefit from NGO programmes.
photo: Courtesy of Pontis

NGOs are pressed to become even more professional and develop unique expertise and know-how in a wide range of developmental strategies, say selected NGO leaders who see limited finances as a crucial problem for the sector in a survey conducted by The Slovak Spectator.


Pontis Foundation


The Slovak Spectator (TSS): What are the main challenges that the non-governmental sector faces today?

Lenka Surotchak (LS), director of Pontis Foundation: It is primarily the ability of the NGOs and the businesses to create mutually beneficial partnerships; and establish a useful dialogue on how to cooperate in addressing the various problems society faces today and find long-term sustainable solutions. Particularly well-established foundations and community institutions can be a great partner for businesses in their philanthropic activities, assisting them with transparent distribution of funds and advice on the needs of society.


PARENTS are included in the fun.
photo: Courtesy of Pontis

Secondly, it's the lack of general societal understanding on what NGOs are, how they improve the quality of life for the people of the country, and why they are a crucial part of civil society.

Additionally, NGOs in every country serve as a counter balance to other sectors of society (business and the state). It's the work of those organisations, such as watchdog groups, advocacy associations, and think-tanks that will continue to play a crucial role in advancing the quality of public policies, engaging citizens in decision making processes, and also overseeing EU structural funds and the spending of public resources. The third challenge therefore is to ensure that these organisations not only survive but also prosper.


TSS: What are the main projects your organisation has been involved with?

LS: Pontis, the largest foundation in Slovakia, has supported 140 projects in the amount of Sk94 million [€2.27 million] for projects in Slovak communities, since 1995. We distributed $55,000 [€44,600] to 19 non-profit organisations from the Small Grants Programme of the World Bank and Juniper Network based in California, allowing the NGOs, among other things, to establish a workshop for handicapped young people, attract attention to the problems of abused children, and hold a meeting to explore alternative approaches to social care in Slovakia.

Additionally, we are the only organisation in Slovakia that provides long-term sustainability resources for non-profit organisations in the form of loans. It encourages NGOs to think strategically and strengthen their financial and entrepreneurial thinking. This year we have already given five loans to the amount of $33,000 [€26,800].

In the area of the development of corporate philanthropy, in May we presented the fifth annual Via Bona Slovakia Award for companies that are assisting their communities - the winner of this year's was US Steel Košice. Additionally, together with the Integra Foundation, we organised the first conference on corporate social responsibility (CSR) in Slovakia Corporate Social Responsibility - A New Strategy for Business Success, which was held in Bratislava on May 20, 2004.

We helped establish a unique "force" in Slovakia, the Business Leaders Forum, consisting of those founding corporate members who commit themselves to mainstreaming responsible business practice throughout their business.

Last, but not least, the Pontis Foundation is firmly committed to democratisation projects carried out around the world, specifically in Belarus, Serbia, and Cuba.

Together with representatives of the Institute of Public Affairs and Hlava 98 we recently accomplished a unique roundtable discussion with the think-tanks in Belarus out of which a policy paper was developed, officially establishing the Slovak-Belarus Task Force.


TSS: What are the main legislative barriers and problems that, in your opinion, the NGO sector faces?

LS: First of all, it's the new law on value-added-tax, which is in force as of May 1 and which means taxing almost all activities of NGOs. Secondly, even though the government approved the provision of 2 percent of the tax liabilities for both companies and individuals to be given to NGOs, there is no legislation encouraging philanthropy as such. While in the Czech Republic, for example, corporations can deduct up to 10 percent, the Slovak Republic allowed only 2 percent.

www.pontisfondation.sk



People in Peril (Človek v ohrození)



DANCING the night away at a Pontis-sponsored event.
photo: Courtesy of Pontis

TSS: What are the main challenges that the non-governmental sector faces today?

Nora Beňáková (NB) director of People in Peril (Človek v ohrození): Over the past 10 years the NGO sector has gone through an enormous expansion as over 15,000 NGOs have been registered. Now, when most of the foreign donors are ending or reducing their grant programmes in Slovakia, the local NGOs have to show which ones are capable of survival through local funds.

Only organisations that enjoy strong support from the public or ones that are able to address a large number of individual donors (for example the 2 percent income tax gift), but are also able to address firms in their own community or even foreign firms are thus capable.

The poor social situation in Slovakia, where people feel that the priority is to solve problems of their own country, hits most organisations like ours, which in turn direct their activities to foreign countries. Also, organisations that assist other countries in the form of humanitarian aid or emergency aid in cases of military conflict or natural catastrophe can still apply for governmental SlovakAID, which is administered by the Foreign Affairs Ministry.


TSS: What are the main projects your organisation has been involved with?

NB: The People in Peril Association, which was established in 1999 as an immediate reaction to the Kosovo conflict, pursues gaining the support of the public for people who are suffering the consequences of conflicts, catastrophes and authoritarian regimes.

In early May, the organisation opened its first permanent mission in Kabul, which is led by a Slovak coordinator. The 12-month developmental project is supported by SlovakAID and focuses on the restoration of 3 rural schools in Kasipa province.

The association also announced a public collection to assist earthquake victims in Bam and by May 1, we managed to collect Sk136,000 [€3,400] that we donated for the construction of a school in Bam in cooperation with our Czech branch.

We have also started a developmental education campaign through alternative voluntary lectures for elementary and high school students in Afghanistan called "A Puppet for Afghanistan". The project that is financially supported by the Foundation for Slovakia's Children, the US Embassy in Slovakia, and the Canadian International Developmental Agency and involved 230 elementary schools from Slovakia.


TSS: What are the main legislative barriers and problems that, in your opinion, the NGO sector faces?

NB: We would welcome better legislation on sponsorship so that, apart from the 2 percent tax, firms would be motivated to donate even more to charity. It would also be beneficial if the rules of providing state humanitarian aid were modified in a way that Slovak NGOs could apply for financial sources intended for this purpose in cases of military conflict or natural catastrophe. Currently, Slovak NGOs can apply for grants within SlovakAID, which is intended for long-term developmental programmes.

www.clovekvohrozeni.sk, phone: 00421 5 55422254, email: cvo@changenet.sk



The Integra Foundation


TSS: What are the main challenges that the non-governmental sector faces today?

Marek Markuš (MM),executive director of The Integra Foundation: There are quite a few challenges the NGOs are facing today as a result of Slovakia joining EU. Traditional NGO donors (mostly American), both private and public, are leaving Slovakia and NGOs must learn how to use EU funds.

The local philanthropy of individuals and corporations is gradually developing, but the tools promoted by the government (2 percent income tax gift) are not sufficient.

Therefore the ability to access the EU funds for NGOs is becoming critical for their sustainability. The problem is that EU procedures are overwhelmingly bureaucratic and restrictive.

Since the funds are administered by the governmental agencies, the process is often too political - some NGOs are more successful in accessing the EU funds directly in Brussels, rather than in Slovakia. In this situation, many NGOs are developing alternative strategies, moving into self-sustainable entrepreneurial activities - that may a healthy process, if they manage to merge their social mission with commercial activities.


TSS: What are the main projects your organisation has been involved with?

MM: Integra Foundation is a Christian development organisation involved in three strategic projects in Slovakia: a) the Micro-Enterprise Development Programme for disadvantaged women - providing training, counselling, micro-credit, and market access services for women entrepreneurs. Since 1999, we have provided training for almost 500 women, disbursed 134 micro-loans, and established 240 new companies. b) the Social Enterprise Programme for small and medium companies - consulting, strategic planning, and investment for companies with an integrated commercial and social mission. c) the Corporate Social Responsibility Programme - research, advocacy and public awareness in the area of CSR, implementation of CSR strategies (social audit, codes of ethics, corporate philanthropy, etc) in companies.


TSS: What are the main legislative barriers and problems that, in your opinion, the NGO sector faces?

MM: Donations and gifts for NGOs, be they from private individuals or from corporations, are not tax deductible after the tax reform. The government introduced the option to assign 2 percent of income tax to a specific NGO, but this does not promot philanthropy. There are too many registration mechanisms for different types of NGOs. Each legal form (civic association, foundation, non-profit organisation, etc) has a different registration process and governance structure. There is a major confusion in what makes the organisation "local" or "national" and this is creating a problem in one's ability to access some of the EU's structural funds.


TSS: How would you evaluate the state of the NGO sector?

MM: The whole NGO sector is changing with its external environment. It seems that only stronger and bigger NGOs will survive. On one hand this is a positive process, as the NGOs are building capacity, becoming more professional, and developing unique expertise and know-how in a wide range of developmental strategies. On the other hand this is a threat for many small, local, grass-roots civic initiatives, as they do not have the capacity necessary to move to a higher level.

www.integra.sk



Open Society Foundation (OSF) Batislava


TSS: What are the main challenges that the non-governmental sector faces today?

Zuzana Konrádová (ZK), programme director of the OSF: To become a natural part of a developed democratic society is the ambition of the non-governmental sector in Slovakia. As over the past couple years the NGOs were gaining their financial support from US private donors and currently these sources are leaving Slovakia, financing is the main challenge that NGOs face today. Local sources of financing are not well enough developed and call for a long-term effort to cultivate philanthropy or develop a greater volume of finances available to the non-governmental sector. The activities of those NGOs that focus on monitoring, advocacy, and watchdog activities remain the most problematic because they must retain their independence and freedom to function.

Such organisations are the Fair Play Alliance, which focuses on monitoring the political parties, or Citizen and Democracy, which cooperated on the implementation of the law on free access to information. For preserving these attributes of the nongovernmental sector, it is crucial that the continuity of financial resources is secured.


TSS: What are the main projects your organisation has been involved with?

ZK: Just recently a new cross-border NGO, Slovak-Czech Women's Fund, was registered and our foundation stood at the launch of this initiative. The fund will grant other NGOs and at the same time accomplish its own programmes to improve the status of women in our society.

The foundation has been focusing on improving the status of Roma for several years. Since 2001 we have been supporting a network of information and advisory centres aimed at solving the problems of the Roma communities, and encouraging the coexistence of the Roma and the majority of society.

The centres provide employment counselling, socio-legal guidance, business information, and advising for starting businesses along with health advice for the Roma from socially disadvantageous environments.

Our NGO also has its share in the creation of a new MA programme in Public Policy at the School of Social Sciences at the Comenius University. The foundation helped create the programme syllabus.

The Open Society Foundation, in cooperation with the Jan Hus Educational Foundation and the Children of Slovakia Foundation, supports long-term NGO sustainability in Slovakia with the support of the Trust for Civil Society in Central and Eastern Europe. The ambition of the programme is to support projects that would contribute to the stability of NGOs in Slovakia.


TSS: What are the main legislative barriers and problems that, in your opinion, the NGO sector faces?

ZK: Tax legislation and motivations are missing that would push individuals and corporate entities to donate funds. The status of volunteers also needs to be legally fixed. Currently the legislation does not recognise such a status.


TSS: How would you evaluate the state of the NGO sector?

ZK: Several NGOs have been involved in different activities but the lack of finances distanced them from their original missions and goals. Currently, it is the time to create profiles and narrow the activities of the NGOs.

www.osf.sk, tel: (+421-2) 54 414 730



Women of Kysuce in Čadca


TSS: What are the main projects your organisation has been involved with?

Jolana Krkošková, president and project manager of Women of Kysuce (Ženy Kysúc): Our non-investment fund rose after pre-registering the Foundation of Women of Kysuce to assist women and their families to solve health problems, and to offer food assistance to the unemployed and humanitarian aid in the case of natural catastrophes.

Until January 2000, we operated with the help of 15 - 20 volunteers. We started training courses for unemployed women from the Kysuce region. We had a volunteer from the US Peace Corps on our team who helped us communicate with the foreign community.

We have run projects together with the Open Society Foundation, and the World Fund for Women in California supported our activities for the education of women from socially needy families.

The Foundation to Support Civil Activities upheld our project Lighthouse for Women, where mistreated and tortured women can get help from a psychologist, policewoman, and a physician.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry supported our project Why NATO within which we held 15 seminars and discussion forums for the public.

Since January 2000, we have trained 86 women in our motivation courses. Most of them found jobs or started their own business.

email: zeny_kysuc@nextra.sk



KOMPA Civic Association


TSS: What are the main challenges that the non-governmental sector faces today?

Martin Vatra (MV), member of the Banská Bystrica-based KOMPA: First of all it is the lack of available finances to cover our activities. In the process of applying for different funds, it often happens that the foundation or the association is hindered by the lack of information on the options and possibilities. Some associations lack the knowledge to apply effectively for these grants. Some of these small associations do not even have internet access, not to mention their own homepage.

The mass media only occasionally covers the NGO sector and I cannot recall any regular column or programme that deals with the problem on a regular basis. Very often, trainings prepared by associations are profit-oriented to serve the goals of the organiser, so the small associations must carefully decide whether to participate or not.


TSS: What are the main projects your organisation has been involved with?

MV: Our association strives to obtain finances to buy special education tools for mentally and physically disabled children and adults who are clients of the KOMPA social care home in Banská Bystrica.

The association was established in 1992 as a non-profit organisation involving parents and relatives of mentally and physically disabled people to help integrate these people into society. We are trying to make different kinds of therapies possible, like hypo-therapy [employing horseback riding] and musicotherapy.

email: kompa@stonline.sk, tel: (+421-48) 414 1002

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