ASI on success of grant tender process
The first round of bids for presidential grants this year has been described as the most effective and transparent in the history of this kind of finance.
Experts and members of NGOs describe how a sample taken of the successful bidders has shown that they have become better in terms of quality and fairness, while the media, not without malice, is publishing the names of organisations that have won presidential grants from one year to the next, as well as those that have lost out this time. What has been the cause of this sudden improvement? What is the secret to this success?
Elena Topoleva: I think there are several obvious reasons for this.
Of course, it’s down to political will. Of course, it’s also down to the individuals who have been involved in creating and implementing a mechanism to process the applications. They are experts with a great deal of experience in competitive tenders, and in particular the General Director of the Presidential Grants Fund, Ilya Chukalin. He has an excellent understanding of the sector, he has worked on state-sponsored welfare programmes run by NGOs for the Ministry of Economic Development, and he is widely regarded as a man of exceptionally great principle. Another important factor was the decision to involve people who have years of experience with grant-giving. As a result, we had a tender where we were able to focus on the projects above all else, assessing the basis for the bids and the way they were put together, instead of just scrutinising the organisations themselves
The winners of the first tender of 2017 include many professional and effective organisations including ones who failed to secure government finance in previous years.
I was particularly impressed by projects aimed at developing the infrastructure of the NGO sector and improving their potential. This is a particularly relevant problem today. There has been much debate about the fact that without developing our infrastructure it is impossible to bring proper development to the sector as a whole and, more specifically, to make the provision of social services attractive to NGOs. One example is the centre known as The Edge. It had a very interesting programme to develop the resource centres of NGOs and the programme already had the backing of the Ministry of Economic Development. It is very good that this programme will be continued; as a result of the first tender of 2017 almost 10 million roubles have been allocated to its project ‘The design of new options for the resource centres supporting non-commercial welfare organisations in the regions of the Russian Federation’. Also among the winners are the infrastructure projects known as Lawyers for Civil Society and the non-commercial organisation of the Accountants and Auditors Club, which provides consultancy services and policy advice on law, book-keeping and taxation to NGOs.
I would like to see more NGOs and projects concerned with ecological issues. Another important topic is public awareness and education. Without this it is hard to expect the public to play a more active part in their communities and get involved in charities and voluntary work. It would therefore be good to see an increase in applications of this kind.
For the purposes of evaluating the projects there were a number of experts to choose from. However, unfortunately, we cannot yet claim that all the bidders are of a generally high standard. Many of the bids submitted were patently weak. I therefore believe that it is important that all bidders have the opportunity to receive feedback. I say to all those who did not succeed in this tender: “Don’t give up, correct your mistakes, amend your applications and apply again.”
There’s one other important thing. “We need to ensure that it is not just the government allocating funds, but that we create the right conditions to encourage non-government donors to come forward, so that we can reduce the heavy dependency of many NGOs on state funding. This is the only way that we can expect to improve the viability of our organisations and the public sector as a whole.