[Editor’s note: This post was written by Elena Polo, Research Analyst at AGENDA Institute, Albania. It is part of a series of reflections from participants and facilitators of the Online course Re-thinking your Funding Model that took place in 2014, supported by the Think Tank Fund.]
Being part of Civil Society Organizations is practically an engagement as interesting as defiant in the same time. It is a sector of a continuous development in a parallel way with the general development of the country. However, the development of the Civil Society Sector is seen as a precondition of all necessary policies and reforms regarding social and economic sustainable development. Hence, thinking about what makes one´s institution active and sustainable should be a recurrent exercise for a Think Tank.
Through bringing citizens closer to policy making processes and putting their perspective in the center of policy-making, in Central and Eastern Europe CSOs in general and especially, Think Tanks aim to enhance the debate, evidence-based analysis and effectiveness of public policies in the country. The focus of their work is offering alternatives for sustainable development policies, better central and local governance, democratization of institutions and society, and contributing to reform processes that foster EU Integration.
So, the main challenge for those working in this sector is to ensure the internal sustainability of the organization in order to be continuously active in the sector, while trying to invest in a well-recognized profile in specific fields of analysis. Media coverage remains important in all cases. You should be recognized and followed in every activity, frequently enough to keep your voice importantly heard…
It is all about focus and diversification… In my opinion, specialization in expertise and analysis should be parallel accompanied with diversification of funds considered as a diversification of a portfolio in a real financial concept. First of all, it is crucial that each organization develops a continuous plan – a strategy of donors and ideas of collaboration, based on its fields of interest. The success of AGENDA Institute consists in the fact that this process as a whole engages the Executive Director and all Research Analysts in frequent discussions, reunions and brainstorming meetings. These all conclude with interesting and new ideas to further strengthen the Institute.
It is all about ideas… All ideas are important to be written and transformed into project proposals. To continuously write project proposals, even short-term ones to apply for new funds, is important for diversification and sustainability. Another relevant practice is to have meetings and discussions with the actual donors for any possible extension of the projects with new ideas or elements; this usually brings good results, if the actual collaboration has been characterized by serious work and responsibility.
It is all about work… We think that working in the sector of CSOs should be a continuous aggressive work, concerning establishing contacts and being competitive and persuasive in order to be granted any collaboration, while identifying all potential donors in the local environment – government institutions, government agencies, and local and/or new businesses and external environment as well. The Think Tank should also be active in offering its expertise in consultancy and/or different projects.
Compared to internal donors and/or national stakeholders, we think that working with Western partners is a more interesting work, even though a greater responsibility. Creating foreign networks and searching continuous ways of collaboration should also be done aggressively (not negatively!), while continuously ensuring quality and experience.
It is all about experience… Experience is a very important element when operating in the sector of CSOs. And I would further say “good experience”. Every new idea for projects and further analysis comes while working or researching, reading, presenting. You can provide an approach of analysis in every element of the practice that actually raises a debate. And you should do this. What markets and/or reality require and what you guess should be analyzed must be part of your everyday work, analysis and expertise.
Combining all these elements mentioned above, AGENDA Institute has reached to ensure its internal sustainability in the same time with being actively present in the public debates and policy-making processes. Especially today, with higher dynamics of the sector parallel with the dynamics in policies and reforms of the entire country, new ways of diversification and internal organization should be developed by the sector to further ensure its necessary active presence and good expertise.