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Nearly BGN 5.5 million of EC funds will be invested in the civic sector

7 March 2023

Nearly BGN 5.5 million will be invested in the sustainability of CSOs within a three-year partnership initiative of the Bulgarian Fund for Women (BFW), the Bulgarian Center for Not-for-Profit Law (BCNL) and the Impact Drive Foundation (IDF), supported by the European Commission. The aim is to strengthen and develop the NGO sector through strategic and long-term funding and capacity building, developed on the basis of research on the specific needs of small and local NGOs in Bulgaria working for social change, defending human rights, democracy, the rule of law and European values.

"Bulgarian civil society sector is under threat and constant pressure, even though NGOs are always on the front line when it comes to dealing with crises - from helping fight COVID-19 to hosting Ukrainian refugees. In recent years, we have seen increasingly vicious attacks on NGOs, which have led to a decline in their credibility. It should be the other way around - an active civil sector is an integral part of any truly democratic state and its first corrective. It is BFW's understanding that small organisations, especially those outside Sofia, although often with limited capacity, are the backbone of civil society and it is they who need more trust and support to achieve social change for their communities. We know that the two aspects - funding and capacity building - are inextricably linked and with this initiative we will apply them even more effectively because we are joining forces with the most appropriate partners", says Nadezhda Dermendjieva, Director of BFW.  

BGN 3,217,340, or nearly 60% of the total value of the initiative, will be directly invested in the organisations and the activities they develop through three funding mechanisms, in which each organisation can apply for a maximum of BGN 117,000 (EUR 60,000).

At the end of April 2023, a new call for proposals will be launched for the Mission: possible programme, the only donor programme in Bulgaria that provides flexible and unrestricted funding for the administrative needs and organisational development of NGOs (the so-called core funding) for up to 24 months. It is key to the sustainability and development of organizations because it allows them to plan strategically and long-term and focus on achieving their mission and goals.

Also to be announced in early June 2023 will be the year-round Open Opportunities programme, where organisations can apply, without competing for emergency funding to address unforeseen external factors and crises, security issues or emerging advocacy opportunities that require an immediate response, as well as for participation in events and international cooperation.

In 2024, another programme "Values" will be opened to fund projects of organisations that aim to defend human rights and gender equality, promote the rule of law, democracy and European values, and counter the shrinking space for civic engagement.

"The funding mechanisms of the Bulgarian Fund for Women have always been flexible and adapted to the capacities and needs of our partners. Specifically, the three upcoming programmes continue our strategic work to support the sector and respond to the challenges shared by over 110 organisations from across Bulgaria in the 'Research on the needs of organisations working for the rights of women, girls and vulnerable groups' published by BFW in 2022. In the selection, the Fund will continue to prioritise so-called grassroots partners - led by the communities whose rights they work for, organizations with small budgets, without a long project history, newly registered and/or those that carry out their activities in remote locations, because our philosophy is to support and give a chance to the most underprivileged, who do not have the capacity to apply for other funding, but know best the problems and possible solutions", explains Gergana Kutseva, Deputy Director of BFW.

BGN 1,025,168 or nearly 20% of the total budget of the initiative will be invested in special programs for building and/or enhancing the capacity of organizations in Bulgaria, developed by proven experts - the Bulgarian Center for Not-for-Profit Law and Impact Drive Foundation. The initiative will support the sector's efforts to engage with state and local administrations in advocating for specific civic causes, enable funded organizations to achieve a higher level of institutional and financial independence, and develop an organizational culture for strategic planning of their activities, as well as the capacity to attract more and diversified types of financial resources.

According to the Bulgarian Center for Not-for-Profit Law, the successful development and strengthening of the civic sector in Bulgaria are directly dependent on the sustainable upgrading of the capacity of each active organization to respond in a timely and adequate manner to threats to democratic values in our society and attempts to limit civic activism. Capacity building programmes under the initiative will be aimed at helping organisations in the country to increase their capacity for advocacy activities aimed at defending European values, human and civil rights, improving their operational and administrative processes and the effectiveness of their activities.

BCNL will provide the opportunity to participate in different forms of capacity building tailored to the needs of the organisations. Some of them will include complex trainings ("Citizens Academy") on the most important topics for the functioning and activities of any CSO (legal framework, financing, business and financial sustainability, advocacy and protection of public causes, publicity, transparency and promotion of activities, as well as attracting supporters and funds for successful causes). Another part of the foreseen capacity building activities will address specific topics related to the defence and promotion of European and democratic values, the protection of activists and independent journalists from threats pressuring them to take a conformist position. Capacity-building initiatives will also include innovative formats ("Civic Creative Labs") to involve artists and different art forms in the preparation of advocacy campaigns and the promotion of the work of organisations.

The Impact Drive Foundation will combine different methods - trainings, one-to-one consultations and networking events - to enhance the organisational capacity of professionals in different areas, including strategic and operational planning, programme and project management, impact evaluation, building competences and confidence in working with and for European values. 

"For too long, organisations and people dedicated to causes in our country have been left to fend for themselves. The dynamics of crises and change today necessitate 360-degree support for people with ideas for change and a better tomorrow. Often these people have no previous experience of managing organisations and projects, and those who do are overwhelmed and pressured by everyday life. At Impact Drive, we share the belief that CSOs and their teams need a combination of support to give them the knowledge and, most importantly, practical solutions to optimize their work. This will create space for more ideas and efforts aimed at developing advocacy, activism, research, solution development, policy and other CSO-specific activities. Very important for us is also the work on issues related to European values, which, although an integral part of the civil society sector, are today under attack and scepticism and require us to defend them on a daily basis", says Teodora Ivanova-Vuleva, Executive Director of IDF. 

The official launch of the partnership initiative will take place in early April 2023 during an event to be held in Sofia, which will provide an opportunity for organisations from across the country to get involved online. For timely information related to the event and the initiative, follow the BFW, BCNL and IDF webpages and information channels.  

The joint initiative of BFW, BCNL and IDF is implemented within the project "Building an Inclusive Resilient Democratic Society in Bulgaria" (BIRDS in BG), implemented with the financial support of the European Union and the European Education and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA).

The project "Building an Inclusive Resilient Democratic Society in Bulgaria" (BIRDS in BG) is co-funded by the European Union. This publication contains the views and opinions of the project partners, which do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Education and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA). Under no circumstances can either the European Union or the granting authority be held responsible for the content of this publication.