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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - The funding merry-go-round: who gets what

The funding merry-go-round: who gets what

Faced with an increasingly competitive funding market, some NGOs are feeling the

pinch. With funding bodies inundated with applications targeting the country's

most desperate citizens, some projects will fall through the gaps.

Arne

Sahlén, president of the Canadian-funded NGO Cambodia Support Group (CSG), wants

to ensure every funding application receives equal consideraton, not just

high-profile cause that easily attract funding. He is planning a workshop for

March 5-6 to help local NGOs submit strong, clear proposals to

donors.

The workshop will cover problems faced by NGOs trying to comply

with tough donor regulations, but also problems faced by donors when dealing

with incomplete, confusing applications. He hopes to facilitate communication

between both parties to ensure each project gets a fair hearing.

"It

shouldn't just be the luck of the draw that one agency finds the way through all

this ... it amazes me how much time people keep going in the face of the odds of

unbelievable applications, trying their best to fill them out," Sahlén

says.

CSG works with several local projects; it was Sahlén's experience

with Khmer Association for Vocational Training and Vocation (KAVTV) providing

electrical training for disabled people that sparked the idea of a

workshop.

Sahlén and Hem Phang, executive director of KAVTV, decided to

use their experience applying for funding to help others. "We decided to run the

workshop because of all these projects we're involved in, and seeing how

different people are working with various degrees of difficulty through the

funding process."

Common problems include language difficulties,

complicated application structures, and mis-translations between Khmer and

English, Sahlén says. "Applications that aren't really clear and logical, that

don't follow a natural format, may be putting incredible road blocks in front of

people that we just couldn't imagine."

Another issue is the shift of

focus from older, constant issues to newer, acute ones, he says. "When I was

here in 1992, everything was about mine victims, and then it went into general

disabled, and then along came HIV. Funders do tend rather to jump on the issue

of the moment to the partial exclusion of older ones. Just as the tsunami now

has brought all sorts of acute focus, there's a concern by other places around

the world that the funding will be redirected from their project. So there's

that sort of thing, the hot issue of the moment."

Carol Strickler,

executive director of the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (CCC), agrees that

topics fluctuate in terms of funding available. "There are topics that come and

go; HIV/Aids is a big one where there's lots of funding, whereas if you talk to

some of the health NGOs they'll say, and maybe even the government too, they'll

say actually maybe the chronic problem is nutrition and mother and

child."

Problems can arise when NGOs recognize a particular topic has

plenty of funding and then try to restructure their organization around the hot

topic. "If they keep chasing where the money is without a true vision or mission

and statement of what they're about, then it can create an internal dilemma for

them," Strickler says.

The CCC represents about 20 to 25 local NGOs in

Cambodia. Through Strickler's experience with NGO funding, she thinks there is

increased competition for funding amongst NGOs in general in Cambodia. There's

an increased expectation of more impact and results, she says, with many donor

agencies imposing strict guidelines to ensure expectations are met. But all

donor agencies will inevitably have different requirements, she says.

Sok

Sam Ouen, executive director of local legal aid NGO Cambodian Defenders Project,

finds the specialized nature of funding frustrating. "Sometimes the funder gives

money and says, 'OK, you can use it only for trafficking cases', and our

trafficking cases are very few so we cannot spend our money. The funders say 'I

will give legal aid, but only for human trafficking cases. I will give legal aid

but only for domestic violence cases. I will give you money for legal aid but

only for land cases'. Like that, but for general legal aid, no, very few." Legal

aid is an unpopular cause, he says.

Sandra Mitchell, country director of

East West Management Institute (EWMI), says the fact that some causes may get

lots of funding while others get little is just the way it works. "It's no

different than in the private sector when one product is taking off and another

product is not, it's just the reality of the relationships from international

assistance. It's the way it works."

EWMI provides funding in Cambodia

through their Human Rights in Cambodia program, funded by USAID. The program has

grant-making authority and provides technical assistance related to legal reform

and human rights.

Mitchell says the fact that some causes may appear

more popular than others is not a unique problem to Cambodia. "That is the way

of development assistance throughout the world. Funding partners have strategic

interests in how they spend their money, their national citizens have an

expectation of how their tax dollars will be spent in another country, and there

are regional issues that may be pulling funding into one area or another, like

trafficking, and I think that that's the way the world is, and that's always

going to be the case."

There could, however, be good reason why some

causes appear 'popular'. "If there appears to be more funding opportunities in

the area of anticorruption, in trafficking and the exploitation of women and

children, I think it's because that's a really serious issue for the Cambodian

people," Mitchell says.

Sahlén hopes the upcoming workshop will

encourage discussion between donors and NGOs to help them find some middle

ground, ensuring each party's needs are met. From the NGO's side, the key is to

provide a clear, compelling argument, Sahlén says. From there, it's up to the

donors. "What you need is to present to them such a strong picture that they

want to support you."

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