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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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."
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
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.
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."