'Sivil Düşün' EU Program supports activists and organizations alike
Emrah Güler - ANKARACivil society organizations (CSOs) in Turkey know well to plan ahead, take their time and make sure they adhere closely to strict rules and practices when applying for major international funds, especially the colossal grants offered by the European Union for over a decade during Turkey’s pre-accession phase.
The EU funds have become a major source of vitality for Turkey’s booming CSOs, working toward rights for women, children, ethnic minorities and LGBTI communities, just to name a few. Some EU funds have helped launch work in new territories such as Roma rights and facilitated civil work in distant Turkish regions.
One major setback, however, especially for novice CSOs with little experience and skill in their fields, is the comprehensive requirements and strict rules in applying to funds and grant schemes. For organizations across Turkey who hoped to get a piece of the EU pie, they not only had to become familiar with terms like “call for proposal,” “co-applicant” and “contracting authority,” but with even more complicated concepts like “multi-donor action,” “framework agreement,” “tender dossier” and “project cycle management.”
That is why the civil society support program, Sivil Düşün (Think Civil), designed and launched by the Delegation of the EU to Turkey, is a breakthrough in answering the needs not only of CSOs and CSOs’ networks, but also of individual activists, with its progressive, flexible and inclusive structure. Active since early 2013, the Sivil Düşün EU Program has two major components: the Active Citizenship Mechanism (or the Aktivist Program) and Networks and Platforms Programs.
The Hürriyet Daily News talked to Cengiz Çiftçi, team leader of the technical assistance team running the program, and Program Director Özge Konuralp. “The structure and backbone of the Sivil Düşün EU Program were set after a comprehensive preparatory phase back in 2010 and 2011,” said Çiftçi. “Advisory meetings were held with 730 CSO representatives in 11 cities, where the needs of civil society were discussed.”
“There were common apprehensions voiced by the participants, such as the insufficiencies in capacity building, increasing ineffectiveness of support tools and programs due to heavy bureaucratic processes, difficulties in coming together with other activists and CSOs for collaborative work,” said Çiftçi. “These findings helped the Delegation of the EU to Turkey in designing Sivil Düşün.”
Sivil Düşün supports all those connected to benefiting civil society - CSOs, civil collaborations, networks, platforms and activists engaged in rights-based work. “We are open to all projects and work that contribute to the development and promotion of democratic structures and values,” said Konuralp. “Fair competition, equal opportunity, transparency and inclusion are main pillars of the program. We want our work to directly address the needs of civil society.”
What makes Sivil Düşün different from other EU programs?
“It’s much more than a grant program; it’s basically a civil society support program,” said Knouralp, without the heavy bureaucratic processes and procedures seen in most other grant programs. “It’s open to everyone, whether you are a legal entity or not. It’s also flexible and all processes are transparent. We want to mainstream rights-based work in civil society and help in the effective use of EU funds.”
There are nine projects under the Networks and Platforms Program of Sivil Düşün, but the Aktivist Support Program is its most popular. As evident through its name, the program welcomes applications from everyone engaged (or hoping to engage) in rights-based work, however small it is. “We accept applications from individual activists, associations, foundations, networks, platforms, unions, and city councils,” said Çiftçi.
Come as you are
The application process for the Sivil Düşün’s programs is a dream for those who have experienced the burdensome structure of similar programs. “The application form is very brief with 10 questions. We accept applications in different languages. We can even help applicants fill out the form over the telephone,” said Konuralp. “We are not expecting applicants to be computer users or have experience in project writing. It’s sufficient if the proposed work is contributing to civil society, and the work is rights-based.”
“I believe that a swift and smooth application and answer process is something the civil society needs in Turkey,” said Konuralp. “When you look at the rights violations and situations where the civil society needs to react urgently and immediately in Turkey, it’s very important to offer a swift application process and an opportunity for revision in the content of the application.”
It’s almost impossible in Turkey to receive support if you are not a legal entity. Almost half of the applications come from individual activists, a testimony to the success of the program. Konuralp said following the Aktivist Support Program’s first call, the program supported works in as diverse areas as the peace initiative, city councils, unions’ rights, environmental rights, senior citizens’ rights, and migration.
As a recent example, CSOs and activists from different parts of Turkey received supported for their Womens’ Day’s events said Konuralp. Another supported project was the Artıkişler Kolektifi’s ‘Surplus of Istanbul project,’ which filmed the waste pickers of Istanbul, thus bringing new political and cultural meanings to waste. The screening of Can Candan’s documentary ‘Benim Çocuğum’ (My Child) about the parents of Turkish LGBTI individuals, at the European Parliament was also supported by Sivil Düşün.
The Aktivist Support Program will continue until 2016. It is currently getting ready to accept new applications, appealing for new proposals on May 9, coinciding with Europe Day. Visit www.sivildusun.net and follow the program on facebook.com/sivildusun and @sivildusun for details about the May 9 call and previously supported work.