28 July 2014:
Greece’s once vibrant civil society sector and many Greek Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are facing an existential threat as the country continues to grapple with a financial crisis that has already seen many organisations shut down and abandon missions abroad.
Whilst it’s not just a question of funding, the figures of Greek development budgets have been in constant decline for years, falling by 17% in 2012 and by a further 7.7% in 2013 as a result of austerity measures according to the OECD. A similar situation can be seen in other mediterranean countries like Spain.
For Marina Sarli, President of FAIRTRADE Hellas, “the financial crisis offered decision makers an alibi to severely cut funding for development.”
“It’s a situation that keeps getting worse, CSOs do not receive any public support anymore, while they have not received the already spent and budgeted money from previous projects. Moreover, they have been attacked by media campaigns that claim financing CSOs is a mismanagement of public money, using generalizing examples that gives a false image of the sector.”
A change of focus in order to survive – helping at home
Poverty and inequality have risen sharply in Greece since the financial crisis that has affected the country since 2009.
They are no longer “development issues” that only affect people abroad. This has seen many organisations that previously focused mainly on overseas projects play a new role intackling poverty at home, at the expense of previous programmes.
“We are very sad to notice that the last 5-6 years the Greek CSOs withdrew almost the majority of their activities from the countries in need of international assistance”, says Fotis Vlachos, Policy & Advocacy Officer of the Hellenic Platform for Development.
During last decade, especially after 2001, a large number of Greek NGOs were operating in projects worldwide. This included a presence in the Balkans, Central Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
“The excuse of corruption and austerity measures should not justify such a remarkable decrease of Greek NGOs presence worldwide”, emphasizes Mr. Vlachos.
Today, the focus has increasingly shifted to local level. Migration issues, homeless people and poverty eradication within the Greek society became the main operational priorities of the NGO sector in Greece.
For Fotis Vlachos, the negative environment during the country’s worst financial crisis does not permit new initiatives, ideas and new established structures to grow in such a way that will contribute to the overall efforts for a strong and capable CSOs sector in Greece, especially for the Development Aid perspective.
Greek Volunteers (GV), who have carried out projects in Pakistan, recently withdrew all their activities due to the crisis and they even publicly declared their consideration for closing down their entity, although they had previously managed to keep operating when their Chair person was kidnapped for 7 months by the Taliban.
Greek Medicine de Monde, Handicap Care Hellas, One Earth and ANCE are among the CSOs that have withdrawn the majority of their activities.
Difficulties in Fundraising
Fundraising has tumbled.
“The capacity of individuals to keep supporting NGOs has been reduced substantially, while their priorities have shifted caring and supporting more organizations which work on service delivery within Greece”, says Gerasimos Kouvaras, Director of Action Aid Hellas.
“Public and corporate funds, although extremely limited already in the sector, they have practically disappeared as ODA is non-existent and corporate social responsibility has shrunk and re-directed to gifts in kind or funds for ‘poverty’ relief in Greece”, he adds.
Good news: ActionAid Greece – succeeding in hard times
ActionAid is probably the most resilient development NGO in Greece, which after two years of controllable decrease in income in 2013 managed to present growth being the exception to the rule.
According to Mr. Kouvaras, this success is linked to the fact that ActionAid has already built a very strong brand in Greece and a critical mass of about 35,000 very loyal supporters who contribute regularly through Child Sponsorship program, as well as a strong link with educational community and all Greek primary and secondary school through its educational programs.
A driver of success in 2013 for ActionAid has been the filming and screening of a TV documentary in Sierra Leone by one of the most popular and influential TV personalities who recruited almost 5,000 new supporters in only three weeks. This fact indicates the extrovert recruiting and communication strategy that ActionAid Hellas has adopted during the crisis by strategically investing in brand management and fundraising rather than budget cutting.
Furthermore, in order to become more relevant to the national context, ActionAid Hellas has just initiated a new program to promote micro-finance for marginalized populations within Greece.
A glance at the future – CONCORD members
The Hellenic Platform of Development, which currently represents 12 different NGOs, has two main goals:
1. To reinforce the platform enriching it with new member and with a solid structure so that at the end we will be able to have a wider representative body of CSOs sector in Greece.
2. To build capacity of CSOs on transparency and accountability set as a national priority for the sector.
“The extreme positive rising grass root movement and the already established CSOs should overcome the separation that sees the first as extra-systemic and the second as ‘’intra-systemic’’ and cooperate widely to change the system. Each one respecting the peculiarity and the work of the others”, wishes Marina Sarli.
According to Fotis Vlachos, through very hard work with CONCORD structures and the implementation of the Development and Democracy Project there is a huge chance for reflection for this negative environment. “Some positive results are already here but it seems that we have a lot of work to do in order to achieve the level we want with strong CSO sector characterized by transparency, accountability operational capacities and most importantly with remarkable projects, which will contribute to poverty eradication worldwide and within Greek local societies.