The following is a press release sent by Stefan Batory Foundation:

The Citizens for Democracy programme has just closed. It has enabled 617 projects worth PLN 131 million implemented by 667 non-governmental organisations in 773 communities in Poland.

The outcomes of the Citizens for Democracy programme implemented for non-governmental organisations in 2013-2017 were presented at a conference on 21 March in Warsaw, Poland. The programme was funded under the European Economic Area (EEA) Financial Mechanism and implemented by the Batory Foundation and the Polish Children and Youth Foundation.

EEA Grants are designed to provide grants to reduce economic and social disparities and strengthen bilateral cooperation.

The funds are provided by Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, members of the European Economic Area, to 16 EU Member States in Central and Southern Europe. Poland received a total of EUR 266.9 million under EEA in 2013-2017, of which EUR 37 million was allocated to “strengthen civil society development and enhance the contribution of non-governmental organisations in building social justice, democracy and sustainable development”. The Batory Foundation in partnership with the Polish Children and Youth Foundation were selected as the Operator of the NGO programme in Poland in an open competition.

The Citizens for Democracy programme supported projects designed to: (1) engage citizens in public life, increase participation in public policy and decision making on issues that are relevant at a local and national level; (2) improve good governance, transparency and citizens trust in public institutions; (3) extend the scope and forms of support provided to the vulnerable groups at risk of social exclusion and engage these groups in the decision making processes; (4) promote and protect human rights and fight all types of discrimination based on ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and gender; (5) education of children and young people on human rights and civic participation, fighting against discrimination, exclusion and marginalisation of children and youth. Strengthening the institutional capacity of non-governmental organisations and creating frameworks to facilitate third sector development was an important focus of the programme.

6,726 grant applications were submitted in six open calls for proposals for projects implemented by Polish non-governmental organizations on their own or in partnership with other entities from Poland, other EU Member States or Donor Countries. 115 independent experts were involved in the assessment process which resulted in awarding 630 grants to the projects with highest score.[1]

Between June 2013 and April 2016, 667 non-governmental organisations which received funding in the programme completed 617 projects of a total value of PLN 131 million. The projects were carried out in 773 communities all over Poland; 146 projects had a national scope.

Among the organisations which received funding in the programme there were organisations from big cities, and local grass-root organisations from small communities. There were some  well established and experienced, and the new ones, with merely two or three years of history. To encourage young and small organisation to apply to the programme the Batory Foundation offered funds from its own resources to cover the co-financing requirement, says Anna Rozicka, Programme Director.

Capacity building of non-governmental organisations was an important part of the programme. Organisations could spend a portion of their grant on institutional strengthening by investing in staff development, infrastructure, fundraising etc. 402 organisations used this opportunity   adds Sylwia Sobiepan, Projects Manager.

One out of three projects in the programme was completed in partnership with other non-governmental organisations, public institutions, businesses and informal groups. Eighty two (82) projects involved 72 entities from Iceland and Norway. Over 100 NGO activists from Poland took part in 7 study visits to both countries.

What is the impact of the Programme?

A large proportion of non-governmental initiatives focused on improving the public participation of adults and youth; 56,599 individuals were involved in 133 such projects. Some of them supported public consultations on local issues and public areas, including parks, street market, central streets in the neighbourhood. This helped developed a local culture development strategy e.g. in Błażów and Kleszczele, a sports strategy in Kujawy and Pomoria Province, regeneration of downtown Stary Fordon and Koszalin, change in traffic configuration of in one of Łódź neighbourhoods.

Furthermore, 110 watchdog projects scrutinised the operations of 6,814 various institutions, e.g. government departments and agencies, local governments, schools, universities, hospitals and courts. Projects monitored the transparency of local council meetings, environmental compliance, the protection of the rights of children with disabilities in the education system, doctoral study recruitment and funding, access to medical care, including oncological diagnostics, perinatal care compliance, sex education and the use of what is known as a clause of conscience by physicians.

450 volunteers monitored courts proceedings for compliance with civil rights to fair and open trial.  Public scrutiny of justice system involved i.a. status of court appointed experts and courts’ working conditions.

Organizations undertook advocacy efforts to improve public institutions or change national or local legislation/regulations when it was in conflict with public interest. These initiatives resulted in 122 specific amendments, including anti-smog resolution in Cracow, increased number or railway services in several provinces and an amendment of the Education Law to ensure access to examinations for people with disabilities.

Projects that focused on preventing social exclusion applied innovating outreach techniques, involved beneficiaries in planning and organising assistance programmes, advocacy and self-help group formation. Direct assistance was provided to 42,489 socially vulnerable individuals: people with disabilities, elderly people, children and youth from marginalised communities, victims of violence, individuals with mental disorders or illnesses, people living with HIV/AIDS, families in crisis, inmates and convicts, homeless individuals, migrants and Roma. 1,301 individuals from socially disadvantaged communities were engaged in self-help and self-organisation measures.

Projects focused on counteracting discrimination, stereotyping and prejudice towards minority groups, as well improving the general public awareness of inequality and hate speech targeted both general public and specific communities. Workshops and training were provided to officials, uniformed service, physicians, and the judiciary. Education initiatives reached out to 36,973 individuals, including 4,477 teachers and 14,290 students. Civic interventions helped remove app. 300 websites and over 11,000 hateful online comments. Hateful graffiti was removed and painted over in public space. There were 2,770 interventions exposing discrimination and hate crimes. Direct assistance was provided to 4,989 individuals experiencing or potentially exposed to discrimination. Anti-discrimination media campaigns reached 15 million people.

In the autumn of 2015, in response to a refugee crisis in Europe and the plans for Poland to accept several thousand people fleeing war zones in the Middle East, a call for proposals was launched for projects aimed to prepare Polish society for reception of refugees. Though no refugees finally reached Poland much was done to form positive attitudes towards them and stand up to a wave of hatred to migrants and refugees. One of such projects was the refugees.info portal which aims to provide unbiased data on the refugee. Its most popular  post had half a million impressions. In addition, a series of education and solidarity campaigns were organised including a Week of solidarity with refugees with over 200 events all over Poland.

The Citizens for Democracy programme payed a vital role in Poland by mobilising the reservoir of civic activism and readiness to volunteer for the public good. By involving citizens in the public life, seeking to improve democratic institutions, opening up administration to dialogue with citizens and empowering the latter, the project responded to deficits and weaknesses of our democracy. The activities undertaken by the organisations involved in the programme, their mutual learning, collaboration with a variety of stakeholders built trust and public solidarity, two things that are essential today, summarises Ewa Kulik-Bielińska, Executive Director of the Batory Foundation.

The programme had perfect timing — it promoted tolerance, democracy, civil rights protection, it taught respect for others and the acceptance of diversity at a time when populism and demagogy, hatred and hostility to others appear to be on the rise. The ideals underlying the programme are close to the values upheld by the Batory Foundation who has always been advocating for law-abiding, accountable democratic institutions and open society in which the diversity of attitudes and opinions are a core value, asserts Aleksander Smolar, President of the Batory Foundation.

For further information about the programme go to: www.ngofund.org.pl

Contact:  informacja@batory.org.pl

[1] 10 organisations resign from the grants,3 did not complete their projects.