BİRLİKTE: Why Institutional Grants?
Since our establishment in 2004, we have implemented 9 different grant programs for civil society organizations (CSOs), including the current BİRLİKTE program; we have provided grants and technical support to more than two hundred CSOs through these programs. 7 of these grant programs were project support, which is the most widely implemented and known type of grant in the civil society field.
In March 2017, we launched a type of grant support that we had not implemented before and which is little known and practiced in the civilian field in Turkey: the institutional grant, or "general operational grant". At the time of its launch, BİRLİKTE was the first of its kind and the first institutional grant program implemented in Turkey with the support of the European Union.
We designed and implemented BİRLİKTE based on the grant programs, capacity building support and needs assessment studies that STGM has been implementing for civil society organizations since its establishment. Now, with an even deeper experience, we are implementing the second term of the BİRLİKTE program.
What is an Institutional Grant?
Institutional grants are now a well-known type of grant among CSOs in Turkey, and we can say that there has been a significant increase in the number of institutional grant programs in the civil field in the last 6 years. Nevertheless, it is still useful to make a brief definition:
"Institutional grant support, in the most general sense, is a type of grant that is provided to civil society organizations in order for them to continue their existence and achieve their goals, and aims to support CSOs to achieve their missions as a whole, without the condition of developing any project or program."
Institutional grant programs do not require the development of a project and/or program. It supports the CSO as a whole within its own organizational structure, that is, it is an unrestricted, unconditional resource provided for CSOs to carry out their daily work, regular activities and to work in line with their mission.
Why do we provide institutional grants to CSOs at BİRLİKTE?
As a matter of fact, the answer to the question of why we prefer to provide institutional grants is included in the definition of institutional grants. Institutional grants are the most effective way to support the work of CSOs working on a specific mission, in other words, CSOs that have a cause and are trying to create change, in line with their missions and goals.
We all know that CSOs aiming for change in their fields of work cannot be resilient, financially sustainable and carry out quality work in line with their goals only with activity-based support. CSOs need to have a basic and fixed resource to meet their fixed expenses without any problems, to invest in new technologies, to increase the salaries and social rights of their employees, to meet and manage crises, to meet their urgent needs, to carry out institutional communication activities and other institutional needs. Institutional grants stand out as a vital support mechanism to meet all these basic and/or urgent needs.
Our nearly 20 years of field experience, our contacts, meetings and collaborations with countless CSOs and local activists from various fields of work, what we have learned, what we have seen and what we have accumulated have shown us that a grant that meets the definition we have listed above as the characteristics of institutional grant support is exactly the type of grant that CSOs in Turkey need most for their empowerment.
"In the period before BİRLİKTE Institutional Support Program was designed, in May and June 2016, we conducted needs assessments with 123 CSO representatives and found that the most important needs of local CSOs were concentrated in areas such as institutional fixed costs for sustainability, resource development, strategy development and implementation, effective institutional communication, use of digital tools and financial management."
The institutional grant, which is a support that is in line with the needs of the civic space in Turkey, will close a gap in the field and enable CSOs to meet their basic expenses and empower them, has thus come to the fore as the main grant type of the grant programs we implemented in 2017 and beyond.
How did we design the institutional grant?
Designing a grant program is not a process that gives the program team a lot of leeway. It is a technical process and has many constraints. The team designing the program works to make the most appropriate planning for their own goals within all these tedious technical details and constraints.
Our main desire in designing BİRLİKTE's institutional grant support was to create a system that would enable grant beneficiary organizations to use their grant support in the most effective and flexible way without overwhelming them with too many details and implementation rules. In other words, we tried not to create a design that is independent from the nature of the institutional grant and the reasons why the civic space in Turkey needs this type of grant.
We worked on a series of measures to design flexible and effective institutional grant support. First of all, we tried to design the budget structure as simple as possible and to meet all the needs of a CSO for its daily operations and fixed expenses. We wanted the application guide and budget explanations to be as simple as possible. While setting the ground rules for the implementation process, we also took into account that the budget at the time of application is an estimate, a dynamic document that can be changed during implementation in line with evolving needs and changing priorities. Therefore, we tried to keep our grant implementation rules as flexible as possible, believing that flexibility is one of the fundamental characteristics of institutional grants.
We experienced during the implementation process that our efforts to create a flexible structured grant support, which we worked on a lot during the design process, were very accurate.
In both phases of our program, we, together with all our participating organizations, faced large-scale crises that we could not have foreseen: The COVID-19 pandemic that broke out in 2020 and the large-scale earthquakes we experienced earlier this year.
In sudden crises such as this one, the flexibility of institutional grant support worked as a very convenient mechanism to meet the rapidly changing priorities and needs of participating organizations. Our participating CSOs were able to change their budgets effectively and quickly in line with their changing needs and tried to minimize the impact of the crises as much as possible, as far as the BİRLİKTE budget allowed.
On the other hand, the culture of working in partnership with participating organizations, which we tried to establish with BİRLİKTE, has been one of the main principles in the field of grant implementation/management. In order to prevent any participating organization from being harmed due to the grant it received or due to a wrong application, being in constant communication, negotiating the necessary situations and making joint decisions has been one of the vital issues for us while drawing the boundaries of the implementation process. Perhaps we can even say that BİRLİKTE's own unique design is reflected in the grant implementation rules and processes, shaping them to the extent possible.
We are one of the many institutions that provide institutional grants to civil society; however, we have designed and implemented this institutional support grant around the principles of the BİRLİKTE program, of which it is a component, in a way to carry its entire character and culture. Therefore, in our opinion, it is a unique example in the field. Our greatest desire is that this uniqueness will contribute to making the participating organizations stronger, more resilient and sustainable.
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