There have been 2 years since Rudi Bobrati is the Executive Director of the Agency for the Support of Civil Society (ASCS). With his experience of working in the West, he has created favorable conditions for citizens' initiatives in community service. The beginning in this job has been difficult for Director Bobrati. He faced the prejudice of some NGOs operating in Albania, which thought that being under the Government, the ASCS would operate in a biased way. "The thing that makes me more proud than anything else is the fact that time proved the opposite. With the projects we have supported, we have created the belief that our criterion is quality. "In his interview for "Mapo" Rudi Bobrati unveils his strategy for the development of civil society, the financial resources and the feverish efforts to secure other income for projects that will be supported by the agency.
Agency for the Support of Civil Society is a new structure, established by the Government. Why it was necessary to found this agency?
The establishment of the Agency for the Support of Civil Society was a need of the time. So far NGOs (nonprofit organizations) existing in Albania have based their activity only on donations, excluding a few different activities organized in cooperation with the ministries; the other sources have come from international donors operating in Albania. The financial support, consolidation and the empowerment of the third sector brought the need for the creation of this Agency, which has as its mission the promotion, through financial assistance, of the sustainable development of the civil society and the creation of favorable conditions for civic initiatives.
The approximation of the Albanian legislation with the European Union countries led to a need that Albania had its agency for the support of civil society. Also, a number of ex-communist East European countries, as well as Western ones have such an identical or very similar agency. For all these reasons, in 2009 it was decided to be set up such a structure in Albania.
What is the budget of this Agency for the projects and how are they distributed?
The incomes of the agency derive from the state budget, which has a special line for its grants. The law provides that besides funding from the state budget, the ASCS can also raise its income through its legal activities that it applies or through the assets it manages, various donations and also other incomes provided by law. The Agency distributes its incomes through grants after launching public calls for projects.
Has the Agency raised any other incomes within these two years?
Despite how big the state budget is, it is not enough to support the activities of NGOs operating in Albania. The ASCS has applied during these years for three different international projects but they were not selected. Currently we are doing the outmost to secure funds from EU or other different programs that launches the United Nations Organization. We have a project to raise funds for philanthropy (charity and voluntarism). The Albanian society does not have enough tradition for such activities or they are sporadic. This project is a challenge for us.
What are the projects supported by the Agency since it has started its activity?
During these two years, the agency has launched three public calls for applications by NGOs operating in Albania. The first call was launched in September 2010 for those organizations which have as their object of work supervising the fight against corruption, fight against trafficking in human beings and treating its victims, domestic violence against women and children, promoting citizens in public activities, involvement and participation in community development, the development of cross-sectoral cooperation and cooperation between civil society organizations, the fight against the informal labor market, etc..
It is interesting to note the fact that for the first call we organized the Fair of Ideas for the first time in Albania. This was a project that USAID had applied several years ago, but it was never done by an Albanian organization. So in order to be more transparent, we decided to exhibit all the projects that were selected by the Supervisory Board in the first public call. The exhibition was opened on the premises of the "Rogner" hotel, where it was created the possibility not only for the competing NGOs, but also for ordinary citizens to be acquainted with the projects submitted.
The purpose of organizing this Fair was that there was no bias for the selection of the projects that ASCS had made and this idea proved to be a successful one. The impact of the Fair was very great. The third public Call was made in November 2011, and had as its object, the same as those mentioned above. I want to point out the second Call that was launched on the eve of the opening of the tourist season in Albania. This call was for those NGOs which have as their object the development of the tourism and promotion of cultural heritage to create a more qualitative environment in the function of tourism, such as its cleaning, eliminating acoustic pollution, the construction of temporary hygiene-sanitation facilities, the culture of service as an instrument to improve the quality of tourism development, as well as the highlighting of our cultural traditions. Every foreign or Albanian tourist has noted that these sectors are currently problematic in the development of the Albanian tourism.
You currently operate with grants from the state budget, such, as you noted, are not enough. Have NGOs shown interest to apply with projects to your Agency?
Yes, there are many applications (applicants) especially from the big towns of the country. There were 222 applications only in the third Call, out of which there were 69 selected by the structures of ASCS.
What are the criteria in selecting projects?
The main criterion is the quality of the project and it is not to be discussed. A project, in order to win a grant from ASCS, should pass in two phases. The first phase is that of the selection by our groups of specialists that work in ASCS, who evaluate the projects according to the points gained. The second phase of selection is the Supervisory Board. They check each project together with the attached evaluation of the group of our specialists and then make a final decision on the winning projects. But the staff of our specialists and the Board as well have aimed that in addition to quality, which as I said there is no room for discussion, to give also a great importance to the territorial distribution of projects.
It is already known that the 'lion's share' of the funds provided for the civil societies is always received by NGOs located in Tirana and from these funds rarely benefit other large towns like Durres or Shkodra. If there is something that gives me pleasure concerning our job is the fact that we have supported projects that are distributed from south of Vermosh in Kelmend, to Ksamil of Saranda.
But again, I think this is not enough. The ASCS shall soon resume promotional tour across Albania. In the first round performed in 2010, we went to the NGOs in the main towns of the country, where we gave information for the ASCS, its activity and the main documents necessary for the application, etc.. Now the tour will continue in other towns in order that the activity of the ASCS affects the entire Albania.
Projects in process
One of the projects of the ASCS in process is the DVD production, which will contain fragments of the best projects realized with its support. The organization of a national conference on civil society is also in the process.
Meanwhile, we have just finished a database, where are registered all the NGOs operating in Albania. "The registration of NGOs in our website is in their interest, because they will be automatically notified of any calls of the Agency, besides the fact that the publication in our website, serves as a kind of advertising", - says Bobrati.
The Agency for the Support of Civil Society become operational in September 2010
There are two governing bodies of the ASCS:
The Supervisory Board
consists of 9 members, prominent names of different fields. The President of the Board is Mira Meksi. By law, five of the nine board members come from civil society.
There are three sectors under Executive Director:
Department of the Administration of projects of grants and regional development; Department of project development, international cooperation and communication, as well as the Department of Finance and internal audit.