The achievements, lessons learnt and the best practices were in the focus of the discussions at a closing conference on the projects of “Civil Society”, “Partnership” and “Research”, three of the funds of the Bulgarian-Swiss Cooperation Programme. The lively discussions touched upon the topics pertinent to the development of the civil society in Bulgaria and the support provided by the Swiss contribution to the enlarged EU.
Representatives of the projects’ teams and intermediate bodies, SCO – Sofia, Central Coordination Unit at the Council of Ministers’ administration, Ministry of Education and Science (Directorate “Science”), as well as experts from the National Fund Directorate (Ministry of Finances) took part in the two-day conference (12-13 July 2018) in the town of Tryavna, Central Bulgaria. Mayor of Gabrovo Tanya Hristova as well participated in the discussion.
Civil Society: projects with concrete and sustainable results
In the period 2011 – 2018, the Thematic Fund “Civil Society” has supported in total 35 projects (23 social and 12 environmental), implemented by 37 Bulgarian NGOs in partnerships with 15 Bulgarian and 6 Swiss NGOs.. In addition, one networking project (Network is Smart) supported the exchange among involved NGOs. . „The social projects, as well as the environmental ones have been implemented by people with causes”, said Yordanka Stoyanova from the Balkan Institute for Labour and Social Policy (BILSP), part of the Swiss Intermediate Body managing this fund.
The total budget used amounts to CHF 7‘068‘811.71, which represents 99.82 % of the Swiss co-financing under this instrument.
The main recommendations shared during the conference include among other things the need of introductory training for the applying organizations; training on project management and reporting; use of simplified online platform for applying and reporting; introducing corrective measures for unsatisfactory project’s implementation.
According to the BILSP the most important lessons are: well-prepared documentation; transparent and fair assessment of project proposals; the benefiting from the advantages of the different financing approaches applied for this fund - project retained in the Framework agreement and projects supported under Block Grants scheme); close monitoring and support to the operational implementation of the projects.
Representatives of organizations participated in this Thematic Fund underlined as advantages the smooth project implementation, the flexible administration and reporting, the well-coordinated work with the Swiss Intermediate Body.
The organizations raised several recommendations, of which the general one is the continuation of the Swiss support for the civil society. The discussion presented different opinions about the type of the future projects to be financed: long-term project, which would secure sustainability and tangible results of the started initiatives, but also support for grassroots civic initiatives for addressing local issues that are initiated by citizens and not necessarily by organizations.
Partnership: projects launched new partnerships
In the period 2011 – 2017, 26 projects of total 57 Bulgarian and Swiss NGOs have been supported under the Thematic Fund “Partnership”. The total contracted budget amounts to CHF 3’170’600, which is 99.3 % of the the Swiss co-financing. . The major results are related to novelty approaches, implemented by Bulgarian organizations jointly with Swiss partners for solving specific problems.
Nearly 90 % of the beneficiaries in the Thematic Fund “Partnership” share the opinion that they have worked well with their partners: 50 % find the cooperation as extremely good, while for 37 % it was positive. Interviewed about the quality of the partnership, 70 % of the beneficiaries of various projects say that it was good. Summarizing the results of this Fund, Dimitar Matev from the Balkan Institute for Labour and Social Policy, highlighted the answer of the 53 % of the organizations who continue with the partnership after the project’s end.
According to the BILSP the most important lessons are: well-developed project’s documentation; necessity of support for finding a Swiss partner; need for training for the NGOs on better planning of the project’s activities.
Representatives of organizations and projects under the Fund “Partnership” said that newly established and developed Swiss-Bulgarian partnerships extend beyond projects completion with new activities in Bulgaria, as well as in third countries.
Scientific researches: support for joint research projects (JRP)
With a total budget of around 4 million Swiss francs the Thematic Fund “Research” supported 13 JRPs (out of 47 submitted) that have been executed by joint teams of Bulgarian and Swiss researchers. In brief about the achievements: 97 researchers supported; 130 publications; more than 200 presentations at conferences.
Summarizing overviews of Bulgarian scientists about this Fund, the “Science” Directorate of the Ministry of Education and Science shared their positive opinion about the possibilities for joint work with Swiss colleagues on specific topics and as opening up new research opportunities, attracting young people for a career in science, upgrading these results with work on new projects with funding from other sources.
The participants in the discussions shared the joint view about the importance and effectiveness of the Bulgarian-Swiss Cooperation Programme for supporting projects and initiatives of civil society, partnerships and scientific researches. They have clear common understanding about the need of ongoing cooperation in these fields in the future.
First-hand experience about the project’s tangible results
The participants in the conference visited the guest house “Bozhenski Chiflik”, Gabrovo District (northern Bulgaria) and the Demonstration Center for production of cheese and yoghurt from rare breeds of the Farm “Under the Balkan” in the village of Vassil Levski, South Bulgaria. Both facilities are supported under the project “For the Balkan and the People”, executed under The Reform Fund Linked to Civil Society Participation.
In the town of Gabrovo the participants in the conference enjoyed the beautiful results of the municipal project “Floral city”, implemented in partnership with the Swiss town of Thun under the “Partnership” Fund.