The idea we are proposing here is something that we have experiences and learnt first hand. It bridges different approaches, different goals, and challenges established paradigms of how to work with local civil societies and local communities.
Probably you are all familiar with what is going on in Syria, but in the same time not entirely sure what is exactly happening there. It is indeed very complex, gloomy, and seems endless. As we do not have the choice of giving up, we are still trying to make things better. The idea we have is one of these attempts. We are going to explain what our idea is, but we have to explain the context first so the how and the why makes sense!
The Context of Syrian Conflict - as brief as possible:
Our first attempts to bring about change in Syria was in March 2011, where we took to the streets, and wanted to change the regime, bring democracy, protect human rights and dignities, and make everything better. Before the current Assad present another Assad, his father, has brutalized the country for over 30 years. The fools we were, we thought that this will happen after few months of protests and strikes. The Assad regime utilized all its military brutality to ensure that nothing changes. Regime's escalation led to escalation on many other fronts, leading to a full fledged war in the country. Add to the mix regional powers with different conflicting interests, and different variations of Qaida and like-minded groups. Soon our focus on our vision and values were getting lost in the war. The need to maintain them was, and still is, crucial.
Context of Syrian Civil Society Organisations:
Within this context many Syrian activists have got together and formed groups and networks to coordinate their work. These groups later became established and now are at the forefront of delivery of support and services to Syrian communities. Staff of these organisations work in the most extreme conditions, with increasing limited resources.
The work they do varies from delivering humanitarian aid, medical aid, community centres, education, women empowerment, documentations of war crimes, advocacy, media, etc. The people that work in them are activist, humanitarian workers, doctors, teachers, and people coming from all different walks of life.
So, what we are talking about here is an extremely complicated situation in which civil society groups, with limited experience in this field, are holding on to their hopes in building a better country and finding the means to achieve that. Let's list here some of the challenges that we face on a daily basis:
- Syrian CSOs and people that work in them are new in this field. They often are in desperate need of technical capacity and support to do their work. International NGOs, companies and other implements
- Syrian CSOs and activists do not have the same access established INGOs do to donors and resources, and they do not have in places the organisational structure that can help them with such access. This organisational structure is now better established among Syrian CSOs that have set themselves up earlier on in the conflict, but for new emerging initiatives, their ability to receive support is very minimal
- Syrian CSOs are faced with an extremely complicated political scene, to which they have to respond and react. It is very difficult to get to an agreement on a reading of the situation and the needed reaction. Most of the internationals that work on negotiations and mediation focus on getting political actors, but no one is working on getting the civil society together.
- Syrian CSOs have a vision for the future of the country and its people, but in the hostile political sphere, their lack of coherence and coordination is only weakening them. Conflicting views and stands shadows their values and vision for the future.
In a sense, as Syrian organisations and activists are the last holders of our Syrian cause, the vision of restoring human rights and democracy. We operate in an extremely difficult context. What is needed is to find ways to empower and mobilise this role. And this is what we are trying to do. Nothing in the "market" is working on this, and the need to have approaches that provides solutions for this gap is dire.
Here are some paradigms that we are going to bridge, with a brief description of how they usually look like. On their own, and using this typical approach, they are not achieving their intended purpose any more.
- Organisational development: usually focuses on short term training, workshops and the five-day long consultancies, with generic audience and covering generic topics. Their relevance to our needs is vague, to say the least.
- Grants provision and management: usually involves a focus on finance and procurement processes, and fails to provide needed support to grantees.
- Gender or mainstreaming: mostly a box-ticking exercise, again with little relevance or involvement of Syrian CSOs.
- Coalition building: no one is working on this!
These approaches are usually presented in separate packages, executed by different implementer, bearing no connection to the end goal and the future vision of our country.
What is needed is not a fund-focused quick-fix approach that was designed in some HQ that has little knowledge of the Syrian context. We need to break down the demarcations of these different programs in a way that is truly meaningful to Syrian CSOs and Syrian communities.
How We are Going to Bridge these Approaches Together:
What we are proposing here is a coalition builder and incubator model that addresses all the challenges noted above, using an approach that is built from within. In fact, the only way for it to work is to be merging from within.
The different component:
(Bridging Syrian CSOs together, and aggregating their influence)
We came together, like-minded CSOs that have shared values, because we believe that we can empower each other and be stronger together.
- The coalition of CSOs is governed by its constituents, and is staffed by a team that executes the strategy of its governing body.
- We work together on advocacy and campaigning, exchanging information and views on changes on the ground, and aligning our messages and statements.
- We share information, resources, and support the coalition's ability to deliver services to all members
- And, most importantly, we build confidence and trust between different organisations and bridge the gaps between them.
(The strong Syrian CSOs that are known for their knowledge, practice, and credibility of Values)
First, to strengthen our organizations we have elaborated on an organizational development approach that responds to our needs, and reflects our capacities. We got rid of the typical workshop-based approach, and hired advisors that are capable of providing continuous excellent organizational development support, including ongoing coaching and mentorship, to all the member organisations in the coalition. The coalition finds the resources for this support, and delivers it to member organisations.
Two essential elements here are "trust" and "ownership". Given the member organisations have themselves formed the coalition, this makes them feel an ownership to its programs, and thus gets them more involved and interested in its work. Moreover, the advisors that
Single organisations cannot afford this kind of continuos support, but the economic logic of the coalition makes this support feasible. We are currently providing to our member organisations organisational development support in Finance, HR and program development and management.
Second, to ensure that our organizations reflect the future we aspire to, we give high importance to "value-mainstreaming". That is, we make our shared values within the coalition central to everything we do; to our policies, and procedures, to the different phases of our projects, to our communication, identity and culture.
Thus, we will become known and effective as the CSOs that have adopted and practiced their future vision and values. This will add to our credibility and our capacity to have an impact on the future of the country
The Incubator Model:
(Linking our impact to the lives of communities we work with)
The last step is to link the impact that we are doing with the communities that we are working with. We aim to do this by incubating nascent civil society and Community Initiatives (CIs) that share our values through small grants and mentorship.
Through this we will replicate the work that has been done with coalition members in new emerging initiatives. Organisations that are member in our coalition will leverage their networks inside Syria to identify promising initiatives on the community level. A suitable model will be developed to support these initiatives to have a lasting impact within the community. This model will entail provision of mechanisms and structures to receive funding, will aim to mainstream shared values, and will ensure a good understanding and adoption of the coalition's brand.
By supporting Community Initiatives, and replicating the support model, we will further our impact and bridge a strong relationship between the communities we serve and our values.
Our conclusion - Why you should support us:
The approach outlined above merges different approaches, with various components all working together to ensure one single goal; improving the lives of the communities that we work with, keeping in mind at all time not only immediate needs, but also long term values and vision.
We have been working on and developing this approach for the past year, looking at different ways to bring Syrian civil society together, and bring civil society's vision and values closer to the people and communities and their lives. We have piloted some components of this approach, and are in the process of finding support for the rest. We are confident of the viability of our approach, and of our ability to scale it up through incubating nascent community initiatives.