NGO Coalition Addresses the Challenges of Civil Society
Advocacy is an approach used by the citizens of a democratic country to protect and advance their common interests. Nowadays, Georgia can claim some success in its development of active civil society organizations (CSOs), a diverse media and independent courts; however, even the most successful civil and state organizations have yet to find effective ways to draw on wide and active public participation.
The USAID-funded Citizens Advocate! Program (CAP) is one of the new projects, which would try to build the operational bridges between the CSOs and the larger public, increase public awareness about the advocacy issues.
USAID, two US and six Georgian CSOs developed CAP jointly, as a response to what they all perceive as current needs of the civil development in Georgia. The authors of the project claim that if "there is an issue of concern to a part of the citizenry, ways should be found to make the appropriate governmental bodies aware of these concerns. Citizens and decision makers should find ways to exchange information about the problem and to find suitable solutions to the issue."
Advocacy Steering Committee (ASC) is established to guide the program. The members of the ASC are: Save the Children US/Georgia Field Office, "Partners-Georgia", United Nations Association of Georgia (UNAG), Public Information Center "Alternative" (PICA), Center for Strategic Research and Development of Georgia (CSRDG), Caucasian Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development (CIPDD) and Georgian Business Law Center (GBLC). The International Center for Non-Profit Law also participates in the legislative component of CAP.
The task of ASC is to further develop the national CSOs so that they can conduct issue-based advocacy campaigns, and we will support several of these campaigns. "This is the project created for the society, which is implemented by CSOs"- Eka Datuashvili from Center for Strategic Research and Development says.
The grant program, available for the coalitions of the national CSOs will attempt to foster sharing of experience between the organizationally more mature members of the coalitions and their less developed peer organizations. We encourage coalitions of Tbilisi-based CSOs and with partner CSOs in the regions of Georgia. CAP will offer technical assistance to the coalition members via advanced training in advocacy techniques and through tailored technical assistance over the life of the advocacy grants.
In addition to supporting advocacy, CAP will spearhead activities to enhance the role of CSOs in Georgia, and will advocate on behalf of CSOs to legislators and the general public. "There is the need to demonstrate to the public that they can help citizens to play a role in a public decision- making"- Patrick Grump, Chief of Party for the CAP says.
Along with these activities, CAP will conduct informational campaigns and discussion fora, and will draft and lobby for improved non-profit legislation. It will also cooperate actively with governmental bodies, and constructively raise the problems of CSOs and the broader citizenry to decision-makers.
"This program is designed to advance the architecture of Georgian CSO sector for helping general citizenry"- Patrick Crump says. Thus, CAP will also guide a participatory process to amongst CSOs to agree on self-regulation mechanisms for the sector, which will take the form of a Code of Ethics and recommendations for civil society development policy in Georgia.
Within the scopes of the program the ASC already held several meetings with regional CSO at the same time conducting their assessment. "Meetings with regional CSOs granted the program more optimism. It will be successful and can accomplish the original objectives" -- Patrick Crump believes.
In some places the program can only demonstrate what is possible in terms of the citizen participation due to limited time resources and other objective problems. However the starting of the event is already a step forward in terms of the increasing citizen awareness about the advocacy as a tool for advancing the common interests.
Georgian CSOs participating in ASC say they believe in their potential to guide the CAP during its three-year implementation and beyond. Ramaz Aptsiauri of UN Association says this belief is reinforced by the fact that the Georgian NGOs participating in the project started to work as a coalition well before the CAP was conceived.
"This coalition is not based on the single project, but rather considers long-lasting relationship. The members of the coalition have the similar vision of the problems creating the confidence of the further cooperation and collaboration in the frames of the group" Eka Datuashvili agrees.
The project is just starting its activities and invites all interested parties to participate in the challenging process of making the Georgian civil society organizations more developed and relevant to the public concerns. The leaders of the CAP believe only committed participation and open communication from the stakeholders can make this project a lasting success.
By Julie Giorgadze, CAP Information Officer