Empowering Grassroots: How the EU’s FSTP initiative is transforming Civil Society

The EU actively supports the growth of vibrant democracies by encouraging civil society organisations (CSOs) to represent the interests of citizens. EU support was once seen as cumbersome and bureaucratic, suitable only for the largest CSOs. The EU’s Financial Support to Third Parties (FSTP) was developed as a way to reach smaller, local civil society organisations and strengthen citizens’ engagement at the grassroots level. FSTP – also called ‘sub-granting’ – simplifies access to EU funding, aiming to boost grassroots organisations’ ability to work in and with their communities.

At its core, the FSTP initiative recognises and nurtures the potential of local civil society actors. Through smaller grants and easier application processes, the EU extends its support to a wider range of organisations, regardless of their size and goals.

FSTP has opened hundreds of new opportunities for CSOs and grassroots organisations. Yet still there are basic requirements to meet to ensure that grants are well spent. These are challenges faced by most CSOs. Those who have learned to manage small grants are supporting less experienced organisations to meet these basic requirements.

The EU TACSO 3 project established the FSTP Community of Practice (CoP) as a way of boosting the collaboration and support between organisations, sharing the things they have learned, and making the overall management of FSTP more effective. Since its inception in 2022, the CoP has seen remarkable growth, now encompassing over 200 members. This thriving community provides a platform for sharing experiences, challenges, and success stories.

One of those success stories was shared by Partners Albania for Change and Development, the organisation behind establishing and managing the National Resource Centre for Civil Society in Albania. “The Grants Management Programme was launched in 2022; it draws from Partners Albania’s over two decades of profound experience managing grants ranging from small to substantial,” explained Ms Arjola Agolli, Manager of the National Resource Centre for Civil Society.

“The Grants Management and Monitoring programme was meticulously crafted to address the core needs of Civil Society Organizations in Albania engaged in sub-granting schemes or those eager or with the potential to participate in such initiatives in the future. Over four days, we delved into five comprehensive modules, covering everything from the initiation of sub-granting schemes to the financial management and the monitoring, evaluation and reporting of subgrantees’ activities. By the end of the 2023 period, we had the privilege of conducting three successful training sessions, engaging 45 dedicated CSO representatives from across the country. Remarkably, 86% of our participants were women, and 20% represented NPOs from regions beyond the capital.”

Stories from the organisations which took part in the training programme best illustrate the true impact of these capacity-building initiatives. Organisations like the Albanian Disability Rights Foundation (ADRF) have grown in their ability to effect change within their communities.

Blerta Cani Drenofci, the Executive Director of ADRF, reflected on the organisation’s participation in the “Grants Management and Monitoring”. The decision to engage in this program stemmed from ADRF’s relatively limited experience with sub-grants, which previously involved simpler monitoring and reporting due to their modest scope and specific objectives.

Blerta highlights the training’s transformative effect on their grant management practices. The programme significantly improved internal communication, staff task delegation, budget management, and tools for grant and data management. Specific modules on grant administration, compliance, documentation, visibility, and the monitoring and evaluation process were particularly influential, marking a significant shift in ADRF’s approach to grant management.

The training also played a crucial role in refining ADRF’s grant writing and implementation processes, making them more focused and realistic in terms of expected outcomes. This has led to a noticeable increase in successful grant applications and improved project outcomes over the year, attributing to the overall positive impact of the training.

Even without starting a project with sub-grants under FSTP, the training has prepared ADRF well for future projects. Blerta articulates this preparedness: “Although ADRF has yet to implement a project involving sub-grants, the training has equipped them with the necessary knowledge and tools to manage financial support for third parties more effectively. It has prepared the organisation for future sub-granting initiatives by enhancing their ability to research funding opportunities, identify support organisations, assess funding needs accurately, and develop effective grant administration strategies.”

In conclusion, by providing accessible funding, enhancing organisational capacities, and fostering a community of practice, the FSTP is laying the groundwork for a more inclusive and participatory civil society landscape. As we move forward, it will be crucial to continue refining these efforts, ensuring that support reaches the most impactful projects and that lessons learned are shared widely to amplify the initiative’s positive effects.

The EU TACSO Community of Practice will continue to play an essential role in this process, facilitating ongoing dialogue, collaboration, and the exchange of best practices among civil society organisations. Through collaboration, innovation, and a steadfast commitment to enhancing civil society, the FSTP initiative not only supports the growth of CSOs but also contributes to the strengthening of democratic governance and community development across diverse political contexts.