At Stars, we recognise and celebrate strong local civil society organisations working to improve the lives of underserved children across the globe. Recognition comes through our Awards programmes in the form of a comprehensive Awards package which includes both flexible funding and capacity building support.
Flexible funding is important because it allows organisations to decide for themselves where the funding should go, and means they are not expected to achieve specific programmatic outcomes that may be led more by the donor's interest than by what is right, and sometimes crucial, for the organisation. In addition to funding, capacity building support aims to build the long-term resilience of Awardees and strengthen their ability to achieve their vision, mission and objectives.
In June last year, I attended a conference in Berlin entitled The Changing Space for Civil Society. As you can read in my blog, I was reminded of the importance of investing in skills-building and organisational support in a context where more and more restrictions are being placed on civil society actors, threatening their resilience and sustainability in the long term.
Our capacity building support focuses on the development and strengthening of key organisational areas such as human resources, financial management, and monitoring and evaluation.
Capacity building is a recent addition to our Impact Awards programme. The previous ‘consultancy’ element of the Impact Award package offered organisations the opportunity to hire a consultant or attend training to help them address bespoke organisational needs.
However, over the years Awardees found it difficult to maximise this element of the Award package, as finding the time to prioritise organisational needs and identifying the right consultant was sometimes a challenge. Awardees were also requesting more involvement from Stars in the allocation and delivery of these funds, which we were struggling to provide.
We were also keen to explore ways of getting our pool of Awardees together after the awards week, creating opportunities for sharing and learning and encouraging the replication of best practice in our regions of focus. Awardees themselves fed this back to us through the independent assessment we conducted in 2014, and we felt it was time to give this some proper consideration.
Following serious consideration internally at Stars, we decided that from 2016 onwards capacity building support for the Impact Awards will be in the form of:
Throughout the month of March 2016, and for the first time, Stars will be piloting regional capacity building workshops in Bogota (Colombia), Puerto Galera (Philippines) and Amman (Jordan). Workshops will take place over a period of three days, and will be held in locations where at least one out of our eight regional Award winners is based.
Two members per organisation will be attending the workshops to ensure learning is then shared more widely across the team back home.
In addition to the workshops themselves, Awardees will get the opportunity to be hosted by a fellow Awardee for an exchange visit, offering the chance to see first-hand the work of a peer and creating a platform to discuss common challenges and successes.
The workshops will be focusing on the following themes: fundraising, income generation, human resources and child protection. These themes were prioritised by the Awardees themselves through the Stars self-assessment tool and as a group when they came together to receive their Award in December 2015. Since then, the Stars team has been working hard to find the right delivery partners for the workshops, with relevant expertise and understanding of the regional contexts.
Building on organisational needs
Unsurprisingly, fundraising and long-term sustainability have been prioritised across all three of our Impact Award regions. Identifying new sources of income and diversifying funding streams to avoid over-dependency on a particular donor are on-going challenges for civil society organisations, particularly in regions or countries where donors are pulling out altogether.
Looking back at how the majority of our Impact Award winners have used their consultancy funding over the period 2007-2014, fundraising was the strongest area of focus, with approximately half the Award winners using the totality or part of their consultancy funding to strengthen their fundraising capacity.
Almost a third of organisations directed the funds towards a strategic review and developing a strategic plan, with external consultants helping to facilitate these activities. Just under a third of organisations used part of their funding to develop their monitoring and evaluation or to strengthen their human resources policies, systems and processes.