ERSTE Foundation NGO Academy at a glance
The ERSTE Foundation NGO Academy has entered the third year of its existence, a good moment to look back at the initiative’s accomplishments together with our colleague Nicole Traxler, project manager:
What are the highlights of the ERSTE Foundation NGO Academy after almost two full cycles?
The ERSTE Foundation NGO Academy was founded in 2013 as a cooperation project between ERSTE Foundation and WU Vienna (Vienna University of Economics and Business). This cooperation has led to an amazing development within only two years. In the first two editions of the Social Innovation and Management Programme, we had the honor to work and learn with and from interesting and well-experienced non-profit leaders and managers from all over the Central and South-Eastern Europe. In the Regional Programme we offered 40 workshops in seven European languages and in eight CEE countries since October 2014, and until June this year there are 18 more to come. Their topics mostly focus on management capacities in areas like the creation of new management resources, project focused implementation strategies and the ability of sustaining success. Thereby, they strongly focus on local needs, as well as on offering insights into international perspectives on specific topics. Only in the programme 2014/2015 around 260 representatives of more than 90 organisations participated in workshops, which, in combination with their feedback, provided us with an overwhelming response to our work!
Another highlight is the huge variety of persons supporting and contributing to the ERSTE Foundation NGO Academy. Besides the teams of WU Vienna and ERSTE Foundation, there have been more than 100 other persons from different backgrounds involved as well. There are researchers consulting our processes and delivering workshops, practitioners sharing their experiences as guest speakers, politicians and diplomates giving their perspectives on various topics, and professionals working with the participants on specific topics. All these people form the heart of the project by being part of it and supporting the participants in their further development.
Which workshops were mostly appreciated, maybe mostly needed by the NGOs in the region?
It is hard to say which workshops were appreciated the most by participants, as this varies depending on country, working languages, and topic. However, we have become aware of the fact that in general workshops in English implemented by international academics and experts are perceived very well by participants. So our assumption is that people appreciate being challenged with new perspectives and ideas from abroad. I believe that this is a good sign, as being exposed to different ways of thinking and doing things, as well as getting out of your comfort zone by challenging your own work can lead to innovation or new local adaptions of products, services and processes.
As a basis for setting up the ERSTE Foundation NGO Academy we conducted a literature research and a field study. Both offered us insights into the various capacity building needs in the region we are operating in. It became clear that different organisations that work in different fields will have different capacity building needs at different times and at different stages of development.
The study helped us, however, to bring two areas into the focus of the ERSTE Foundation NGO Academy: human capabilities, representing skills, knowledge, and experience; and relational capabilities, like networking or sharing of information. Both are reflected in the syllabi of the programmes and each individual session or workshop.
What does the ERSTE Foundation NGO Academy bring new in the capacity building sector in CEE?
Our Academy is generally not a totally new concept. There exist various workshops and programmes in the CEE region, in Europe, and worldwide, which focus on the capabilities of non-profit organisations. Yet there are three characteristics that differentiate it from others.
First, the offer of the ERSTE Foundation NGO Academy is currently one of the most comprehensive ones in Central and South-Eastern Europe.
Secondly, we strive to offer high quality in the contents delivered and lecturers involved. To reach this goal without re-inventing the wheel, we build on existing structures. In this sense, we also work with all our international and local lecturers on the syllabi of their workshops to make sure that they meet our high standards.
And third, from the participants’ perspective, the ERSTE Foundation NGO Academy differs from other capacity building programmes as participation is offered to organisations independently of any further support or grant approval. Therefore, according to their feedback, it is easier for organisations to accept it as an offer rather than a participation forced by a donor.
There are individual organisations that participated in the Academy programmes and acquired new skills, a plus of inspiration and the necessary courage for setting up new initiatives. This is the case of the Hungarian-based Profilantrop Association, which, at the end of last year, opened a charity shop meant to contribute to the organisation’s financial resources. Of course, we cannot take all the credit for this development, the NGO was thinking about it for some time, and also had the right team, a great idea, and a good opportunity to put it into practice.
From my perspective, one very positive element is also the networking that takes place throughout both programmes. We try to facilitate the exchange among peers and now, after almost 2 years, I have the impression that there are certain connections that have developed among some organisations, which have the potential of growing further and bringing them closer.