Margaret Swink

Margaret Swink (Dzeno Association, Czech Republic): Originally from Michigan, Margaret received her B.A. in international relations from Michigan State in 2000. Seeking a warmer climate, she joined the Peace Corps and spent the next two years teaching English and building a library in Cameroon. At the time of her fellowship, Margaret was finishing her first year of her Master’s program in International Relations at Yale University with a concentration in comparative foreign policy and human rights.

Show me the money…

24 Jun

I hate writing grant applications. They always ask the same questions over, and over, and over until you feel like you are writing the same sentence 20 times. I realize that grants are one of the few ways we have to distribute money fairly, but all the same, I think the system sucks.

I have been working on fundraising all week for Dzeno. Like most smaller NGOs, this is one of their greatest needs. As it is, they do amazing things on a shoestring budget, but there are still major improvements needed. The computers are old, and lack some pretty basic software; the copier is temperamental; the fax machine is downright ancient; don’t even get me started on the difficulty of making a phone call; and I’m not too impressed by the communist idea of a comfortable chair either. Those are just the physical….the project needs are even more drastic. Currently, most of their funding comes from the government. For a media organization, this is unbearably restrictive; they’ve already had one of their major publications, a youth magazine called Amaro Gendalos, terminated because the government thought it too political.

Unfortunately, outside funding for Roma causes seems to be incredibly limited. Unlike many other ethnic groups, Roma are almost universally poor; there is no foreign rich diaspora to whom one can appeal. In addition, Roma have the misfortune to be located in Europe, one of the world’s richest continents. This creates the perception among outside funders that they don’t need help, or that if they do, it should be the EU who provides the money. While US foundations are off saving the Tsunami victims and feeding starving refugee children in Sudan (both worthy causes, don’t get me wrong), Europe shirks her own responsibilities at home. No one really seems to be advocating for this stateless minority in dire need of help, and certainly, no one really wants to give them money.

Ok, ok…there is some money. What about Soros, you ask? How about the World Bank? Or national embassies? The problem with the majority of these funds are that they are incredibly drawn to the new, creative projects. As with funders the world over, no one wants to fund salaries (how unsustainable!) or new phone systems (how mundane!). Foundations have their own profiles to think about….they want to be funding the cutting edge, they don’t want to fund the same organizations every year.

So where does this leave Dzeno? They don’t have the staff to start new projects; everyone here works insane hours at pitiful pay to produce what they’re producing now. Even if they had the time to write grant proposals for new projects, the money that accompanied them would still not be enough to support the rest of the underfunded projects that they do now. The silly Czech limitations on internet sales means that they can’t sell CDs or books online to an international market, and it’s even difficult for them to ask for donations on their website, as they can’t accept credit cards. What they really need is a steady source of support for their regular activities that will preserve their freedom of speech.

So here I am, supposedly the answer to all this, writing grants for new equipment, and maybe a grant to fund a full-time development officer for a year. But the whole thing makes me angry. I know that for every 10 grants I write, (if I even get around to writing that many) they will probably only receive funding for one. And when I leave, their ability to write grants will be halved, both by time, and because most grants must be written in English. This organization is providing great services to an extremely needy community. They are efficient with very little overhead. By all rights, people should be begging to fund them. It’s depressing to think that there are so many organizations out there just like Dzeno, worthy causes, incredible people and no funding. There has to be a better way to do this.

So, anyone out there have a rich uncle?

Posted By Margaret Swink

Posted Jun 24th, 2005

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