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Taking stock of Greek NGOs

By Ioanna Fotiadi

European citizens are more likely to turn to nongovernmental organizations than political parties, their government or the media when they want to address social issues. Greeks, on the other hand, are still rather skeptical toward NGOs, studies show.

“The lack of rules on NGO funding, the fierce competition between them for funds and negative publicity have all helped create a climate of mistrust in Greece,” Asteris Houliaras, professor of comparative politics and international relations at the University of the Peloponnese, told Kathimerini.

Houliaras is in charge of a group of university experts from across the country who are working to create a record of all the NGOs operating in Greece and evaluate them. The project, which is funded by the European Union’s Thales program, is aimed at restoring the credibility of non-state organizations in the eyes of citizens.

State funds have shrunk as a result of the financial crisis. However, there are European funds which often remain untapped simply due to the lack of proposals on Greece’s part. “However, despite falling revenues, the subsidies from big businesses are on the rise. Meanwhile, charity organizations have stepped up their philanthropic work,” Houliaras said.

Meanwhile, it was only natural that NGOs stepped in to ease the repercussions of the economic crisis. “After all, thanks to their international experience, they know the needs of society better than anyone else and at the same time implement their work at a smaller operational cost.”

To be sure, the operation of NGOs in Greece has not been without controversy. The absence of a clear legislative framework does not help much either. “Private donors are not rewarded with substantial tax breaks as is the case abroad,” Houliaras said. Also, he added, there is no regulator.

“We have studied evaluation methods that have been implemented in the US and Britain since the 1980s,” said the manager of the project, Sotiris Petropoulos. “These countries have a long tradition in the culture of assessment, which is relatively unknown here,” he said.

The main priority of the Greek scientists is to create a record of all the organizations out there. There was no single list including all Greek NGOs, so the experts turned to each ministry separately. The data were often a mess because groups are not obliged to notify ministries when they cease operations. Active NGOs are currently estimated at between 850 and 900. Most of them deal with environment protection, social welfare and human rights.

The evaluation process is expected to begin by May. Experts will start with quantitative data such as published financial statements, the number of salaried staff and people who benefit from the various programs, the administrative structure, the locations and timing of their activities.

The recent case of the de-mining NGO has increased the call for more scrutiny of funding procedures and the experts hope to work together with the organizations. The procedure is expected to be completed by next January. “The landscape will gradually change,” Houliaras said, adding that the rationalism of the new generation will hopefully enrich the idealism and zeal of the older one.

ekathimerini.com , Wednesday February 19, 2014 (12:27)  
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