IMPROVING THE CAPACITY OF CYPRIOT NGOS TO PLAN AND MANAGE BICOMMUNAL PROGRAMS
Over the past decade, numerous conflict resolution and related training workshop opportunities have enabled about 20,000 Greek and Turkish Cypriots to develop close and friendly interactions (about 10,000 participants from each community). This may explain why so many thousands of people (especially in the North – where a relatively higher proportion of the population benefited from these training opportunities) have demonstrated such an impressive degree of maturity, responsibility, kindness and friendship towards their fellow Cypriots from the other side of the Green Line. The experiences that Cypriots had during the first few days of the opening of the Gates will always be dominated by extraordinary memories of people embracing each other, handing over photographs and personal objects that they had saved for 30 years, and sincere expressions of caring human behavior. Was this behavior simply an outburst of suppressed positive feelings among Cypriot compatriots, or the result of the initiatives of peace groups that prepared the ground for this day?
Over the past decade, primarily because of many citizens’ desire to become actively part of a solution, and partly in response to the availability of grant funding to support bicommunal programs from donor agencies, NGOs in Cyprus have blossomed. However, most do not have professional staff, relying on volunteer labor and the leadership of a small group of very committed senior peace builders and volunteer professionals. While a handful have begun to diversify their sources of funds to include donations from local businesses or wealthy individuals, most rely on short-term small grants (usually one year) from UNOPS, the U.S. Embassy and the EU. These grants typically cover basic project expenses with little operational support. While this support has been critical, it has also led to a proliferation of short-term training projects (many of which lack any structures for follow-up) and other ad-hoc projects.
Individually, these projects have been successful in advancing bicommunal relations; however, collectively they are most often neither sustained, or part of a longer-term strategy for integration and equitable development of the two communities on the island. Often, just as a project has built momentum, the funding cycle comes to an end and key people (especially young professionals) must be let go.
Given the change in climate over the past year, what is the responsibility of the peace movement now, and how will the work of the next generation of peace builders and others interested in reconciliation and cooperation be sustained? The answer lies in whether the movement and its supporters in the donor community can create programs that are able to deal with issues of peace and reconciliation in more durable and efficient ways. Only strong and well-managed NGOs will be able to respond effectively to the present and future challenges to peace, reconciliation and bicommunal cooperation in Cyprus.
First, well-organized NGOs that have proven their capability in project management and facilitation have the responsibility to deliver more applied conflict resolution courses and mediation services to a broader base of Cypriots. To do so, it will be necessary to tie together the network of peace builders, senior trainers and young professionals that has already been created, and to ensure that these courses and services are accessible in several locations throughout the island.
Second, it is necessary to build the capabilities of more NGOs, especially those in Northern Cyprus, and to support new structures that will create synergies between projects throughout the island. Such synergies will promote more active learning from previous achievements as well as challenges and failures, and will also serve to evolve the next generation of bicommunal programs. To achieve this, NGOs need operational support to enhance their project management and planning skills and infrastructure, to retain dedicated and well-qualified people, to learn and network and to launch new, innovative programs.