Cablegate: Mepi Lessons Learned 4: Small Grants - the Secret

Published: Thu 20 Sep 2007 09:05 AM
DE RUEHTU #1280/01 2630905
P 200905Z SEP 07
E.O. 12958: N/A
REF: A. TUNIS 1259
B. TUNIS 1263
C. TUNIS 1273
Sensitive But Unclassified. Handle Accordingly.
1. (SBU) The MEPI Small Grants program is a highly effective
tool for promoting democratic reform from the ground up in
the Arab world. Small Grants allow us to respond quickly to
opportunities as they emerge, have an immediate impact at the
grassroots level, and link up with groups the USG often
hasn't worked with in the past, thereby building
relationships among the local reform community. Small Grants
have effectively been used as pilot projects, testing both
the capacity of organizations and the viability of certain
activities. While this endeavor demands a fair amount of
care and feeding from posts and the Regional Office, Small
Grants consistently deliver a large bang for the buck. End
2. (U) This is the final cable in a series of four by the
MEPI Regional Office in Tunis, based on three years of
supporting MEPI activities from Morocco to Lebanon. The
other cables are:
-- Overview (ref a)
-- Addressing the Challenges (ref b)
-- Diplomacy (ref c)
3. (SBU) Launched shortly after MEPI's creation in 2002, The
Small Grants program was designed specifically to work with
the "little guys" - local groups that wish to instigate
change in their societies, but are often overlooked or unable
to compete with larger organizations for funding
opportunities. With local organizations identifying reform
opportunities and proposing activities to address them, Small
Grants are a true example of the USG responding to
grass-roots demand for reform. At their best, Small Grants
are extremely cost-effective, quick to start-up and flexible
in implementation, as the grantee is operating on his/her
home turf.
4. (SBU) Adapted to local conditions, many of grant
recipients have employed innovative approaches to produce
significant results. In Morocco, a theater group staged a
series of plays designed to teach illiterate women and men
about their rights under the country's new family code. In
Egypt, a dynamic new NGO frustrated by corporate corruption
created a project in which they reviewed major corporations'
public records and became minimum shareholders in the
companies - allowing them to attended assembly meetings.
They questioned financial irregularities at those meetings
and in the media, raising overall public awareness about
corruption. A youth center in southern Lebanon ran
"democracy in action" programs, including volunteerism,
advocacy campaigns, and media training as alternative
activities for teenagers living in Hizbollah-dominated areas.
5. (SBU) We have been able to use Small Grants as pilot
projects in a number of cases to judge either the capacity of
a specific NGO or the potential for making progress in a
specific area of reform. As a result, a number of Small
Grantees have received larger follow-on grants, either from
MEPI or USAID to expand the scope and reach of their
activities. Small Grants have also been an effective
outreach tool, expanding posts' and MEPI's contact base. In
2006, MEPI held a conference in Alexandria, Egypt, bringing
together many of the NGOs that had received Small Grants so
they could learn from each other, exchange ideas, and further
develop their civic engagement skills. Earlier this year,
MEPI launched its Alumni Network, which formally links Small
Grants recipients and other participants in MEPI programs
across the region.
6. (SBU) For all their benefits, Small Grants can be labor
intensive. Early on, it became clear that the program would
require both considerable outreach efforts to attract
proposals from a broad range of reform-oriented groups, as
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well as hand-holding and oversight during the project
development and implementation stages, given the generally
weak capacity of NGOs across the region. To address these
factors, management of the Small Grants program was moved in
2004 from NEA/PI to the MEPI Regional Offices (ROs) in Tunis
and Abu Dhabi. Since then, the RO in Tunis alone has
provided more than 75 Small Grants for over $2.5 million to
individuals and organizations in its eight-post area of
coverage. The RO in Abu Dhabi has had similar results during
this same period.
7. (SBU) The success of the Small Grants program depends
first and foremost on posts, who are most familiar with local
civil society and the feasibility of proposed projects in
their host country. Country Democracy Strategies have been
extremely useful as a means of prioritizing which Small Grant
proposals to pursue. Once post MEPI Committees approve an
application, they submit them to the RO, which reviews them
programatically - to ensure that they meet MEPI's reform
criteria - and financially - to ensure expenses are
appropriate and allowable. Small Grants funds are expended
on a rolling "first-come, first-served" basis. Thus, posts
can submit their approved proposals to the RO throughout the
8. (SBU) Collaboration between the RO and MEPI Committees at
each post has led to a much more streamlined process. A key
reason for the improvement in overall quality of small grants
in the last two years has been the involvement of the RO and
posts in refining projects, once they have agreed in
principle to fund them. By reaching out directly to an
organization to adjust activities and clarify budget and
other management issues, we often are able to broaden the
reach and increase the reform impact of the overall project.
In Algeria, for example, a local group proposed a program to
advance the issue of women's representation in parliament.
Working with this group, the RO and post were able to expand
the idea, with the NGO getting Algeria's key political
parties to take positions not only on parliamentary quotas
but on a much wider range of women's issues. The NGO then
broadcast the parties' positions ahead of Algeria's elections
this summer, so that voters would have concrete reasons to
back a given candidate. When a Tunisian organization
proposed a program for journalism professors to visit the
United States to learn about running a campus newspaper, we
bolstered this project considerably by including professors,
as well as students, from both countries in an exchange
9. (U) Brief descriptions of these and all other Small Grants
can be found on the RO Tunis website
( under "Small Grants
Abstracts." The RO encourages potential grantees and posts
to review these abstracts for project ideas. The RO is also
in the process of publishing a guidebook designed to help
NGOs determine if the mission of their organization is
appropriate for MEPI funding and, if so, how to apply for a
Small Grant. A second guidebook will assist those NGOs that
have already received Small Grants to properly run their
10. (SBU) While the MEPI Small Grants program has been
successful in enlarging our contact base of reformers, the
majority of grantees are still located in capitals. Posts
and the RO need to find ways to reach new organizations,
especially in the outlying regions of the country, if this
network of reformers is to continue expanding. Secondly, an
effort needs to be made at better monitoring projects. With
so much effort going into finding groups and helping them
shape their activities, these groups are sometimes neglected
during the most crucial stage - after they receive USG funds
and are implementing the project. RO staff make an effort
when traveling to meet all Small Grant recipients, but we
must depend on posts to make periodic site visits to ensure
that organizations are adhering to the terms of their grants
and to judge whether the project is having the desired
impact. In most cases, the NGOs are extremely receptive to
these visits, as they want t show off what they have
11. (SBU) A third area for improvement concerns our local
partners. Working at the ground level has demonstrated just
how weak civil organizations are in many of the countries of
the Middle East and North Africa. Individuals and groups
need instruction in such basic elements as how to organize
TUNIS 00001280 003 OF 003
and run their operations, how to handle finances, and how to
develop projects that will have maximum impact. Even in
those countries where civil society is relatively more
developed, most NGOs we have worked with could benefit from
training in leadership, advocacy, and communication skills.
Recognizing that a full-blown effort to address these issues
exceeds MEPI's capacity, we may wish to consider developing a
program that would provide these skills to targeted local
partners who have proven their commitment to reform and their
potential for making significant contributions in their
So What?
12. (SBU) In our overview cable (ref a), we listed as
significant MEPI achievements:
-- Establishing a relationship of trust with a network of
reformers in the region.
-- Instilling an understanding of the policy/program nexus
within the Department, and motivating posts to work both the
diplomatic and civil society angles of it.
-- Creating an effective and rapid mechanism for identifying
reform opportunities and responding with programs, sometimes
within a matter of weeks.
Small Grants have been vital to each of those
accomplishments. Posts are now able to reach out to and
support in concrete ways groups committed to building a more
democratic society in their country. The
actions of those reformers advance our policy objectives and
our growing relationship with them is an
investment in our long-term interests in the region.
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