What Civil Society in Central and Eastern Europe Needs Now

Radka Bystricka is Executive Director of Sdružení VIA, a Czech nonprofit that helps Czech NGOs with digitalization and technology and provides them with tools and knowledge needed to successfully function in the digital world.

On March 24, TechSoup Global Network representatives Radu Motoc from Asociatia Techsoup in Romania and Anna Sienicka from Fundacja TechSoup in Poland joined me to talk about the refugee crisis in our countries and the war in Ukraine. As TechSoup, we primarily serve nonprofits, so many of the thoughts shared were connected to the needs of the NGOs.

Here are 3 learnings that stuck with me the most:

1. Rapid operational growth

The number of refugees coming to our countries pushed a lot of NGOs into growing very quickly, many of them doubling, tripling the number of employees and collaborators — that is a huge stretch on their current processes and very likely a lot of them will struggle with the new operational reality. It is also a stress on their technological resources. Furthermore, many organizations are shifting their activities toward helping refugees. Again — that is a stress on their operations, here connected with the necessity of learning new areas of expertise.

In the next several months it will be critical to focus on capacity building.

My message to funders: please be open to supporting building internal infrastructure, getting consultations, doing process audits, investing in support staff, HR, and the back office. Support investments in technology. There is a lack of resources available for NGOs to be used on these kinds of things.

2. Decline in the number of volunteers

Let’s be honest, within a few weeks people will get bored with helping, it always happens. Remember COVID. The huge number of volunteers we see now will disappear. At the same time, these volunteers are in many cases compensating for inefficient processes. This is closely connected to my first point and similar remedies will be needed.

As a tech person I see another way to help: automation. This is a rather unexplored topic in the NGO sector (at least here in Czechia) and I believe it can help relieve a lot of work that is done manually at the moment. Obviously, automation cannot fully replace volunteers and missing staff, the human touch is still needed especially when working with refugees. But the room for saving some of the capacities is certainly there.

3. Disinformation will be affecting the work of NGOs helping refugees

It is a standard scenario — first comes the anti-refugee rhetoric trying to undermine our compassion for them. The next step will be attacks on nonprofits providing any sort of help. We will hear the usual stories about mishandling funds, abusing donations, nonprofits draining public resources and “help our own” narratives. It is slowly beginning already, but in a month, once the will to help lessens and volunteers disappear it will come in full force making already the hard work of the NGOs even harder. The goal is obvious — to make you doubt your support.

Please, do not let these narratives affect your willingness to help and support NGOs in the time they need it most.

I hope you find this helpful for the way you think about supporting those who help. I would love to know your thoughts! Feel free to comment in the space below. And I invite you to watch the full discussion:

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