In 2006 we turned 15 years old! One and a half decades is quite a long time – especially in the life of a civic organization. And though we have changed, our mission has remained the same: the predecessor of HEPF, the Partnership Program of the Foundation for Self-reliance, started working in 1991 with the aim to strengthen the newly-forming environmental movement; it did this through grants, trainings and technical assistance. Ever since that time, HEPF’s goal has been dual. It has striven to provide effective support to the development of democracy, active citizenship and community organizing, and it has furthermore worked to increase the presence of environmental consciousness and “green” thinking. These efforts are reflected in the 1,385 proposals supported and the $2,534,525 distributed. Our work received further recognition three and a half years ago, when the Trust for Civil Society in Central and Eastern Europe contracted us for the task of enhancing the legal environment of civil society in Hungary (in this report we also provide an in-depth overview of this work). However, in spite of all the successes, we still cannot say that our mission is completed. In many respects, developing democracy and enhancing environmental awareness is more important than ever.
We believe that there will always be a need for small, but flexible and “user-friendly” supporters like HEPF. For many reasons, which are discussed at length elsewhere, civil society (including environmentalists) can never be financed entirely from EU and state sources – and as a matter of fact, this is for the best. It would not be right if NGOs became “extended arms” of the government and only fulfilled tasks assigned by the state. In doing so, they would give up a core element of their mission. They would be much less able to practice public control over decision-makers and authorities, and much less able to promote active citizenship and community self-organization. However, it is hard for these organizations to remain consistently appealing to potential donors’ ever-fluctuating expectations. Yet civic movements cannot exist without the material and intellectual support of both the local and wider community. At the same time, how can a potential donor choose between the many pressing issues and the many organizations seeking support? What is the guarantee that a donation will really serve the aim of its giver? With 15 years of experience, HEPF is offering anyone who is facing this dilemma a professional grantmaking system. Through means of this system, grants are distributed in the most transparent and effective way and are given to those organizations that will make the best use of the support.
Presently, there is an increasing tendency towards the weakening of environmental institutions and the devaluation of environmental principles and values. This happens particularly often when green interests are in conflict with established investment or infrastructural interests – though many examples prove that neglecting environmental issues adversely impacts the economy as well. By ignoring the opinion of local communities, decision-makers are not only ignoring the principle that “two heads are better than one” but they are also ensuring that they will have to contend with long-term social resistance.
These trends have made us rethink the priorities we set for our small grant program: from this year onwards we will favor organizations that play a watchdog role, projects that advocate environmental concerns, and activities that aim to resolve local conflicts in concrete ways. Besides these, we are continuously striving to find funding for diverse environmental and conservation activities.
At the beginning of November, we celebrated our 15th anniversary with many old and new friends, supporters and grantees. The feast was an opportunity to assess the past, present and prospective situation of HEPF, as well as that of Hungarian civil society as a whole. Though we can’t see into the future, it is clear that HEPF – just like the whole civil sector – will face broad and sweeping changes and we can only hope that the self-confident and optimistic atmosphere of our birthday party will be the foundation of our forthcoming years as well!