University hosts bootcamp to support new NGOs

Thursday, October 22, 2015 - 4:43pm

For four days this week, thousands of miles away, the University took the international stage in Slovakia.

The Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies and the William Davidson Institute at the University partnered together to sponsor a bootcamp in Bratislava, Slovakia, on leadership for non-governmental organizations. From Oct. 20 to Oct. 23, the program welcomed participants from 20 NGOs in countries transitioning to democracy.

Rachel Brichta, Weiser Center communications specialist, said the partnership demonstrated how units across campus can have interdisciplinary missions.

“Both of our missions have strengthening democracy and civil society at our core, and so the fact that we’re able to work together and then find a partner overseas to do this together really shows that Michigan has so much to offer and these kinds of partnerships can really make an impact in the world,” Brichta said.

The William Davidson Institute and the Pontis Foundation, an NGO in Slovakia, provided instructors to train participants with the goal of improving the managerial capacity of the organizations. Activities and workshops targeted five different areas: advocacy and public policy building, management, marketing strategies, planning and sustainability, and communication and negotiation.

“Many NGOs have a clear idea of what they want to achieve, but sometimes it’s far more difficult to figure out how to achieve,” Political Science Prof. Anna Grzymala-Busse, Weiser Center program director, wrote in an e-mail to The Michigan Daily. “This workshop will provide training in ... government relations, publicity and writing grants — the nitty-gritty details that are often pretty prosaic but can make or break an NGO.”

The NGOs in attendance traveled from 12 different countries for the bootcamp. According to Grzymala-Busse, some are based in authoritarian societies, while others are in newly emergent democracies.

However, they all share similar challenges stemming from skeptical government officials and legal limitations.

Due to the harsh political climate in several of these countries, the names of specific participants and NGOs are not being released, only the attendees’ countries. Groups from Albania, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Tunisia and Ukraine participated in the program.

Grzymala-Busse pointed to Russia, where NGOs cannot receive foreign aid, as an example of the structural challenges many of the organizations in attendance face.

“I hope this highlights the problems — and the potential — of NGOs, even when they have to work in a difficult environment,” Grzymala-Busse wrote.

Nathan Rauh-Bieri, program coordinator for the Education Initiative at the William Davidson Institute, said he thought the program demonstrates the University’s global presence.

Ronald Weiser, former U.S. ambassador to Slovakia and Weiser Center founder, helped fund the bootcamp and was also a guest speaker. Amy Gillett, vice president of the Education Initiative at the William Davidson Institute, and Marysia Ostafin, Weiser Center program manager, travelled to Slovakia to facilitate the event.

“I think that the housing of centers like the Weiser Center and the William Davidson Institute shows Michigan’s commitment to global engagement and also to excellence in pedagogy,” Rauh-Bieri said. “I think that’s what this program is really trying to deliver.”