Bureaucracies and the (Roma) civil society

How the EC, CoE, OSCE, UN and FRA could help was a question I heard many times. Most often nobody cared about the answers.

I argue here that these organisations are involuntarily but surely destroying the chance of a healthy development of Roma civil society. I also argue  that this trend could be reversed.

In the last years a significant part if not the overwhelming majority of public money spent on Roma issues has been distributed by the European Commission or governments towards other big, expensive bureaucracies such as UNICEF, UNDP, WORLD BANK, COUNCIL OF EUROPE, OSCE, Fundamental Rights Agency etc.

As all the above mentioned bureaucracies have a strident problem when it comes to both inside expertise on Roma and institutional racism (Roma are nowhere to be found in the management structures in any of these institutions) .All the mentioned institutions had to contract other organisations with expertise and/or experts within their own organisations to deal with their Roma projects.

Many times there was yet another sub-contracting and sometimes some more as the Roma organisations capable to implement the projects at the grassroots do not have the skills and connections to be able to access or administer the massive grants governments and the European Union are used to work with. In some cases there are 5 to 6 levels of sub-contractors until the final implementer is reached.

This common practice has an overall terrible effect on the entire Roma social inclusion process. Here the reasons.

A good part of the initial (sometimes the majority of) money is lost in the administration of these expensive bureaucracies and of the sub-contractors. That significantly reduces the impact the money can have at the grassroots level where the interventions are needed (often less than 10% of the money reach the target communities).

The blame for squandered funds will most usually fall on the last implementer – the Roma organisations. As the wellbeing and fortune of most of the visible Roma and non Roma leaders depend on good relationships with all the above mentioned institutions there will rarely be any strong criticism of these institutions and impossible to have a unified critical position against these practices.

In the rare case these bureaucracies will employ Roma experts those experts will be recruited from NGOs that have the needed experience.  The best available experts are few and usually leaders of strong NGOs. Most of them are already involved in different other consultancies and became used with being in the spotlights and prefer a representative/dignitary role than an expert role.

Some of these people could become good technocrats and medium level managers in these institutions but there are simply not enough incentives for these people to go for the usually short- medium term contracts within these bureaucracies.

In most of the cases people that end up being employed for these contracts are people that are already working in NGOs but with limited expertise. They will either leave the NGO they are working for or significantly reduce their activities within the organization.

Most of them will end up being a rather poor professional bureaucrat as they are not used to the institutional culture and in many cases they do not have the needed skills to be successful in a big bureaucracy.

The more experienced bureaucrats in the system will disregard them and their advice will end up being mostly ignored. They will make significantly more money sometimes 5 to 10 times more than they could make working at the grassroots. Returning to the grassroots work will not be considered desirable.

The NGOs will face significant problems as other people will start looking for fat contracts with the big bureaucracies. Frustration will increase and motivation to work at the grassroots will decrease constantly as more of these fat contracts will become available.

The end result is the disappearance of small and medium sized NGOs working at the grassroots. We will see a few very strong NGOs capable to contract directly or be the first sub-contractor of public funds lead by a few people that will concentrate in their hands important resources and will have access to all of the most important events organized on Roma issues. The pool of people and therefore of ideas will become increasingly smaller as the elites will try to preserve their status.

Nepotism, corruption, radicalism or conformity and lip service are or will be logical end results among leadership of the Roma civil society.

The solutions to reverse this trend are simple.

Bureaucracies need to work on a human resources strategy to attract good Roma experts with spines in positions of medium and senior management. It has been done before and there is good progress when it comes to presence of women in management.

Give up on the idea of short and medium term projects and work much more seriously on designing medium to long term institutional funding lines for NGOs meant to stimulate work at the grassroots.

Leave a Comment