Reinventing the wheel and turning it: a challenge too far?

- Blog | Stanislav Daniel

For non-governmental organizations, fundraising is part of the daily routine. Drafting project proposals, searching for grant calls and forming partnerships is often a crucial part of our job description. But just when we thought we had mastered the craft, another challenge has emerged. Not only must we be effective and efficient, top in design and implementation, valedictorian in monitoring and evaluation; we must also be innovative.

There is a certain logic behind the quest for innovation. In ideal world, NGOs pilot activities and after their verification, actions are adopted by systems and implemented by governments. Except, that ideal world does not exist. Some initiatives have indeed been brought into systems – including pedagogical assistants, health mediators and other helping professions in Roma communities. Yet, the maintenance of many of these systems is still in the hands of NGOs.

Innovation is the key word for most funding schemes and grant calls. Donors suggest that NGOs are the promoters of innovation. It all makes sense especially with scarcity of available funds: ideas and new models that attract new funds. But while we strive to be innovators, maintenance suffers.

Donors demand that we look for innovative approaches, but what exactly does innovative mean? The dictionary defines innovating as “introducing something new and making changes in anything established”. If we follow this strictly, then something as basic as bringing Romani children in the same classroom with other children is innovative. Still, donors will ask for something new.

Multiple layers of innovation are a big challenge. What is innovative for some, may be perceived as traditional to others. As an extreme example, the Montessori pedagogy, created in 1897, is still considered innovative by many.

We need innovation and this text is not trying to bash that, but first we should talk about it before we get obsessed with it. We need to recognize that while striving for innovative ideas we need to be able to maintain the ones we have. We need to support grassroots initiatives providing social services in segregated Roma communities until states adopt them and provide them with adequate funding. Until then they are dependent on grants. We beg donors to understand that we cannot reinvent the wheel while still working on making it simply turn.