Thursday, May 14, 2009

Your feel good articles of the day

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Calvary has arrived

When Joe fails to update his blog we pester, we admonish, we condemn. When it has gone too long without a substantial update - we replace. I, Katie, will take now take charge of his wayward journal and tell the stories how they should be told. I'll also do my best to get his butt back into shape and writing again so that we simple folk in America can once again live vicariously through his wacky developing world adventures.

Tonight we had a dinner party with Joe's neighbors and we drank, we chatted and they (maliciously, we feel) wished 5 children upon us. After more bottles of wine than are advisable we spent the night gossiping through a translator about life, family and the continuing friendship between Albania and America. They're wonderful people (apart from their ill-intended wish for more kids then we ever want) and I'm enjoying the sights, sounds and people of Joe's adopted homeland.

More adventures to come!

Monday, March 30, 2009

I knew it!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Thinking Skinny

I like using the metric system at the store: if I buy a whole pound of cheese in the U.S. I feel fat but if I buy just half a kilo here, that's totally different.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Not Quite Facebook

Joe: add a couple new entries for me, ok?
Joe: since you've got all this free time and all...
Katie: are you asking me to write blog entries for you?
Joe: you're the one always saying you know me better than I do
Katie: I do not
Katie: I just say I know what's best for you

Joe: make sure to put in a blog entry describing the fantasy world you live in first
Joe: I want people to have context
Katie: sweetheart
Katie: if I update your blog for you, you realize that it's going to be like your facebook profile, only better defined?
Joe: goddamnit.
Katie: still want me to update your blog for you?
Joe: :-p!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Missed Opportunity

[12:59:15 AM] Katie says: do you know
[12:59:28 AM] Katie says: that of all the many things we could have discussed this week at brunch
[12:59:43 AM] Katie says: Jess and Ashley spent a good 10 minutes discussing the flow of our names
[12:59:52 AM] Katie says: Katie and Joe flows better than Joe and Katie apparently

[1:02:02 AM] Joe says: to think
[1:02:08 AM] Joe says: I'm missing out on all of this

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Be Careful What You Wish For

I haven't updated my blog recently and, while I didn't think of this as a problem, I've been alerted to several messages of disappointment, displeasure, anger, death threats, etc. due to the lack of updates. While the masses clamor for more about the fascinating, exciting, groundbreaking work I do and rockstar-esk social life I maintain I can't say no. And, as shocked as I was to discover I had any readers at all, much less that some persist after 6 months, this post should take care of any that remain.

I've got to give a talk tomorrow in Tirana at a conference of women's social services organizations on the European Commission's grant programs. I didn't know anything about the EU's grant system when they asked me to do so, mind you, but, as I love the sound of my own voice, I agreed to the presentation. I've got about 45 minutes for a short slide show and then questions on the topic I've selected which is the European Union's Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA) Multi-annual Indicative Planning Document, Albania Annex. I must warn you, if you had already planned to read this document, stop now; spoilers follow.

The EU's outline of the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance is based on an evaluation of the success and challenges of the previous Poland and Hungary: Assistance for Restructuring their Economies (PHARE) and Community Assistance for Reconstruction, Development and Stabilization (CARDS; primarily directed at Western Balkans) programs. Both programs promoted social, economic and political development while laying groundwork needed for eventual EU membership. While IPA builds on the strengths of projects implemented under past programs the objectives of IPA, the IPA program encompasses objectives that are a marked departure from previous initiatives (specifically, emphasizing EU Ascension readiness benchmarks) and Albania, in particular, is something of a special case itself within IPA. There is also a reduction of funding from the previous CARDS cycle.

The Albania IPA program is planned to run from 2007-2013 and 5.746 billion Euros have been budgeted for the 2007-2009 period. While the majority of the budget of the general IPA program is dedicated to Social-Economic programs (42-50% according to the Multi-annual Indicative Planning Document), Albania's IPA is largely focused on compliance with European Union standards and "align with the acquis in internal market, sectoral policy and justice,
freedom and security fields" (50-60% of the budget for the same time period). There are a number of reasons for the tangent from general IPA funding priorities but the main purpose here is to discuss IPA program implications, not its genesis. Also, because the social services community is, naturally, only concerned with the provisions that affect their sectors, only about 25-30% of the allocations that are directed towards Social-Economic programs are relevant here. Among those allocations includes budgeting for improvement of business climate, the reduction of unemployment, a better linkage between (preferably higher) education systems and private sector employment opportunities, and the strengthening of social welfare services (with an emphasis on vulnerable groups including domestic violence victims and the Roma community).

The conference talk will focus on the "Institution and capacity building for bodies offering social services (both at central and local level)" sub-program. While there is a provision for improvement of educational opportunities ("The institutional set-up of universities will be strengthened, the academic information network will be established and new modular curricular will be developed.") and most social services agencies that deal with women and girls at risk for social issues have a relationship with a school or schools, the focus of the attendees is not academic so will not necessarily qualify for much of the funding under that program. The Document does not specify individual grants that will qualify for social services capacity building but it is important to be aware of the sub-program's existence and expected result so an organization can be watchful for calls for proposals and craft those applications with the IPA's general goals in mind. Submitting a proposal for a project that achieves several of the IPA objectives demonstrates a more mature organization operating at a higher level of services and signals to the donor that the preparer has both researched the grant's focus and is committed to executing it.

In addition to program and sub-program specifics, the Albanian Annex of the Multi-annual Indicative Planning Document also offers several (is anyone still reading this?) hints of possible best practices for grant applications. As always, the language used in the outlining of the document's goals and objectives in Albania is useful as a guideline when constructing the text of the application (being careful to imitate style and cover all relevant points without simple duplication). In addition, supporting documentation like the Planning Document is useful in anticipating possible flags that could be accidentally written into applications. For example, many European Commission grants specifically prohibit operating costs as eligible expenses but do not specify the maximum administrative costs (as a percentages of the total) that the grant can claim. The prohibition on operating costs should signal to the alert grant writer that he/she should be sensitive to administrative costs when constructing the budget. In the developing world administration percentages can often run 30-50% of a grant's budget (few or no organizations independently fund raise so are dependent on projects to pay all costs) this is certainly no small consideration.

If there's one critical observation that should be taken away from an examination of the Document though, it should be the marked decrease in funding for development programs in general and social services in particularly. I try to impress the importance of the worsening aid situation upon all my clients and rarely is it as conspicuously demonstrated as in the Albania IPA. Funding for the area has been reduced from 330 million Euros under the CARDS initiative to just under 213 million in IPA; 50% of which is aided towards accession standards. While waning international support is tangential to IPA's direct implications it's an important topic to bring up whenever possible. It would be better for organizations to begin to cultivate donor bases now rather than in 10 years when aid has largely departed Albania.

Hopefully that will take up 45 minutes. There aren't a lot of specific tips I can give for winning the next round of IPA grants but hopefully my audience tomorrow will take away some information about the larger goals of the funding and be conscious of them when constructing their applications. And, as I would bet, few non-profit professionals in Albania will read the IPA goals anyway (maybe just me? hopefully not?) it will be good that the audience take away some considerations that may not have occurred to them otherwise. Perhaps one of them will even look for the supplemental literature to a grant program next time they're looking for funding. It's a difficult thing to convince people to do but so very critical. I was submitting a grant to the Dutch Embassy in Tirana a few months ago for a client and we were down to the final touches before I discovered, buried on a website, that they "strongly recommended" duplexing grant applications to save trees. A little research goes a long way in catching those little things that can make a big difference and, by printing double sided sheets for that grant, maybe that little extra research will convince my client to save paper with all their documents?

But that's a whole 'nother conference.