NGOs face financing issues

FUNDING problems continue to hinder non-governmental organisations in Brunei from carrying out effective programmes that fight for the causes they believe in.

There has never been a study on the effectiveness of Brunei NGOs in contributing to the community or shaping national policies.

No research has also been published on the number of NGOs that did not stay afloat because of financial issues.

According to United Nations policy watchdog Global Policy Forum, often what an NGO can and cannot do is tied to where the money comes from, dramatically affecting the effectiveness and neutrality of NGOs.

It added that NGOs rely on money from various sources, including individual donors, foundations, corporations, and governments.

Iswandy Ahmad, the president of Brunei Darussalam AIDS Council, said there is a misconception in Brunei that NGOs do not require any funding because they conduct voluntary work.

He said the NGO of about 100 members does its best in taking initiatives, but it also needs funding for programmes.

“Many of these voluntary work are done by professionals or even people with commitments who contribute their time and effort, and all they ask is for the cause they believed in to be appreciated,” he said in an interview.

The council was established in 2000 to raise awareness on HIV and AIDS in Brunei.

Targeting teenagers up to those in their 40s, the council uses multiple approaches to meet its objectives through youth work and training, youth and community participation, outreach programmes, voluntary work, media coverage and collaboration with other agencies.

Iswandy said funding is needed to educate the public on a large scale, and that it is challenging for an NGO to ask for monetary support.

He said one must be well equipped with proposal writing skills, financial management and reporting, fundraising skills, and negotiation skills.

The council needs about $10,000 to $30,000 to run every year, he said, adding that members organise fundraisers and rely on donations to get by.

Iswandy said the council applies for government funding for project-based activities such as as training and outreach programmes.

However, he said getting financial support from government agencies for day-to-day operations is difficult.

“With many of our events and activities, we ask for an implementation or consultation fee, but this is negotiable, if our clients are not able to pay, then we will work around it such as getting sponsorships and in-kind donations. We also rely on donations from the public, regardless how small the amount,” he said.

The president said the council depends on its clients to contribute financially, and they always declare the use of the funds to their members and the Registrar of Societies.

According to Brunei laws, NGOs in Brunei must register with the Registrar of Societies within one month of its establishment.

The president went on to say that they have never approached other governments or organisations abroad for financial assistance, apart from technical assistance for training.

He said he preferred if their funding came locally, “as funds from other countries may have their own clauses, which may conflict with our values”.

The council also needs facility support and suggested the establishment of an NGO complex where all NGOs are under one roof in an open office concept. He said this will make it accessible for the public to meet them and for them to hold events.

FundsforNGOs, which provides grants and resources for sustainability, said NGOs often get lost when they have to start planning to raise funds for their projects and programmes.

According to its website, NGOs need to look around for more funding to sustain their work, as soon as one project ends.

Founder of Green Brunei Khairunnisa Ash’ari said they do not normally ask for financial aid from government, but are instead given in-kind support, but are given permission to use its facilities, as well as advice and technical support.

The environment proponent said it is always a challenge getting funding, be it from the government or the private sector.

“We are not the only organisation that is seeking support from the government or private sector. We are fortunate however, that there is a strong support for environmental causes lately, and more people are becoming aware of the need to preserve our environment,” she said.

The NGO, which has over 30 members, usually receives funding through corporate sponsorships as well as charging fees for its activities.

However, Khairunnisa said it is often a struggle as students are sometimes unwilling to pay an exorbitant amount to join activities unless the cost is subsidised by the school or sponsors.

Aside from their usual method of charging fees and getting corporate sponsorships, the NGO is looking into the possibility of getting grants from international organisations.

She said four of its projects have been supported by companies from Singapore. “Through our networks, we managed to get support from different companies to partially and fully fund our event costs. A few of our activities were also funded through the British High Commission here,” she said.

She said Green Brunei has been working closely with the government since it was established in 2012 and they have been receiving support year after year.

“Of course we face the same challenge with other NGOs where we only raise enough to cover the costs of events, but not to improve the organisation as a whole,” she said.

Khairunnisa said NGOs play a vital role in societies because they provide additional support to reach the country’s development goals, and work closely with volunteers and people at the grassroots level.

Anwar Mohammad, chairman of the Society for Community Outreach & Training (SCOT), said NGOs have to evolve to sustain financially.

He said having a “differentiation approach” at SCOT has given them the credibility and allowed them to be financially stable throughout the years as stakeholders are keen to support their cause in the long-term.

An example of this “differentiation approach” is the Green Xchange, which aims to educate the public on the benefits of exchanging recyclable materials with basic necessities such as rice. “This would educate them the value of recyclables instead of just discarding it as ‘trash’,” he said.

SCOT registered with the Registrar of Society as an NGO in May 2013 to alleviate poverty in Brunei.

Anwar said the NGO has received government aid in various forms, ranging from financial, technical, and diplomatic arrangements when it comes to cross-border projects such as SCOT Education Cambodia.

Anwar said it is up to organisations to prove their worth to the government.

“Organisations who wish to seek financial support from the government need to be more proactive in terms of providing uniqueness towards their cause,” he added.

Source: The Brunei Times