Reading the sorry saga of the Prešov Community Foundation in the September edition of Alliance, there must have been many who muttered, ‘There but for the grace of God – or Allah, or your chosen deity – go I.’ I know I certainly did. The Community Foundation for Northern Ireland acted as a delivery mechanism for EU funds for over a decade, under the PEACE I and PEACE II Programmes (1995-2007). These were very generous and well-intentioned funding packages made available to underpin the Northern Ireland peace process.
The emphasis of PEACE I was on getting funding to those groups and communities most affected by ‘the Troubles’ – it was courageous and ground-breaking. By the time PEACE II was in place, the auditors had caught up with the policymakers, resulting in a plethora of form-filling and financial micro-management. The crucial difference was that PEACE I was a special initiative, while PEACE II was mainstream EU Structural Funds.
The decision as to whether to become an IFB – an Intermediary Funding Body – caused much angst for our trustees. In the interests of supporting the peace process, it was decided to take the plunge. In this new intermediary role, we made every effort to maintain the added value developmental approach that the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland sees as intrinsic to its ethos. Given the strict technical assistance limits available to IFBs, we had to draw on our own resources to maintain that added value.
We found – as Jenny Hodgson noted in Alliance – that there is a clear impact on a foundation’s autonomy when programme parameters are predetermined by the donor. We managed to hold on to our independence and our partnership relationship with funded projects – but only just. Fortunately for us, the government departments involved honoured their commitment to matching monies and advance payments were available. But the overall experience was a difficult one and did require us to place some of our capital reserves on the line. The benefit was undoubtedly the many excellent community-based projects that were funded. But it is clear that all that glitters is not necessarily gold.
Director, Community Foundation for Northern Ireland