‘Backstage’ of Women’s NGOs in Georgia: Challenges of Autonomy and Donor Relations
The NGO sector and its role in contribution to social change, serving as a watchdog entity, and its engagement in politics of the countries, in which these NGOs operate, is widely debated around the world. The role of donors is directly linked to the existence of NGOs in developing countries, mainly. The interrelation between these two poses many responsibilities for both and creates a life behind the scene that is mostly not visible to the general public and is often out of interest to those beneficiaries the NGOs devote their work to. Although the details of communications, negotiations between donor foundations and NGOs, strategies and polices, issues of funding landscapes and the time spent on projects remain unnoticed to others, these aspects are very important, even crucial for understanding the system of ‘NGO life’, and sometimes become a lifestyle for those working in the sector of development cooperation. This research was conducted in July 2012 in Tbilisi, Georgia is based on interviews with small-scale women’s NGOs and women’s foundations. The interviews covered the spectrum of negotiating capabilities with donors, au-tonomy and the agency of women’s NGOs in Georgia. The research aims to understand how donor relations with women’s NGOs in Georgia are repre-sented, what are the tools that women’s NGOs in Georgia use to negotiate with donor foundations to fulfil their goals, and whether women’s NGOs in Georgia are strong and powerful. Findings showed that women’s NGOs do not negotiate, do not have autonomy, have no constituency, and do not exer-cise their agency. Findings also show that women’s NGOs in Georgia often find themselves disrespected by donors in the matters of time, work, princi-ples, and ‘negotiations’ regarding ownership, with the latter often being denied to women’s NGOs I interviewed or kept invisible. However, findings also suggest that the activities of those women would not have been possible without the establishment of NGOs and the availability of foreign funding in Georgia. Impossible not because they needed institutionalization necessarily, but because they were required to formalize their groups in order to get funding. Moreover, interviews revealed that the formalized groups have more power to influence or to represent themselves, and to access both resources and the public; at the same time, they exercise little power with donors. Lack of constituency among women’s organizations in Georgia has also emerged from the interviews.