Susana Almeida: “80 of our projects have been approved for a project approval rate of about 70%”
Susana Almeida has a considerable work experience in the fields of education and project management. In her career, not only has she run an institution working with children and youth at-risk of exclusion, but she also took up the challenge of conceiving, developing and monitoring dozens of education and training projects for a multinational company. In 2010, she accepted to take a leading role in the development of Dianova’s Training & Project Management Department, giving impetus to, and following up, innovation practices dedicated to provide the organization with greater funding resources.
Why seeking sources of funding with the EU?
Dianova Portugal pursues its mission utilizing instruments and activities that are likely to promote greater self-reliance while reducing dependence on the State. Having implemented corporate management practices allows us to have a broader view of existing funding opportunities. In addition, it has always been our firm belief that we should always be able to respond to major challenges without being afraid of the dimensions of some projects. It was also important to prepare the groundwork and find our way in international forums, while moving forward and insisting that the name Dianova be better known at the EU level.
Since internationality has always been part of our DNA, we realized early that EU funding should be a strategic choice that would allow us to put into practice the advantages of operating at the international level. In addition, as there are a great number of funding opportunities and a multitude of areas likely to receive grants, we’ve been able to apply for funding for the vast majority of our projects.
This is why, not only have we been able to get a positive return on investment for the qualifications of our personnel, through international mobility projects or lifelong learning programs, but we have also been able to develop our facilities and launch R&D projects.
Participation in International projects has always been seen as an opportunity, a challenge through which we could always do more and better with limited resources, while engaging with partners and increasing the organization’s social impact..
What kind of EU-funded projects did you apply to?
The activities of the project management department are twofold, national and international projects. The national component is comprised of projects that are financed jointly by the European Social Fund and the Portuguese State. These projects’ operational and financial management is ensured by Portugal and they are supervised by the Portuguese authorities. However, since they derive from Community Support Frameworks, they are still European projects. The international projects are those approved and managed by international bodies, i.e., with no involvement from Portuguese authorities except from advisory activities upon tender procedures.
During the period of the previous Community Framework 2007-2014, about 80 of our projects have been approved and funded. We believe that our project approval rate is around 70%, which is an excellent cost/effectiveness indicator.
We have covered a broad diversity of projects including but not limited to: maintenance of facilities and rehabilitation of forest lands, support for victims of domestic violence, information and communication campaigns (on addiction, migration or EU elections issues), lifelong learning and employment promotion, NGO’s organizational management and innovation practices, training programs for small and medium-sized businesses (through Dianova’s training center as a service provider), professional training in the health field, training for people at-risk of exclusion, and international mobility programs in the fields of education, training and health.
In what areas have you been mostly successful?
Given our strategic focus on achieving sustainability and based on Dianova’s values of commitment and solidarity, the largest share of funding resources is allocated to the improvement of human resources and to social integration projects, in particular those dedicated to supporting vulnerable groups and those at-risk of exclusion.
What process do you follow?
The first step consists in matching the organization’s ideas and needs with community guidelines. We’ve got to identify what are: the priorities of the funding programs, the general objectives pursued by the EU with such program, and the specific objectives of the call for projects. We also have to identify partners and the evaluation criteria for project applications.
Later on we need to collect all necessary information and adequately substantiate the project while developing workable and sustainable budgets.
Finally, we’ve got to meet the submission deadlines for applications with all the prerequisites of the call for projects while believing in the quality of our application.
What benefits did you get from participating in EU-funded projects?
Each project has its own specific advantages, but the benefits mainly comprise activity funding, contributions to personnel-related expenditures in terms of sustainability purposes, and gains in visibility and reputation. A greater autonomy gives us a competitive advantage in the social sector and more financial maneuverability. The introduction of innovative processes and experiences is also one of the greatest benefits of exchanging best practices resulting from community projects. In addition, the opportunity of experiencing with a variety of management models, being in contact with different realities and exchanging ideas with experts from all sectors allows us to have a broader vision of the organization’s potential.
Do you have any advice to give to an NGO aiming to embark on such projects?
Before investing in project management, it is necessary to develop know-how in project design, management and evaluation. Applicants should also create a broad knowledge base in terms of community programs and guidelines in order to find out which programs are compatible with the organization’s objectives and specificities.
It is also essential to have a good understanding of budgeting mechanisms, which is a highly relevant factor in the development of projects, as well as a good knowledge of legislation.
The organization must be prepared to create a full-time multidisciplinary team working in the project’s operational and financial execution, for a period not less than three years, so that such task force has enough time to become more seasoned and increase their applications’ success rate. The team should at first be prepared to face low success rates due to insufficient knowledge of the processes, unless they contract skilled professionals. Also important, this team should rely on a network of international partners and commence projects as partners. This will provide the organization with the necessary experience and visibility to start their own projects later.
It should also be prepared to the bureaucratic and administrative burden that these projects entail, with time-consuming activities. Do not give up should a project be rejected. Some of our projects in Dianova Portugal have been approved after they had been rejected in the first place. We have presented those projects again because we deemed that they deserved better since they met the evaluation criteria and eventually they were approved.
In conclusion, I would like to urge all social organizations to invest in an area that is full of opportunities and potential benefits. Embrace the challenge and keep moving on!