With the demand for services becoming more pronounced and even more complex, public benefit Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in the country find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place due to the drying up of funding sources.

The ongoing discussion that they must earn, save, and maintain a reserve endowment fund has further fueled the urgency to mobilize funds. However, avenues and ideas to raise funds are equally scarce.

Recently, a fundraising idea encountered trouble with the authorities in Gelephu, Tsirang, and Punakha. They shut down public events organized collaboratively by CSOs Nazhoen Lamtoen and the Royal Society for Senior Citizens because some activities involved a form of betting, which was considered as gambling.

“The Executive Director of Nazhoen Lamtoen, Thinley Tobgay, said, ‘We were given very limited time to pack and leave the place.”

CSO Nazhoen Lamtoen, formed in 2007 and officially registered in 2016, aims to ensure the seamless reintegration of children coming out of the correction facility, the police-run Youth Development and Rehabilitation Centre, into mainstream society. Over the past eight years, Nazheon Lamtoen has helped over 900 children to attend school, find employment and livelihood, reunite with family, and reintegrate into society. Today, the growing needs arising in the communities have forced Nazhoen Lamtoen to also step up and take care of children and their families facing difficult circumstances due to various reasons.

“We have to reach these children now, so they don’t come in contact with the law later,” said Thinley Tobgay.

They also support a ‘transitional shelter,’ which has been used by over 70 children who were abandoned, abused, neglected, victims of sexual abuse, teenage pregnancy, and referred to by the police, National Commission for Women and Children, the Pema Secretariat, and the public.

Prashanti Pradhan, chairperson, and co-founder of Phensem Parents Support Group of children with disabilities, highlighted, “We are required to have a proper office setup, staff, and space, but to do so, we need funds, and it is very difficult to secure funds to cover administrative costs.”

The Phensem Parents Support Group (PSG) is the latest addition to the existing 52 CSOs in the country. They registered themselves as a public benefit organization to, at the very least, listen, share, and learn among themselves about living with children with disabilities, as explained by a parent of an autistic child and a member of the CSO.

“Through tests and trials, we have learned what is best for our children with disabilities,” said Karma Sonam Dorji, a founding member of Phensem Parents Support Group and a mother of a son with neurodevelopmental disorders.

According to Karma Sonam Dorji, children with disabilities often miss opportunities to attend Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) programmes and schools because the ongoing ECCD programmes and schools lack the capacity to cater to such children. “We tried sending our children to ECCD centres and schools, but it was very stressful for the children as they struggled to make themselves included.” The Phensem Parents Support Group was thus born.

“The parents of children with disabilities through experience have come up with viable solutions to the complex issues we represent. However, finding funds to support it has been most difficult,” says Prashanti Pradhan.

A common challenge faced by most CSOs in Bhutan is that scaling up programmes to reach more beneficiaries is limited by a lack of funds.

Apart from a few international agencies in the country that implement programmes through local CSOs and fund some of their activities, the funding sources locally for CSOs are negligible or non-existent. In other places, partnering with a CSO is preferred, given their proximity to the beneficiary and the direct benefit they can bring even if it’s short-term in the lives of the beneficiaries. In Bhutan, this approach significantly lowers the transactional cost in delivering programmes.

CSOs promote social rights as compared to civil or political rights. They are appreciated for their experience, expertise, and their quick and flexible response and solutions to the developmental as well as humanitarian needs of a community. The 2030 Global Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes CSOs as actors in implementing and monitoring the achievement of SDG goals. Sustainable Development Goal 17, which calls for revitalizing the global partnership for sustainable development, emphasizes the involvement of the government, private sector, and civil society for a whole-of-society approach to achieve it. In fact, under the new framework for achieving the SDGs, about 15 percent of the overall developmental assistance globally was provided for CSOs from 2018 onwards, according to OECD.

A programme officer with a CSO in Thimphu stated, “CSOs provide a space for inclusion and participation of the community members in finding solutions to issues that affect them. They are effective in mobilizing the community to take responsibility, raise awareness, and bring attention for support through policy or programmes where necessary.”

In Bhutan, many CSOs, registered as public benefit organizations, cater to specific target groups or groups within the community. Some of them were formed in response to the many years of futile wait for a response from stakeholders. Nazhoen Lamtoen, for example, took ten years of negotiation with the authorities to establish itself.

“Today, everyone calls upon us to take care of any and every child needing emergency support,” said Thinley Tobgay.

However, Dorji Phuntsho of Disabled People’s Organization agrees that being donor-driven is not sustainable. “The donor agencies only support activities and provide just 10-15 percent of the funding for administrative costs,” he said.

Attempts to raise funds through initiatives such as memberships were limited due to hesitation from the public and the private sector regarding philanthropy. Soliciting funding support through campaigns and public events required permissions and approvals from multiple layers of authority. The authorities had an ambivalent stand on raising funds online.

The way forward for CSOs in the country would be to break the systemic constraint resulting from being completely dependent on international donors and agencies. This calls for national and local government, as well as the private sector, to prioritize investing in social development. As for the CSOs themselves, their priority should be to sustain the movement by gaining the confidence of all stakeholders – confidence emanating from being accountable.

Contributed by

Bishal Rai

Freelancer with Kuensel