CSOs Look for New Ways to Access Funding

Civil society organizations (CSOs) spent more than $600 million, employed 43,000 people and directly impacted more than 1.3 million people in 2012, according to a report released Monday by the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (CCC).

Although the report found that CSOs made a significant contribution to the national economy—accounting for more than 5 percent of gross domestic product—participants at a forum marking its publication at the Royal University of Phnom Penh said that securing funding is fast becoming harder to source due to the sheer number of organizations that now exist.

“In the 1990s, donors looked for us,” said Keo Phalla, a coordinator for the CCC. “Now it’s much more competitive; you have to show you’re accountable, transparent and effective.”

Several CCC staffers also stressed the importance of CSOs making partnerships with each other and the government.

But for some organizations, working with the government is easier said than done, those at the forum said. For example, groups working in the fields of natural resources and human rights have been accused by officials of working for the opposition and inciting protests in areas where there are land disputes.

According to the report, CSOs are still concerned about the draft Law on Associations and NGOs. If enacted, critics say the law could restrict their ability to operate independently and in politically sensitive areas.

“The enabling environment for CSOs is good,” said CCC executive director Soeung Saroeun. But “we need more cooperation [from the government], especially on land and environment issues. The arrest of activists also harms civil society work.”

At a panel on partnerships with the private sector, representatives of the business community expressed willingness to work with civil society, but pointed out coordination could be rocky.

“Some companies fear CSOs,” admitted Tan Monivann, vice president of Mong Reththy Group, which is owned by CPP Senator Mong Reththy and has investments in a host of different agricultural projects.

He added that too often CSOs would associate big businesses with corruption and deforestation and, therefore, pass up an opportunity to collaborate together.

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