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MENA Leadership Academy

Functions and Organization of CSOs

Acknowledging the necessity to strengthen civic engagement and participation in the MENA region, the KAS Regional Program South Mediterranean launched the second generation of its regional training program MENA Leadership Academy, designed for young adults from the Middle East and North Africa.

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After a group of civil society activists from the region completed the first MENA LA in 2016/17, a total of 24 young people from local and national non-governmental organizations in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine took part in the first training of the second MENA LA in Madrid.

The overall objective of the training program is to enhance the knowledge of a professional methodology for civic activism; strengthen the understanding of and the capacity for democratic participation of civil society; increase the CSO contribution to economic and social development processes as well as their role as mediator between citizens and state in terms of articulating interests and defending citizens’ rights. Moreover, the program aims at motivating young people to participate in the civic life and local development of their respective countries and communities.

In the course of the unique two-year program series, the group will come together for a total of four different trainings in Tunis, Madrid, Sevilla, and a final study trip to Germany to strengthen the organizational and functional capabilities of their respective CSOs. The program will furthermore focus on individual skill trainings such as communications and negotiation workshops.

Out of around 900 applicants, 13 female and 11 male activists were selected. They represent organizations from various areas of civil society work. Their diverse backgrounds include human rights and advocacy work, civil society support, youth and arts organizations, research and political education, media and press freedom initiatives as well as humanitarian relief in conflict and crisis situations.

The first training took place in Madrid from 15 to 20 April and was organized in cooperation with the KAS Office Spain, hosted by the Casa Árabe and carried out in partnership with the Spanish branch of the international humanitarian non-governmental organization Action Against Hunger. Spanish scholars and regional experts completed the list of lecturers and trainers. The aim of the first kick-off seminar was to promote exchange between the 24 young civil society activists and offer them new training content in different modules covering the areas of strategic planning, project management, and civil society participation.

The course week was divided into a seminar and a workshop part. During the seminar phase, participants were briefed on the origins of contemporary democracy and discussed the core principles and values of democracy as well as the legitimacy of civil society work on the basis of human rights with Prof. Fernando Vallespín, Professor of Political Science at Universidad Autonoma de Madrid. Pedro Rojo, President of the Fundación Al Fanar, shared the experience of Al Fanar’s work with the group and highlighted intercultural approaches and translation initiatives as one of the most effective ways to deconstruct stereotypes about the Arab world and to bring Arab reality closer to the Spanish-speaking environment. The first day ended with a tour around Picasso’s famous Guernica painting in the Reina Sofía Museum and an introduction into the horrors of the Spanish civil war as depicted in the artwork.

In the subsequent three workshop days, experienced program officers and project managers of Acción contra el Hambre (ACH) trained the participants in project management skills and strategic planning tools for non-governmental organizations. The workshop’s set of practical planning units was introduced by Manuel Sánchez-Montero, Director of Advocacy and Institutional Relations at ACH, who shared his experience of setting up the Spanish branch of Action Against Hunger to showcase the successful management of a civil society organization (CSO). A Project Manager with ACH, gave a detailed account of project formulation strategies and practices before a Social Programs explained ACH’s development and social action work in Spain. The Head of HR Management and Development at ACH later briefed the group on competency-based human resources management and what it takes to become a successful leader. In the concluding session, Dr. Barah Mikail, Founding Director of Stractegia, discussed the role of CSOs in transitional societies and the geopolitical implications of the ‘Arab Spring.’

Participants were also trained in project implementation and CSO strategies for submitting project proposals by ACH representatives in two workshop s with representatives of ACH. When visiting the ACF Headquarters in Madrid, the young civil society activists learned more about the organization and its structure, management practices, institutional processes, and its coordination strategies. Tobias Köck, President of the German Federal Youth Council, also discussed with the participants the role that CSOs can and should play in ‘activating the citizenry’ and shaping modern societies in Europe. During a public roundtable in Casa Árabe, four of the 24 participants discussed alternative ways of youth participation in the political and social landscapes of Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, and Libya.

On the last day of the first seminar within the framework of the MENA Leadership Academy, the participants were briefed on how to manage political advocacy and institutional relations as well as how to execute an efficient project evaluation by experienced Program and Project Managers with ACH before the junior employees and activists from the MENA region had to bring in their diverse knowledge background and work experience for two final sessions in which the Director of the KAS Office Spain Dr Hofmeister moderated a SWOT analysis of project ideas and discussed the strengths and weaknesses as well as threats and opportunities of their proposals and organizations with the group. Participants drafted individual project proposals which they will reflect on and elaborate over the coming months in preparation for the second training of the two-year training academy.

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