Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Civil society issues in Lebanon

Last week, the Daily Star reported that in 2009, despite unprecedented stability in Lebanon, civil society failed to achieve any significant reforms.

Here are some issues that Lebanese civil society needs to deal with to be more effective:

1. Lebanese civil society organizations largely fail to understand how to use technology to spread awareness about their activities. There are many organizations doing great work; however, no one knows about it. This results in a duplication of efforts, wasted resources, and unnecessary competition for precious funding.

If you click on many of the links in our sidebar, you will encounter many websites that have not been updated in awhile. This happens for several reasons:

a) The organizational website was set up under one particular grant, and when that grant ended, so too, did updates to the website.

b) The organization pays a company to maintain the website and the company charges for every update.

c) The organization doesn't understand how important it is to update a website.

All of these issues are easily rectified, especially in a country as tech savvy as Lebanon.

For the first point, many grants - including all US government grants - require sustainability of projects before they are awarded. Simply put, an organization is not fulfilling the commitment it made when signing its contract if it stops updating its website. When writing proposal budgets, organizations should always include website maintenance as a line item.

On the second point, companies who charge for every update should be fired and replaced by a company who values service and commitment to its clients. The company should offer the software that allows organizations to update their own websites. Organizations should understand that paying for this software is worth the cost.

The final point is the most difficult to overcome, yet it is still rather simple to rectify. Civil society organizations simply don't know the value of or don't know how to use technology to promote their causes. Groups like Social Media Exchange are working hard to help civil society understand the importance of technology. Organizations should take advantage of training programs on how to use technology to promote their activities and accomplishments.

An organization's website is the primary means of electronic communication. Social media like Facebook and Twitter are good tools to promote your organization, but they should not be the primary means of spreading information. Your website should do that. Your website should include frequent updates on your organization's activities and accomplishments. Websites are especially important to overseas funders who want to know if your organization has enough experience and knowledge to be awarded a grant.

Up next, the second reason why reforms were lacking in 2009: organizational egos...

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