Background, genesis, activities, governances, source of funds and management of finance
Ethiopia is a country faced with the twin challenge of development and democratization. To achieve those objectives, poverty has to be overcome; environmental degradation has to be checked; and the democratization process has to be deepened and broadened. While the state necessarily plays a preponderant role in realizing these objectives, Civil Society can also contribute its share. Situated as it is between Society and the State, it is well-placed to mediate between them. The Forum for Social Studies (FSS) had its genesis in consideration of this nature.
The Forum for Social Studies is an independent, non-profit institution dedicated to the cause of policy research and democratizing the policy space through informed public debate of development issues and concerns. It was set up in 1998 by a group of academics and civil society activistswith the twin objectives of conducting policy research and providing a public forum for seasoned and reasoned debate of policy issues. The aim was to go beyond pure academic research with limited circulation and impact and foster instead a tradition of policyrelevant research that is made available to government decision makers, legislators and the general public through public debates and dissemination of the research results. The founders of FSS also hoped to tap the rich experience of retired civil servants and professionals and thereby rectify the lack of continuity in development policy that has been a disturbing feature of Ethiopian life in the past few decades.
FSS began its operations under modest circumstances – in a two-room office and with two of the founding members serving for free as Manager and Editor. Initially, the running costs of the organization were covered through donations from members and friends. It held its inaugural workshop on 18 September 1998 at the Red Cross Training Center on the theme of ‘Issues in Rural Development’. Over the years, FSS has shown steady progress in institutionalizing its management and streamlining its operations. In 2006, the first Strategic Plan (2006-2010) of FSS was drafted in-house by the Management Committee and ratified by the FSS Board.
Following the enactment of the restrictive government proclamation on charities and civil societies in 2009 (Proc. No. 621/2009), the FSS constitution was revised for a second time by incorporating the requirements and provisions of the draconian law; and the association had to struggle for its survival by adopting certain creative approaches.
With the dawn of political reform in 2018 and the replacement of the constrictive 2009 legislation with a new and much more enabling one thatin 2019, FSS revised accordingly its constitution for a third time by making gains of the provisions of the new proclamation (Proc. No. 1113/2019), and re-registered with the Agency for Civil Society Organization (ACSO) obtaining its registration certificate number 0072.
FSS is particularly qualified to achieve the outcomes described for three reasons:
- It has an excellent track record in successfully conducting research in general, and on land and food security issue in particular, as well as in disseminating its research findings through the publication of books, monographs and targeted policy briefs, among others;
- It has proved to be a respected independent and impartial center with the capacity to organize and conduct public dialogue events and spreading their massages far and wide to policy makers, donors, and the general public with broadcast and print media over which it has gained mastery through two decade long experience;
- Thirdly, due to its in-house capacity as well as its academia-based membership and far-reaching networks, it has the ability to access the services of the most qualified researchers on land and food security issues, as well as the network and goodwill of media experts.
Governance and leadership of FSS: Forum for Social Studies (FSS) is a membership organization that works in all regions of the country. Its governance is guided by its detailed constitution that is approved by the state regulatory Agency for Civil Society Organization. The supreme decision-making body of the organization is the General Assembly of all its members that meets annually. The General Assembly sets up the Executive Board consisting of seven members who serve a maximum of two three-year terms. The board meets every three months regularly to deliberate and decide on the activity and financial situation of the organization that are reported to it by the Executive Director who participate in its meetings as a non-voting member and secretary. The Executive Director who is directly accountable to it manages the day-to-day activities of the organization being supported by the Management Committee he/she sets up.
FSS has manuals of staff management (in which recruitment procedures are clearly stated), finance and procurement, as well policy documents on gender, ethics & anti-corruption, child safeguarding and environment with which it guides the conduct of its activities. Accordingly, staff recruitment takes place based on the principles of transparency, openness, and competitive merit-based procedure. FSS has an organizational strategy document that is revised every five-year. The strategy document is thoroughly discussed by the staff and members of its Executive Board both in the drafting and final stages.
Forum for Social Studies has a website (www.fssethiopia.org) that was recently upgraded and on which its various products are uploaded. It uses the website to disseminate its research and public dialogue information. FSS has also re-activated its Facebook, and is in the process of doing the same for its Twitter account.
FSS is a reputable think tank well known for its high quality research and informed dialogue outputs that are disseminated primarily through its radio broadcasts, publications and website. Its research outputs are rigorously reviewed and validated by discussion forums and workshops at which stakeholders and study participants partake; and its radio broadcasts are equally assessed through listeners’ reactions and radio station monitoring. FSS also produces four-pager Amharic and English policy briefs that are mainly addressed to policy makers and other influential persons and stakeholders including donors who may not have the time to read the entire research manuscripts from which the policy briefs are extracted. FSS is also well-known for its dialogue forums at which policy-related matters of national importance are debated with the objective of finding common grounds and coming up with alternative solutions in a manner that also contributes towards instilling the culture of tolerance and civility in dealing with divergent views and opinions.
FSS obtains funds from various partner/donor organizations on project bases. Between its establishments in 1998 and 2007, FSS had received financial support from Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung, Royal Netherlands Embassy, Royal Norwegian Embassy, DFID, Germen Development Service, USAID, Irish Aid/Ethiopia and Embassy of Denmark. Between 2008 and 2018, FSS has been able to generate funds by winning project grants from the European Union Civil Society Fund II (CSFII), the first Civil Society Support Program (CSSP), International Office of Migration (IOM), International Labor Office (ILO), the Intergovernmental Agency for Development (IGAD), Cord Aid, etc. FSS has also been receiving support from CODESRIA for its service in producing the Africa Review of Books (ARB) Journal until the middle of 2019.
In recent years, the School of Oriental and African Studies/Arts & Humanities Research Council (SOAS/AHRC),Welthungerhilfe/German Agro-Action (WHH/GAA), Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS),Evidence Based Capacity Development to Enhance the Participation of Women in Formal and Informal Decision Makingfunded by CAFOD, SCIAF and Trócaire (CST) with approximately 235,950 USD, and National Endowment for Democracy (NED) that has funded the recently completed dialogue series on The uncharted route of Ethiopia’s transition to democracy (with 45,000 USD), have been the major donors/partners with which FSS is working. As of November 2019 the above mentioned partners were joined by OSIEA that provided a grant of 119,892 USD in support of the project Land and food security in Ethiopia’s transition to a democratic society: an informed dialogue and dissemination project that has just ended (January 2021) culminating with the publication of a major proceeding as well as three monographs. OSIEA is also currently supporting a two-year (Nov 2020–October 2022) research and dissemination project on Female Wage Labor in Ethiopia (with 230,000 USD).
FSS used to maintain what it called ‘sustainability fund’ for several years. Having managed to save the sum of ETB 7 million, FSS succeeded in constructing its own office building in Addis Ababa. Currently, FSS does not retain a sustainability fund having used it to the last penny in the construction of the office building. Yet, it won’t be too long before the organization recovers its investment on the building and replenish its sustainability fund to the previous level.
In late-2020 FSS established its own income-generating unit, by the name of Trust Knowledge Enterprise that has a separate management and financial accounting unit, a business license, and separate sub-TIN number, as per the requirements of the Commercial Code and the Civil Society Organizations Proclamation of the country. Independent external accountants that are recruited on a transparent and competitive basis audit FSS’ annual financial accounts that are reported to the Agency for Civil Society Organizations (ACSO). In 2019, FSS made a switch in its financial and property accounting from the GAAD to the more efficient IPSAS system, following the requirements of the government and ACSO.