Making the Most of European Opportunities–An Interview about NGO Startups

By Omeed Aminian

In September, I met with Antonio Vilchez, a colleague in education and a young, enterprising Andalusian.  When he told me that he had created a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), I became interested in chatting with him. A repeat Erasmus student in Eastern Europe, Antonio’s experiences abroad inspired him.  In the following interview, conducted in historic Granada, notably the most popular town in Europe for students on exchange,  he tells me about how he became involved in such an endeavor and how others might do the same.

Omeed: Hi Antonio.  First I’d like to ask you: what kinds of projects are you planning?

Antonio:  When I first launched my NGO, it was because nowadays there are many things to do thanks to European programs like Erasmus Plus.  It’s amazing. You just need an NGO, a non-formal organization to apply.  You can set it up as an individual and it’s quite easy to do!  You have to have the idea at the beginning and after that you just have to fill out the relevant documents and go to the proper government office. You can do the first steps in just one day and then you just have to wait to get the code or discount number.  The process lasts around one month here in Spain.  I don’t know about other countries and whether it’s faster elsewhere.

Omeed: What’s the name of your NGO and what’s its mission?

Antonio: It’s called “EUducate” because it can be in English and in Spanish.  It can be interpreted as “educate yourself” in Spanish but it’s also with “U” because of the European Union.

Basically, I want to promote these projects, these European programs because now they mostly focus on students.  Nowadays, most students finish their studies and say, “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know where to find a job.”  So, my objective is to promote available projects and show that there are so many things to do.  To set up an NGO is so easy and the EU is really looking for participants, so they are going to help you out.  The problem is that not so many people know about the opportunities out there.

Omeed:  How did you find EU funding for your NGO?

Antonio: I’ve worked with some other NGOs and I know how it works.  You just have to prepare the project.  After you submit it and you get accepted, the European Union and a national agency are the ones that send your acceptance letter.

The European Union is going to support you and they will give you what you need.  It depends on how long the project is. It depends on how many participants there are.  Normally for 25 participants and maybe 10 days, you can get around 10 or 12 thousand Euro.  And that includes the food, accommodations, etcetera.  It depends on the country and the respective rate.

Omeed: What are some recommendations you might give to prospective NGO founders?

Antonio: In the beginning for me, I thought that starting an NGO could be hard, but it wasn’t.  You have to have clear ideas of what you want to do.  This is the first step and the hardest.  Because there are many, many different kinds of NGOs.  They work for the environment.  They work for education, inclusion or immigration.

After that you need to go to the local government offices, but it depends on your country. It might be the interior minister, like in my case.  They are going to give you the fiscal code.   And also before you arrive, you need to prepare your objectives and the statutes for your NGO.  All these documents are also available on the Internet – in my case on the website of the Junta de Andalusia.

If you want to launch an NGO, you need to look at the website of your own government.  Then after that you write what you want to do and how you want to do it.  Then the rest is already done.  You just have to wait.  Then they will reply that everything is fine and you already have an official NGO!

Omeed: So, what happens after that?

Antonio: Then you start to work.  You have the NGO, so you can really start to work.  My idea is to start to work with projects in the European Union.  Actually, now I will collaborate with a project in Cyprus.

I found out about this opportunity through the Internet.  On social networks such as Facebook there are many, many pages about NGOs.  For example, Youth in Action, Erasmus Plus and other associated programs. They might post, “Looking for partners.  Looking for participants from Italy, from Spain, from France” or, “Looking for participants from non-European countries.”

So I found an advert that a Cypriot with Network for European Citizen Identity had just posted “Okay. I am looking for partners from Spain.”  And I wrote him “Okay. I will be your partner.”  And my role as a partner is just to send  participants from Spain. He will make a project in May and my role is just to send participants.

Youth form your country are going to participate and collaborate.  They will perform a training course.

This project will be about sports, education and tools to increase teamwork.

In Spring of 2014, Antonio discovered the possibilities of the NGO scene in Europe by participating in a conference in the Caucasus, where he met many other like-minded Europeans looking for new experiences and knowledge.

Omeed: What was the project that your were involved with in Georgia and what was your role?

Antonio: Before I started my own NGO, I was in Georgia in a project called Traino.  There were participants from Latvia, Moldavia, Spain, Germany, Estonia and Armenia–both European and non-European citizens.

The project was about outdoor education, non-formal education and also they spoke about Erasmus Plus.  Really you have to read about Erasmus Plus because you can do many, many things with this organization.

Omeed:  So what inspired you?  Or what gave you the idea to start your own NGO?

Antonio:  From that project.  I saw that it is very interesting and I’m from a village in Spain where there are not so many things happening–not only in my village but in the entire area.  I think that starting an NGO or acting as a participant are very interesting for young people because it’s hard for them to move– to fly, to travel and they may even be afraid of it.  I see that traveling and these cultural exchanges give you a lot.  So it’s a very good way for you to see that everybody can do something.  Everybody can make things better according to their own goals.

With overall unemployment in the Andalusia region nearly exceeding 40 percent, starting an NGO seems like an attractive option, especially when the projects are fully paid for.

Omeed: Are there any other suggestions that you would give?

Antonio:  I think that people should know about this.  Some people say “I don’t know what to do”. So why don’t you start an NGO?   It’s not so hard to create an NGO.  It’s easy and you don’t have to pay money for it.  It is a very good experience.  You are working on your own and through that project you will collaborate with so many people from different countries. That gives you feedback and experience to grow.

Omeed: And the money is coming from the EU?

Antonio: Yes.  And this money will be there until 2020.  So, during the next six years, I think that the total budget is going to be 14.7 billion Euros for Erasmus Plus, to promote all kinds of projects, and there are unique projects that might even get 200, 000 Euro.

Omeed: Is there anything else that you would like to say?

Antonio: No, not really.  I just think it’s a very good choice.  If you really have a good idea and you have some friends and you know that you can really work well together as a team.  I really recommend starting an NGO and working through Erasmus Plus.  It will be a really rewarding experience.

Omeed:  Alright thanks, Antonio!

Antonio:  Well, you’re welcome.

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