New CONCORD chief looks beyond Gates, Brussels for funding

Tanya Cox is CONCORD’s new director. Photo by: CONCORD

BRUSSELS — In a year where the European Union will negotiate its next seven-year budget, as well as a fresh accord with African, Caribbean, and Pacific states, the new director of European NGO confederation CONCORD wants to champion the role of sustainable development at home and abroad, boost the group’s work on inequality, and find funding beyond the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the European Union.

Speaking to Devex during her first days helming CONCORD — whose members represent more than 2,600 NGOs — Tanya Cox said one of her aims is to diversify the funding sources for its work, which include lobbying the EU institutions, writing reports, hosting events, and running training courses for members.

“I come from the private sector originally and never would you … have just one or two clients, so I think it’s always wise to try to diversify.”

— Tanya Cox, director, CONCORD

The confederation’s reported income for 2017 of roughly €1.5 million ($1.7 million), of which 14 percent came from the Gates Foundation, 58 percent from the European Commission, and 27 percent from members’ fees. A funding drive by outgoing director Seamus Jeffreson, and president Johannes Trimmel, means most CONCORD members will give more through to 2021, Cox said. But she wants to explore other sources, too.

“I come from the private sector originally and never would you … have just one or two clients, so I think it’s always wise to try to diversify,” she said. She declined to say which donors she would seek to tap, but did not rule out approaching private companies for specific work, provided this complied with CONCORD’s ethical guidelines.

Talks are in progress for further funding from Gates, but Cox said this would reflect the foundation’s changing priorities. For instance, she said Gates would no longer fund CONCORD’s work on gender equality.

“[It] is a shame, but that’s how it is,” Cox said, adding that she expects an agreement “quite soon” on other work the foundation can support. Meanwhile, the confederation’s focus on gender and inequality will continue thanks to members’ fees. “I would want to let Gates’ make their own decisions, because [the shift away from gender] comes from America apparently, we’ve been informed,” she said. “So it wasn’t even a decision by the Brussels office.”

“They set their own priorities. Our priorities won’t change,” she said. “We’ll keep prioritizing gender equality, [just] as we are actually moving up the work that we do on inequality as a whole — we’re making that much more important across all of CONCORD’s work.”

Cox, a British-Belgian citizen, worked for NATO in Ukraine in the early 1990s and as a communications consultant in London before moving to Brussels in 2004 to work with Human Rights Watch, Save the Children, and most recently, Plan International, where she was senior policy and advocacy manager. She was also part of a small group involved in drafting CONCORD’s 2016-2022 strategic plan.

Cox’s appointment as director comes as the European Commission prepares to issue its first Joint Synthesis Report, assessing how well the EU has helped developing countries meet the Sustainable Development Goals; and a reflection paper, released Wednesday, on reaching the SDGs, including in Europe itself.

“The EU agreed to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and subsequently, at least internally and EU-wide, has done quite little,” Cox said.

As the EU tries to re-energize its relationship with Africa this year, Cox said CONCORD would consider producing its own vision of what that relationship should look like; continue efforts to be less Brussels-centered, with more meetings in Eastern Europe, for instance; and increase its contacts with civil society in Africa to try and influence negotiations on the Post-Cotonou agreement between the EU and African, Caribbean, and Pacific states, at both ends.

She also backed CONCORD’s lobbying strategy on the EU’s 2021-2027 budget, which is currently under negotiation. Together with other civil society organizations, CONCORD has urged EU heads of state to ensure that at least 10 percent of the overall budget goes to external action, and that 90 percent of that money is eligible to be counted as official development assistance. The commission set €123 billion for external action in its initial €1.135 trillion proposal.

Although anti-poverty group the ONE Campaign is advocating for a higher figure of €140 billion, Cox said she favored lobbying for a percentage of the overall budget, rather than a number in euros, because she fears each part of the budget will be cut if member states balk at the European Commission’s plan for them to increase their contributions.

ONE’s approach is “very principled, but it is not realistic,” she said. “Sometimes it is better to be realistic and to keep reminding people of their commitments than to throw the baby out with the bathwater if you only stick to a very high amount that you can’t get.”

But ONE’s EU and France director, Friederike Röder, told Devex “a €140 billion EU aid budget is the minimum needed to address the challenge of tackling extreme poverty.”

About the author

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    Vince Chadwick

    Vince Chadwick is the Brussels Correspondent for Devex. He covers the EU institutions, member states, and European civil society. A law graduate from Melbourne, Australia, he was social affairs reporter for The Age newspaper, before moving to Europe in 2013. He covered breaking news, the arts and public policy across the continent, including as a reporter and editor at POLITICO Europe.