Today, I’ve decided to speak a bit about the Norway Grants and how to make the most of them. Are they different from the more-known EU structural or research (FP7) funds? Who can apply? Etc. By using the example of a project I have worked on, I will also show how Norway Grants can be combined with the two EU options so as to achieve the optimal funding package.
What are the Norway Grants?
Norway Grants are a funding scheme provided by Norway to the 12 EU countries which joined in 2004 and 2007 (basically Eastern Europe) with the overall aim to reduce social and economic disparities in Europe, bearing in mind a sustainable and eco-friendly development. These grants are part of a wider scheme – called European Economic Area Grants (EEA) – which comprises of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, to which the latter is by far the largest contributor, with 95% of the entire budget.
Norway Grants are set up for five years and we are now in the 2009-2014 period. For this timeframe, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs – the decision-making body of the scheme – has put aside 800 million Euro, which supports 61 programmes in the following areas: Carbon capture and storage, Green industry innovation, Decent work and tripartite dialogue, Research and scholarship, Human and social development and Justice and home affairs.
The first time I heard about the Norway Grants was from a Hungarian municipality I was working with on an EU project. Before entering our consortium, the municipality of Mórahalom had made use of Norway Grants (as well as other financial instruments such as Structural Funds and other EU initiatives) to improve and develop its infrastructure. The results were really impressive – even thought there are only 6000 people living there, the town had an infrastructure which cities ten times bigger would envy. I think this shows the extent of the good some properly and wisely used funds can do for people.
Norway Grants vs. EU funds
Keeping in mind the example of Mórahalom, I would first like to frame the Norway Grants into a larger scheme of funding possibilities, one in which different sources of money can be combined to cover different types of costs. To address the issues of the community’s infrastructure and energy sources, the Hungarian municipality decided to utilize several sub-programmes, so to speak, of the FP7 and Structural Funds, which, in the end, covered 13 of the total 14 projects initiated. In line with the specificity of the two EU funding opportunities, the projects under Structural Funds dealt with building capacities and improving existing ones, while three FP7 projects looked at putting together types of energy and demonstrating their applicability (that is, research). Still, in order to supplement this collection of projects, Mórahalom municipality applied also for Norway Grants, making use of the chance to develop a project with a social component. Specifically, the team answered a relatively broad call with a project on building facilities which could deliver social benefits.
Generally speaking, projects with social impact are welcome for Norway Grants, and I have seen some fantastic results in the area of patient care or public property restoration in the East European countries. To give just a few examples, in Poland, many buildings - among which Jesuit churches and the International Cultural Centre - were brought back to life. Likewise, in the Hungarian town of Gödöllő, several buildings of great historical value were restored, boosting not just tourism but people’s perception of their environment. For this reason, I would say that Norway Grants take into account issues less considered by those EU programmes of research and innovation we usually deal with.
There are, of course, characteristics which are less great, so to speak. For once, the Norwegians pay great attention to budget allocation, more so than the EU’s FP7. Not that this is bad in essence, but you need to be extremely specific in your budget description. Also, you should know that this budget will has limits. While FP7 can be very generous once your proposal has been approved, the Norway Grants have less money at their disposal. In terms of budget structure, in certain programme-areas no more than 10% should go on dissemination. This is different to EU requirements which, although not specifying an amount, are always stressing the importance of promoting the results of projects.
I personally think that the Norway Grants limitation is not a problem but is definitely an issue to consider.
Another difference which I picked on is the level of competition at the proposal level. The most recent call we have submitted a proposal under the Norway Grants allocated funding for 7-8 future projects. This is mostly connected to the fact that it is normally small projects which ask for them; what remains after the first one goes to the next, and so on. With regards to the EU, it can happen that for some calls for proposals, only a maximum of two will receive funding. If there are indeed two, this normally means that two ideas were really good among the applicants and the evaluators decided to give both the chance.
A good thing about the Norway Grants application process is that it is normally shorter than the FP7, for instance. It normally takes two months to receive the evaluation and around four months for the money to come through (as opposed to FP7 which is between four and eight months)
Consortium requirements vary – you may be asked to work with a Norwegian partner or to enter a consortium, or you can just work on your own; depends on the type of project. If you wish to renovate a building, you won’t need a team of Norwegians to fly over. It would be a good idea to ask for their participation when you want to run a project on social issues – like elderly care, for instance, an area where the Nordics excel. You should, however, take note that it might not always be easy to find a Norwegian partner, as it happened in the case of the project I am working on.
To draw the line, we need to look at the big picture. Although not as generous as the EU, Norway Grants supplement the pool of funding opportunities. If we are to analyze the source of money, we must admit that the Scandinavians have accumulated impressive knowledge on social and other “softer” issues. We can use them not just as our sponsors but also as model of management and source of know-how. I think a good place to start analyzing if your company or organization can be the recipient of the grants is to ask yourself what type of project you have, how much money you need and what sort of results you expect.