IV. Partner Organizations


Partner organizations are in-region organizations which serve as intermediaries between donor organizations and recipients. In broad terms, they should serve six primary functions:
  1. Receiving donations, clearing them through customs and storing them.
  2. Providing information about donations and advertising them to potential recipients.
  3. Distributing donations.
  4. Providing checks to insure that the books and journals are being used effectively.
  5. Identifying needs of recipients and conveying them to donors.
  6. Seeking out ways to make donations more effective.

The success of partner organizations in Eastern Europe in fulfilling these six roles has been mixed. Partner organizations tend to be understaffed. Often the 'partner' is effectively one person, assisted by a few laborers, situated in an organization which divides its resources among many projects.

The relatively low labor costs in region and the potential benefits which could accrue from the creation of more effective partners indicate the advantage for government and non-governmental organizations, as well as Western based suppliers, in providing more support to the in-region organizations. If partners were endowed with the necessary resources, Western-based suppliers could devolve some of their work to them. The differences in labor costs are so great that in many cases time-consuming work, particularly that associated with cataloguing, could be done in-region, although suppliers which work through partners must be both more vigilant in insuring that partners are fulfilling their roles and more helpful in providing guidance and support for their operations.

4.1 Receiving Donations

Partner organizations play a largely successful role in receiving shipments and clearing them through customs. This is an important operation in Eastern Europe because the delivery regimens are complex. For example, the institution of rigid tax structures, particularly in the Czech Republic, has made it vitally important that local not-for-profit organizations, which are exempt from taxes, receive shipments. The alternative is to risk paying value-added taxes (VAT) which would add considerable costs to shipments.

In some countries, such as Ukraine and Romania, bureaucracy is more of a concern than formal taxation. Anyone who has attempted to clear books through customs in those countries can testify as to the importance of understanding the customs regimen and building relations with representatives at the points of entry.

While most academic institutions which have attempted to clear donations through customs have succeeded in ultimately obtaining their shipments without excessive costs, the occasional stories of books and journals effectively being held hostage by customs officials demonstrate the importance of involving an experienced organization in the receipt of deliveries.

The capacity to store donations is crucial for partner organizations, because, in principle, it gives them time to oversee the fair distribution of books. The performance of those partners which do not enjoy adequate storage facilities has unquestionably suffered. While many partners have been able to acquire storage facilities from interested libraries or sympathetic organizations, the occasional breakdown of such relations, and precipitous increases in the costs of storage, which are often closely related, are proving to be growing problems. Indeed, concern over storage facilities is probably the most common concern voiced by partner organizations. This problem is likely to grow and to raise the costs of donating books to the region.

In addition to the inadequacies of storage facilities, partner organizations have experienced great difficulties in carrying out the other functions outlined above. Due to a combination of personnel and equipment shortages, inefficient use of resources, and insufficient networking, partner organizations frequently fall short of their aim of maximizing the utility of donations.

4.2 Publicity

Partner organizations are, at times, ineffective in publicizing donations and overseeing the distribution of the books. Although the receipt of donations is well publicized in mailings and newspaper and radio advertisements, the information provided about the specific books available to recipients is in some cases lacking.

As stated above, while partner organizations can be involved in the distribution of bulk donations, their most important role emerges in the distribution of list donations, such as those sponsored by Sabre and IBB.

A simple axiom is that the more information provided to the recipient, the better. A list which provides short descriptions of books, as is done by IBB, is more helpful than one which only provides titles. The latter can lead to confusion, especially for books beyond introductory levels. The result is dissatisfaction of recipients and, in the end, a waste of resources.

Writing short descriptions of donated books is precisely the type of labor-intensive work which suppliers should consider farming out to partner organizations. In many cases partners are capable of producing lists by drawing information from an on-line computer system. Information could be shared with other partners, who could use descriptions where the content of donations overlaps.

In many cases, even the provision of short descriptions is insufficient. As needs for more advanced books grow, particularly in the Visegrad countries, more detailed information is required by recipients.

One approach, which has enjoyed success in the Slovak Republic, is for partner organizations to hold exhibitions of donated books soon after their arrival. This permits potential recipients to examine copies of the actual books before filing requests. Space for the exhibition is provided by one of the prime recipient libraries, which is compensated with the donation of at least one free copy of each book exhibited.

Sabre-Svitlo, a partner organization in Ukraine, uses an alternative method through which books are on constant display in a room at the home office. The display permits recipients to come in at any time, examine the offerings, and take desired books with them that day. A display located in an office, as opposed to a warehouse, is more easily accessible and is staffed on a regular basis. In other countries, books can only be viewed at warehouses and on odd dates, often at short notice. A warehouse display is inefficient because warehouses are located in inconvenient locations and because the books are often stored in such a way that they are difficult to view.

The geographic distribution of donations poses additional challenges. Partner organizations sometimes fail to make a geographically equitable distribution of books in the country in which they operate. For example, the distribution of books in Ukraine is strongly biased towards Western Ukraine, particularly Lviv, where Sabre's partner organization is located. Almost 52 percent of books donated in 1993 were distributed in the Lviv region, while other major regions, such as Donetsk, were all but ignored. Similarly, in the Czech Republic, IBB's partner, which is based in Plzen, focuses on western regions and provides relatively few donations to important centers of learning such as Brno and Olomouc.

The uneven distribution of books is primarily the result of difficulties associated with travelling to view donations and the high cost of transporting books to recipient institutions. In Ukraine in particular, many potential recipients indicate that they are interested in book donations, but high costs and complicated logistics have made gathering books from the Sabre center in Lviv difficult.

Greater and more pro-active efforts are necessary to involve other regions in the donation process. The Slovak Academic Information Agency (SAIA), which serves as a partner for both IBB and Sabre, uses a system of four affiliates throughout the Slovak Republic to assist in distribution. Sabre-Svitlo has a similar arrangement in Kharkiv, though Ukraine is so large (the distance from Lviv in the West to Donetsk in the East is roughly that from Prague to London) that further efforts are necessary to spread book donations more equitably. In particular, to achieve a wider geographic distribution of donated books, partner organizations need to subsidise transportation costs of recipients or to find organizations which are willing to assist with the distribution process.

4.3 Oversight and Feedback

The final three roles of partner organizations -- providing checks to insure that donations are efficiently used, identifying needs of recipients, and seeking out ways to make donations more effective -- are all centered on feedback. Unfortunately, it is in this area that the performance of partner organizations is weakest.

The greatest inadequacy of partner organizations is their failure to insure that donations are effectively used (see section 3.22). No partner organization institutionalized regular checks to insure that book donations are accessible and efficiently used. In some cases, suppliers have not explicitly assigned that task to partners, even though partners, given their proximity to recipients and their role in the selection of recipients, are in the best place to carry out that task. The failure to institute mechanisms to check the use of book donations has meant that in spite of the not-infrequent wholesale disappearance of donated books, sanctions have rarely been taken against those institutions whose books have disappeared. In fact, donations usually will continue to such institutions unless a sufficiently egregious violation has occurred to draw the attention of the partner organization. The disappointing results of the survey of donations suggests that it is incumbent upon partner organizations, or their Western sponsors, to institutionalize means of regular oversight.

Partner organizations tend to have greater success in getting feedback about needs of recipients, which many distributors see as their primary role. Partners are supposed to provide donors and suppliers with information about local needs, so that suppliers can use their resources more effectively.

Partner organizations do, however, encounter some difficulties in providing feedback to donors. On the one hand, their ability to advise donors about needs are limited by their unfamiliarity with proposed donations; they know little more than most librarians about the utility of most titles. On the other hand, partner organizations' information networks may not be sufficient to measure recipients' attitudes towards donations. Most of the personnel who work in the book donation sections of partner organizations are former librarians who have informal connections with recipients. Those informal networks are often insufficient to identify the most needy recipients, particularly since the majority of lecturers interviewed had never been consulted about selections for any book or journal donation project.

Moreover, recipients often find difficulty in voicing dissatisfaction. Frequently recipients who have different views than donors or partners about their needs, or who have suggestions about means of improving the donations process, are loath to share their views with either their local partner or their suppliers for fear of being cut off from future donations. This became evident in the numerous interviews with recipients who, in response to broad questions about their satisfaction with the donations process, gave positive reviews, yet in reply to specific questions about different aspects of the donations process expressed indirect criticism and offered potentially helpful suggestions. The reticence of recipients may explain why attempts at instituting formal feedback mechanisms, which a few partners have tried in the form of surveys, have met with tepid responses.

4.4 Potential Solutions

There are no simple solutions to the problems that partner organizations face in developing checks on recipients and feedback mechanisms. Successful development of oversight and feedback mechanisms apparently can only come from a multi-faceted approach. In the first instance, partner organizations must become more pro-active than re-active, seeking out feedback from recipients and insuring that some form of verification procedure is in place. Given their limited resources, they should seek out the cooperation of other organizations which share similar interests and which have an active presence in the region. Members of the Civic Education Project and of the British Council, all of whom share concerns about the development of education in the region, assisted the author in collecting information for this report. FETC has instituted a broad range of cooperation with Peace Corps volunteers, which allows them to integrate donated books into the Peace Corps' academic and professional work. These organizations of Western teachers have people on the ground at many recipient and potential recipient institutions. They could certainly assist partners by checking the availability of donations, by providing feedback about areas where donations could be integrated into their courses and those of their colleagues, and in some countries, such as Ukraine and the Czech Republic, by contributing to the equitable geographic distribution of donations.

Western donors and suppliers might improve the donation process by providing greater support for partner organizations which contribute valuable local input into the donation process. They could help partners to use resources more effectively by increasing funding to partners, by giving partners information about the successes and failures or other organizations and by providing greater logistical support. The Sabre Foundation, for example, has for two years provided partners with database information about shipments on disk, thereby easing their work-load considerably. Western suppliers might facilitate book distribution by giving database programs for tracking books to those partners which currently rely on inadequate programs. In addition, when partner organizations fail to obtain adequate feedback from recipients, parent organizations might step in and solicit feedback directly or might solicit assistance from other Western organizations operating in the region.

4.5 Conclusions and Recommendations

Partner organizations make an essential contribution to the book donation process. They possess a base of knowledge concerning the procedures of receiving shipments and clearing customs and they are well positioned to provide feedback to donors about a country's particular needs and to take steps within the country to see that donated books are used effectively. They can also serve as a low cost source of some of the labor which donors and suppliers carry out. Nevertheless, many partner organizations currently fail to reach their full potential. The problems of partner organizations stem from a variety of sources: a lack of resources, particularly personnel; a failure to take a more pro-active role in identifying means through which donated books can have the greatest possible impact; a lack of coordination with Western organizations which teach in the region, such as the Civic Education Project, the Peace Corps, the British Council and Fulbright. Through greater contact with recipients and Western organizations, partners might better channel donations to recipients which can integrate them more effectively into academic and research activities.

Partner organizations, which can serve as key conduits in the book donation process, need further financial support to make book donation projects proceed as they are currently designed. Financial support, however, should be contingent upon the adoption of changes in their mode of operation.

Where possible, partner organizations should attempt to:

Donors and suppliers should, where possible:


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