Ashley Hunziker: How does cooperation with civil society help solve urgent problems facing Ukraine’s energy sector?

November 1, 2021

Ashley Hunziker, Procurement and Grants Director USAID ESP

How does cooperation with civil society help solve urgent problems facing Ukraine’s energy sector?

Interview with Ashley Hunziker, Procurement and Grants Director, about the grant program, its goals and what the funds can be used for.

The Grant Program is part of the USAID Energy Security Project (ESP). How would you describe its objectives?

ESP grant funds are intended to achieve the following objectives:

  • Engage civil society around competitive energy markets and energy security;
  • promote science and technology concepts or innovative solutions that tackle pressing energy sector challenges;
  • increase civil society participation in anti-corruption oversight and advocacy for energy markets at the municipal level;
  • enhance the capacity of civil society organizations (CSOs) to advocate for inclusion of gender considerations in municipal and regional development;
  • generate proposals for technical assistance and training services.

Overall, the Grants Fund aligns closely with the ESP’s technical streams, objectives, targets, and goals.

What share of the Project’s funds are allocated to the grant program and which activities do they cover?

ESP has a $3.5 million grant fund to be spent over five years. So far, we have implemented/are implementing 29 grants covering a wide variety of energy related topics including communication of energy market reforms, promotion of education and careers in the energy sector, development of new energy curricula, promotion of gender equality and inclusive, healthy work environments.

Who are your grantees? Who can receive a grant from USAID ESP, and what is required?

ESP’s grant program typically works with NGOs, but we have also given grants to universities and government partners.

Can the initiative come not from the ESP, but from a potential grant recipient (NGO, local government, university, utility, etc.)?

Typically, we provide grants in response to Annual Program Statements (APSs) or Requests for Applications (RFAs) that ESP posts that organizations can respond to if they have an interest and are qualified. The APS allows organizations to send creative ideas that fit with ESP’s programmatic objectives and RFAs are much more specific to address a certain need with the project.

What indicators are used to evaluate applications?

Evaluation criteria can vary from one call to another but usually ESP considers the best value in terms of technical approach, past performance / organizational capacity, and cost effectiveness. We want to ensure that each grant has the best chance at success possible for both the grantee and USAID.

Once the grant is underway, there is plenty of room for close cooperation, constant exchange of ideas and detailed discussion of joint plans. Common values and a similar vision of the implementation process play significant role – these components affect the quality of the end product.

The successful experience of implementing individual grant initiatives encourages us to continue funding them. Great examples of such cooperation are several grants for universities resulting in initiating and implementing new energy sector bachelor’s and master’s programs and equipping laboratories at Pryazov State Technical University and Ivano-Frankivsk University of Oil and Gas with modern systems, developing curricula, providing textbooks and more. With ESP support, a modern laboratory will soon be set up at Cherkasy State Technological University.

How is there control over the implementation of the grant?

The grants team monitors the ongoing grants and works in close cooperation with the grantees. They have regular and ad-hoc calls/meetings with the grantees to support smooth implementation, facilitate collaboration with the technical team leads, collect grantees’ reports, milestones/deliverables, review and approve them, coordinate payments and procurements. When needed, the grants team prepares modifications to existing grants. The grants team also conducts site visits and attends public events that are conducted by grantees.

What does the grant reporting package include?

Monthly performance reports and deliverables specially designed for the grant.

Depending on the grant, it can be a series of activities for youths (hackathons, lessons), a booklet about professions in the energy sector, an informative video-course or practical training in an energy company. An example is our online course “A career in the energy sector – it’s cool!” prepared jointly with NGO “Center CSR”.

Describe an “ideal” grantee for USAID ESP. 

ESP looks for responsible, proactive, enthusiastic, and flexible organizations to partner with, who have a great idea related to ESP tasks and objectives.

The grantee’s team is also important, and experience working with USAID rules and regulations is an advantage.

Grantees don’t manage funds at their own total discretion. In some cases, the grantee may receive an advance payment for the implementation of an activity but mostly the grantee implements first and only then receives the funds in installments depending on the fund allocation under the grant. In addition, the grant is not always 100% ESP financing.

Which current grant initiatives do you consider the most important for the Project or the most interesting for the public and why?

All of our grants are important and impactful. Off the top of our heads, we have a few grants where the grantee is providing access to reliable and accurate information for ordinary citizens of Ukraine about the reforms and changes in the energy sector. We also provided a grant to the Centre for CSR Development promoting energy education and careers among youths, with a specific focus on gender. The Center prepared an information brochure on careers in the energy sector and an online course “Interesting Facts about the Energy Sector”. These materials show that the energy sector is an exciting area with many opportunities for career development.

This grant initiative is interesting because it works with youths who can become the future of the energy sector and because of the variety of activities and products prepared and implemented by the grantee.