By May Macnair
I met with Kaveh Kalantari, the Funding and Development Manager of the Iranian Association, to find out about the challenges facing their organisation, and how they plan to tackle them. The Iranian Assoication was set up in 1985 in response to the needs of Iranian refugees who fled Iran after the 1979 revolution. They support refugees and ethnic minorities through services such as immigration and welfare advice, Life in the UK test, Basic Skills education, cultural activities, supplementary schools, and health advice. They employ 10 paid staff, 3 sessional workers and around 15 volunteers a year who help run these services.
Even though they are an established RCO they still face problems. Over the last 2 years they have had a 30% drop in income, and are predicting more reductions. The recession has had something to do with this: cuts in government funding, and increased competition between RCOs for trust funding. They find Big Lottery funding particularly inaccessible, but Kaveh is determined to be successful!
Through talking to Kaveh, I learnt about the importance for organisations to be flexible and adaptable to changing economic and social environments. The Iranian Association amended their constitution so that they could diversify. Now over 50% of their clients are non-Iranian, including a large number of Polish people from the local community. They even considered changing their name, but realised the importance of their title – it symbolises the original needs of their community. Kaveh believes that single group funding is still needed, as many RCOs provide services to people who can’t go to other mainstream services because of language or cultural barriers. But a balance is definitely needed between supporting isolated communities, and providing a service for everyone.
We spoke about partnership work, and how it is another good way of sustaining services. They had a franchise with the Hammersmith and West London college for 11 years, providing IT and ESOL courses, and have developed other partnerships through word of mouth. But where do RCOs begin in developing partnerships? Kaveh told me that accrediting services can improve fundraising success, as it shows professionalism and commitment to quality. He also mentioned that the Legal Services Commission should stop its plans to start charging for the Quality Mark; many RCOs cannot afford to pay and should have the same access to opportunities as other organisations.
However, partnership work can be challenging too. RCOs have to overcome fierce competition from mainstream organisations who are trying to win funding through commissioning of services. Kaveh has experienced that mainstream organisations often promise partnership work, but then don’t deliver. Many RCOs see the Refugee Council as one of these competitors. Kaveh feels that the Refugee Council should explore more adamantly partnership building, breaking down barriers between RCOs and mainstream organisations. If the Iranian Association can develop a partnership with a local college, why not with the Refugee Council too?
Kaveh has another idea in the pipeline for the Iranian Association: setting up a social enterprise arm for ESOL and translation. This would help to generate income for other services.
Having spent a couple of hours in Kaveh’s company, I really sensed that the Iranian Association opens its doors to everyone. It encourages all refugees, asylum seekers and ethnic minorities to come for support, including marginalised groups such as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender individuals, who may find it hard to talk openly within their community. I think that their openness and honesty will encourage integration in our society.
If you would like to find out more about them, please visit: http://www.iranianassociation.org.uk/