Ioanna Demosthenous: “We want the same standards for NGOs in Cyprus that they have in Europe”

A group of dedicated civil society activists have been working passionately and quietly for the last seven years to push a reform on NGO Law in Cyprus. This week, we speak to the initiative’s Ioanna Demosthenous to find out more.

Hi Ioanna, you are the Project Officer of the “Cyprus NGO Initiative on Law Reform” project. Can you tell us about your interests and how you got involved with this work?

Ioanna DemosthenousI have a law background. I did my year long traineeship at the Law Office of the Republic of Cyprus in order to become a lawyer, and then I worked as a trainee at the European Commission and the Embassy of the Republic of Cyprus in Athens.

I am passionate about and have worked on youth empowerment in Cyprus and abroad. Recently, with a group of friends, we established Cyprus Youth DiplomaCY, an informal group (soon to be registered) aiming to give the youth of Cyprus the floor for expressing their opinions regarding diplomacy, politics and international relations.

What is the aim of the NGO Initiative?

We want to achieve the same standards for NGOs in Cyprus as those in Europe and the international arena.

When did the initiative come together?

We partnered with the European Center for Not-For-Profit Law in 2007 for a study on the framework behind civil society in Cyprus and its shortcomings. We’ve been hard at work ever since.

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What’s really fascinating about the NGO initiative is that it is made up of all volunteers, right?

Exactly. The civil society representatives that make up the NGO initiative have been putting in all this work on a voluntary basis for 7 years now. I am the only paid staff who works on a regular basis to support the process.

I think this is part of the reason for our success: the passion of our members, and the team work without the expectation of any personal benefit – except the goal of empowering the work of civil society in Cyprus.

What is your proudest accomplishment with this project?

Interesting question. I think my proudest accomplishment is that the NGO Initiative is closely cooperating with the departments of the Ministries of Interior and Finance, as well as with the General Attorney office and the Commissioner on Volunteerism and NGOs.

Was that a hard relationship to build?

In the beginning I can definitely say that there was a hesitation from the Ministries to cooperate with us. That comes from the general mentality of Cypriots who don’t really know what Civil Society is and how it works. But we remained persistent, and the initiative eventually managed to prove their mission.

istoselida 1I am really proud that our initiative is considered a relevant and important stakeholder in this process. Even when we may not agree on every single issue, we know that at least we have the opportunity to raise the issues that matter to us and discuss them from various angles.

How can interested people get involved with the NGO Initiative?

NGO Initiative is supported by a lot of Civil Society Organizations, including associations, foundations and not-for-profit businesses in Cyprus.

If representatives of NGOs in Cyprus agree with and support our work, they should feel free to send me a message at ngo.initiative.cyprus@gmail.com so we can add them to the list of our supporters. We would include their logo on our website and they can continue to regularly receive updates from us regarding the status of the law.

Currently we also have the draft of a Policy Paper which is open for public consultation and we are seeking input from Civil Society representatives. I recommend those interested to follow us via our website and our Facebook page.