Our history

In 1991, a consortium of international philanthropic donors made a special initiative in the new democracies of Central Europe, from which the Environmental Partnership Association (EPA) emerged. Members of EPA are indigenous foundations of Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia that are focused on mobilizing and empowering the people of the region to improve their environment, their local communities and societies.

HEPF, the Hungarian member of EPA became an independent registered organisation in 1994, under the name: "Ökotárs" Foundation. Since the beginning, our main tool to strengthen green and civic initiatives has been our user-friendly, flexible yet transparent grantmaking. Throughout its history, Ökotárs managed a number of re-granting programs provided by private, governmental and institutional donors – most notably the NGO Programme of the EEA/Norway Grants (first and second period) and Swiss-Hungarian NGO Block Grant and Scholarship Fund (leading a consortium of 4 independent Hungarian foundations). 

The foundation also realized early on that financial aid has little effect without methods, opportunities and systems for organization and community building, therefore it initiated and managed several programs which had strong components of building and mobilizing communities, e.g. the Integrated Organizational Development Program in the nineties. In 2016 it launched a pilot community organizing program aimed at strengthening local community groups in 15 micro-regions in Hungary using a combination of adapting good practices, training and mentoring local leaders, organizing communities along self-defined issues, and small-scale financial support (seed grants). 

Besides grantmaking and training, we also offer technical assistance, by organising expert help and advisory upon request. As such, between 1996 and 2005, we significantly contributed to the internal co-operational mechanisms of the environmental NGO movement as well as to an enabling legal environment for the civil sector in Hungary since 2003.

During the past decades Ökotárs became one of the leading foundations in Hungary, and it built broad knowledge and overview of civil society, accumulated through giving grants and providing technical assistance to more than 2000 CSOs and communities.