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Each Member State, in partnership with the European Commission, agrees on one or more Operational Programmes for ESF funding for the seven-year programming period. Operational Programmes describe the priorities for ESF activities and their objectives.

These Operational Programmes are then implemented through a wide range of organisations, both in the public and private sector. These organisations include national, regional and local authorities, educational and training institutions, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the voluntary sector, as well as social partners, for example trade unions and works councils, industry and professional associations, and individual companies.

ESF funding is available through the Member States and regions. The ESF does not fund projects directly from Brussels.

Each Member State together with the European Commission agrees on one or more Operational Programmes for ESF funding for the seven-year programming period, as do those regions that have their own Operational Programmes (not all do). Operational Programmes set the priorities for ESF intervention and their objectives.

The Operational Programmes are implemented through individual projects run by participating organisations (known as “beneficiaries”). A beneficiary designs a project, applies for funding and, if this is granted, implements the project.

Beneficiaries in ESF projects can be of many different types: such as public administrations, NGOs and social partners active in the field of employment and social inclusion.

Potential beneficiaries in ESF actions should contact the ESF Managing Authority or implementing Agency (e.g. ESFA in Lithuania) in their own Member State.

Participants in ESF projects are people who take part in projects and benefit from them, for example by receiving training in new skills or guidance in how to get a job. Organisations and businesses can also be participants in ESF projects, for example through training courses on new skills for their workforce, or help for management on new working practices.