How to overcome CSO development disparities in Russia’s regions

How to overcome CSO development disparities in the regions

Why we need a regional league table for the third sector and how to improve the figures through digitalisation, education and commercial services


Leaders attending Society, a discussion forum held in Lipetsk, have suggested ways to develop the potential of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in the regions.

The meeting focused on a third-sector league table that, for the third year running, the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation is putting together in partnership with the agency RAEKS-Analitika. The results of the last league table were published at the concluding Society forum in Moscow on 2 November 2021.

Why we need a league table for the civil society sector

The main questions answered by the league table are: how developed is the civil society sector in the regions, how far does its potential stretch and how effectively is that potential being realised?

“The league table has enabled us to shed light on large disparities among the regions. In some places, people are devoting enough attention to developing the sector – infrastructure is being maintained, channels of communication are open with the local authorities – while in other areas, the sector has barely taken off,” says Elena Topoleva, chair of the Committee for the Development of the Civil Society Sector and Support to Socially Focused CSOs at the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation.

She stressed that the civil society sector gives immensely powerful momentum to the economy of every region and affects people’s standard of living in terms of social issues and for the economy as a whole. It goes without saying that the huge regional disparities in the sector’s development must be rectified.

What are the league table’s criteria for assessing the regions?

This is the only league table that includes all the country’s regions. According to Topoleva, they are not aiming to have all the regions attain an identical ranking, but rather to avoid the huge divides that separate the regions. The league table results will primarily be of interest to CSOs themselves, with government bodies using the tables in more of a second-line capacity.

How should the league tables be treated?

Lyubov Kolcheva is the Civic Chamber’s vice chair in the Lipetsk Region. She described how the CSO league table data has been used.

“Once we had analysed the statistics, we could identify our growth points. The Civic Chamber and prominent CSOs took part in a strategy session in which they produced a draft road map for developing the sector in the region. We took account of all our resources as well as any shortfalls. And we identified the measures we could take to help the sector develop.”

How digitalisation can improve your league table figures

Alena Kuratova is sure that new technologies and digital products can substantively improve a CSO’s figures and professional standards. Alena is a member of the Committee for the Development of the Civil Society Sector and Support to Socially Focused CSOs, as well as being the director of the not-for-profit foundation Dyeti-Babochki. She believes that the key to development is making CSO activities accessible and transparent to the authorities, donors and beneficiaries.

For example, the team at Dyeti-Babochki once developed a medical information system, the register of genetic and other rare diseases, which worked with big data. The register was the foundation for a cloud-based system that automated CSO operational processes, stored customer data and began transparent reporting.

“The system allowed us to quantify everything that our customers needed right down to the last tube of ointment. By carefully logging the care that we give our customers and making statistics a mainstay of our work, we have become more accessible, transparent and professional. And as a result, we have been in a position to establish a completely different relationship with our local authorities,” says Kuratova.

Russian CSOs can be licensed to use this system free of charge as it was set up under the Presidential Grants Fund. The system can be tailored to individual requirements as needed.

Support for resource centres and integrated programmes

Olga Larina is deputy head of the department for internal policies at the Kostroma regional authority. She is convinced that resource centres make a huge contribution to helping the sector to professionalise. The Kostroma Region resource centre runs a quarterly session, the CSO resource school. They invite specialists from the tax inspectorate and justice ministry, as well as leaders of volunteering movements.

Sometimes, it is important to build the sector’s capacity on several fronts at once. That’s where integrated programmes can be successful, such as NKO-SOKRAT, which works in partnership with the Agency for Social Data to administer Alisher Usmanov’s charitable foundation Arts, Sciences and Sport. Elena Topoleva reminds us that the programme is now running in four regions (Belgorod, Orenburg, Kursk and Smolensk). It is finding ways to improve staff skills and enhance joint working, both inside the sector and with external organisations.

What else affects the league table rankings?

“Rankings in the league table are directly linked to the sustainability credentials of CSOs in the region,” says Aleksey Peschanitsky, vice chair of Smolensk-based CSO Developing Civil Society Together. He argues that organisations are sustainable if they are active in one of three areas:

·         They run socially meaningful projects with direct support from or in partnership with state-run bodies,

·         They are a section of a commercial enterprise; that is, they are part of a business;

  • They can provide commercial services and are involved in revenue-generating activities; that is, they are becoming independent entities and can “wean themselves off the habit of injections of grant funding”.

All participants confirmed that successful partnerships with local authorities mean that they can rise up the rankings and that the sector can make progress.

CSO growth throughout the country can also be driven by establishing hubs where CSOs can learn to work on a commercial footing. The hubs can be set up, for example, as part of the My Business centres in each region.





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