NGOs’ provision of social services

NGOs have made proposals for ending discrimination against them in the market for the provision of social services

Moscow 5 December 2014


The seventh National Conference on Interagency Co-operation in Providing Social Services was due to be held in Moscow on 5 December. Specialists have been insisting that the provision of social services by NGOs is in need of development and that providers should enjoy equal opportunities whichever sector they come from. They have put forward recommendations for supporting socially oriented NGOs (SONGOs). In his annual address to the Federal Assembly, Vladimir Putin, president of the Russian Federation (RF) said that discrimination had to be stopped and all legislative, organisational and administrative barriers removed.

‘People should not be worried about the source of social services they receive; whether it be from a state, municipal or private source. They have the right to turn to the organisation that possesses the necessary expertise, that will work energetically and with total devotion. All the rest, including the resolution of technical, organisational, and legal issues involved in the provision of social services, is down to the state which must organise these aspects appropriately.’ stated Vladimir Putin.

He added that the state would go on supporting SONGOs including with the implementation of social initiatives.

‘The NGOs should be assured of equal access to financial resources. Competition is the key factor governing the enhancement of service quality in the social sector. Furthermore, said Mr Putin, it is essential to establish a mechanism for independent evaluation of service delivery and to ensure transparency around the work of institutions operating in the social sector.’

According to figures supplied by the national statistics office the sector is growing dynamically. In 2011 there were 96,000 SONGOs operating in the RF and in 2013, 113,000 — an increase of 16.5%.

The number of workers in the sector has also grown. In 2011 there were over 445,000 and in 2013 626,000, an increase of 40.7%. The average number of volunteers also grew by 36%, standing at 1,346 people in 2013.

In 2014 the total of financial aid provided from the federal budget amounted to 10.3 billion roubles. 45 administrative areas of the RF received subsidies from the federal budget to implement programmes in support of SONGOs in 2014. One of the criteria for approving and implementing regional legislation authorising aid for SONGOs is inclusion of a mechanism for distributing the finance for providing social services on a competitive basis by way of providing subsidies from public funds or the purchase of services for state or municipal needs’, observed the director of the department of innovation and development in the ministry of economic development, Artem Shadrin.

The ministry has now worked out a road map for helping NGOs function as social service providers. It envisages the sharing of best practice for organising the provision of services on a competitive basis and the involvement of NGOs in the provision of social services which are bought in by federal governmental administrations and municipal institutions.

In particular it is proposed to introduce state backing for borrowing by NGOs that provide social services analogous to the mechanism for supporting small and medium businesses (by providing guarantees and subsidising interest rates) and involvement of the development agencies.

The necessity for affording such NGOs access to bank credit was emphasised by the director of the Centre for Analysis and Independent Research, Svetlana Makovetskaya, who observed: ‘We must resolve the issue of NGOs’ access to bank credit because they are losing out to entrepreneurs who are able to replenish their working capital.’

Ms Makovetskaya proposes facilitating NGOs’ access to the market for social services by breaking down major projects into smaller elements that they are able to tackle individually. She also pointed out that the government agencies that would be buying in the services of SONGOs in the fields of education, health and culture should be instructed to prioritise fostering competition by choosing the best provider with regard not only to price but also to other qualitative criteria. This would enable NGOs to compete with business.

‘Today I am speaking more emphatically than ever before about the need for inter-agency cooperation not only as regards firming up the ‘rules of the game’ but also above all about lowering administrative barriers’, she said.

Organisations often encounter administrative barriers even in regions where NGOs have been successfully functioning in the market for social services. Konstantin Gureev, deputy chief executive of an agency dealing with youth policy and implementation of  community development programmes, instanced the frequent refusal of the Ministry of Justice to license NGOs to provide social services on the ground that certain work does not feature in the list of services that an NGO can provide, such as transport.

‘Where is the legal regulation that permits such constraints? Social transport will not be provided as part of a package of services unless the NGO takes the initiative’, said Mr Gureev, adding that the creation of the institution of an ombudsman charged with protecting the rights of NGOs was already overdue.

Elana Malitskaya, director of the Siberia Centre for the Support of Communal Initiatives, said that whilst effective inter-agency cooperation resulted in the provision of social services for the population, the scope of the services that the authorities were willing to let NGOs perform was too restricted. It was crucial that there should be a radical change of attitude and that the government should be prepared to extend their remit. Subsidies for the provision of social services by NGOs would be the first to be cut if the budgets of the regional ministries were reduced.

According to Anna Orlov, St Petersburg, chair of the board of the Centre for the Development of NGOs, one of the best ways of achieving governmental recognition of the expertise of the NGOs is to keep collecting and evaluating the contribution made by them to the economy. Even when only a small number of them were doing this, the data collected evidenced the significant role played by NGOs in the delivery of social services. This was demonstrated particularly by research carried out in St Petersburg. She stressed that when assessing the value of services, it was essential to take into account not only monetary and quantitative indicators but also ‘added value’, meaning those qualitative changes that come about as a result of delivering the services.

Author: Yulia Vyatkina

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