Russia: The hazards for CSOs of working internationally

How to communicate with colleagues abroad if there is no money, but there is fear of becoming a foreign agent

26 January 2021

A round table was held on the video-conferencing platform Zoom between representatives from government authorities, business, and civil society organisations, to discuss current challenges and opportunities related to international cooperation for the Russian non-profit sector. The meeting was organised by the Agency for Social Information (ASI) with assistance from Philip Morris International in Russia.

Elena Topoleva, director of the ASI and chairman of the Civic Chamber’s commission for the development of the non-profit sector, presented the results of a study on opportunities for Russian CSOs to access the global arena in order to share experiences and expertise. The study was conducted by the ASI and the Russian network of the United Nations Global Compact.

The study’s authors explained that the vast majority of Russian CSOs are interested in international cooperation and 61% already have some experience of this. Their principal motivation is to gain new experiences and insights into best practice.

In addition, participants in the study cited many areas in which Russian CSOs have achieved good results and experience which could be shared internationally. These include work with the elderly, disability rights, volunteering development, and other fields.

Representatives of CSOs cited lack of funds and an inadequate legal framework as principal obstacles to the development of international cooperation. Meanwhile, the majority of respondents refer to risks associated with the government’s position on international cooperation with CSOs and regulation within this field, in particular the law on foreign agents.

Yevgeny Primakov, head of the Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States Affairs, Compatriots Living Abroad, and International Humanitarian Cooperation (Rossotrudnichestvo), noted that an enormous number of applications are received from Russian organisations wishing to operate internationally.

“Unfortunately we dismiss 90% of proposals because they have no practical application. We are very well acquainted with foreign CSOs and with those which can productively cooperate with their Russian colleagues. We are ready to be the first point of call for Russian CSOs and facilitate partnerships with their foreign colleagues, but we cannot devise working programmes for them,” stated Primakov.

Olga Zubkova, chairman of the international film festival LAMPA and president of the educational development association Tetradka Druzhby, supported this view:

“It is only worthwhile to work internationally when we can offer long-lasting social practices; when we have expertise as organisers and communicators; when we can bring ideas to the table that will interest the entire global community and not just our domestic sphere. It is unsustainable to enter the global arena solely to advance one’s own ambitions, you need to seek lasting partnerships.”

Opportunities do exist to run international projects. Since 2017 the Presidential Grants Foundation has supported 369 projects working on the development of public diplomacy and has allocated 1,300,000,000 roubles towards these. “We are interested in good international projects, we do more than just allocate funds, we play an active role in the projects’ implementation, for example we help contestants take part in international forums,” reported the foundation’s executive director, Anton Dolgov.

Irina Zhukova, director for sustainable development and corporate programmes at Philip Morris International, stated:

“The experience of Russian CSOs in addressing socially important problems is increasingly sought after by international organisations, such as the UN, but also by representatives from the non-profit sector in other countries. As a company operating in 180 countries worldwide, we are committed to supporting CSOs in their exchange of experience and expertise to address critical social problems on an international level: this helps to replicate best practices and facilitates the implementation of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.”

Following the round table, a report will be prepared summarising the key talking points and ideas expressed during the meeting. The event is a part of a programme to promote organisations seeking to expand their operations internationally.


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