Russian NGO experts differ on new NGO Union
The National NGO Union has now been officially registered by the Federation’s Justice Ministry. It states on the Union’s website that membership will provide a range of benefits and support to participating organisations. Representatives from the third sector have mixed feelings about the Union and of the wisdom of setting up an organisation that brings NGOs together under one umbrella.
The NGO Union for the consolidation, support, collaboration and development of public institutions, was created at the VI Congress of Russian NGOs held in Moscow in December last year. It was organised by the NGO partnership “Agency for the Development of an Information Society” whose head, Alexander Aigistov, is now President of the new Union. The Union’s presidium consists of 192 NGOs chosen by its founders.
The Union says that it will support NGOs “at all levels, regardless of location, size and type of activity”, promote their legal rights and interests “to the utmost”, and help manage their relationships with State agencies, local Government and other partners”. The Union has indicated its readiness to act as a “court of arbitration” for pre-court settlements of disputes between NGOs, businesses and Government agencies and declared its intention to create an “independent public regulator” in relation to the award of grants and subsidies, as well as plans to develop a “State policy on the work of NGOs and on the operation of legislation and other regulations which govern civil society institutions”.
“Our aim is to restore integrity, objectivity and fairness to the provision of financial, material, administrative, information, educational, technical and other support to NGOs, including that from State and local Government agencies, the business sector and the media. To do this, we need to bring together the country’s NGOs in order to help them acquire socially useful goods, as well as creating the conditions for meaningful cooperation in implementing their social projects and programmes”, said Aigistov.
Some from the NGO community have reservations about the establishment of this new Union. Svetlana Gannushkina, Chair of the “Civil Assistance Committee” believes that the new body is an attempt to revive the old idea of creating a “Civil Society Ministry”. According to Gannushkina, the same thing was tried with the creation of the Public Chamber which ultimately became a discussion forum. “No-one can pretend that such a coalition of public organisations is the main thing that unites us all. Because tomorrow, another new body will emerge which, if it works effectively, will play a significant role in public life. This is the very essence of society”, Gannushkina added.
Alexander Svinin, CEO of the “Perspektiva” charity, believes that effective fora for interaction between NGOs already exist. “These include regional chambers, the Federation’s Public Chamber and the “Community” Forum which it leads. Setting up something new to capture the nature of our work isn’t really necessary as fora for bringing NGOs together are already in place – we just need to make better use of them”, he added.
Svinin believes it’s a good thing that the NGO community regards itself as a professional group that comes together in unions and associations. The new NGO Union has not been seen at any “Community” Forum meetings, nor has it featured in the work of the Public Chamber, he added. ”Judging by its website, the new body is still developing its thinking on a range of issues as there’s currently no specific mention of any particular projects. We’ll have to wait and see what happens”, said Svinin.
Time will tell whether this new Union is a success, says Maria Chertok, Director of the Charities’ Aid Foundation (CAF). “I believe that strengthening the solidarity and developing support mechanisms in the sector is extremely important and we have many examples of how this can best be achieved, e.g. through associations, unions, the “Everyone together” charity, the Donors’ Forum and the Association of Fundraisers. I hope that such a common cause will become this year’s main “Generous Tuesday” event.
The third sector needs to consolidate and develop standards so the idea of a new Union is essentially a good one. However, such an initiative must come from community leaders of large reputable organisations with a long history behind them who can be the driving force and a focal point for their colleagues, says Dmitry Polikanov, President of the Deaf and Blind Support Fund “Connection”.
“Perhaps there should be many such unions as in business. In any freedom loving society, people don’t always agree with one another and often see their colleagues not as partners but as rivals for resources or status. Bringing everyone together in one union, therefore, won’t work. However, the need to “unite” NGOs and set uniformly high working standards, to exchange cross-cutting experiences and information on events and present a steadfast and united front against the State on particular issues is still very much there”, said Polikanov.
Author: Georgy Ivanushkin