Research shows advantages of NGO work

“NGOs as a social lift”: Researchers study the biographies of NGO members


30.06.2014, Moscow


A group of researchers from various parts of Russia has come together to work on a two-year project “NGOs as a social lift: paths of individual mobility in Russia’s non-profit sector”.

These researchers are currently assembling biographies of people whose lives are associated with NGOs and, through them, to try and “uncover” more about Russia’s Third Sector, and explain how working for non-profit organisations can influence professional attitudes and recognition.

The project was conceived last year at the summer school attached to the Research Centre for Civil Society and NGO sector at the National Research University, Higher School of Economics. The following researchers were involved in the pilot project: the philosopher, Butidma Dondokova (St Petersburg); political scientist, Polina Erofeeva (Nizhny Novgorod); historian, Elena Putilova (Nizhny Tagil), and sociologist, Anna Yakovleva.

The group analysed publically available biographies of six people who, in one way or another, are associated with the work of NGOs, namely: Yulia Simonova, head of the programme on inclusive education at the regional disability organisation “Perspektiva”; Alexandra Vasileva, an activist from Pskov and leader of the inter-regional public movement for the development of a transport system “Roads of Death” and who subsequently became a State Parliament Deputy; Natalia Voronitsna, volunteers’ coordinator for the “Tugeza” programme; Chulpan Khamatova, actress and founder of the “Give Life!” charity; Vladimir Ashurkov, Executive Director of the Charity for the Fight against Corruption, and who worked for the Alpha Group before leaving the business world to become involved in public work; Sergey Kovalev, Chairman of the Russian historical, educational and human rights organisation “Memorial”, President of the Institute for Human Rights, and former Human Rights Commissioner.

Having studied these biographies, the researchers concluded that the public’s appreciation of NGO work far exceeds that for other areas of activity, and also facilitates the growth of human “recognition”. Working for NGOs has, for these people, become a social lift.

The project’s work was recognised by the award of a degree from the summer school. The researchers then decided to continue their work, and subsequently won a grant from the Russian Humanitarian Science Foundation. “After the summer school, we revisited the project and decided to examine the Third Sector as a source of human capital, which could be used for a variety of other purposes. We resolved to use a particular research method that involved using biographies in interviews with professional people whose lives are associated, in some way, with the work of NGOs. We want to discover how a person becomes involved in the Third Sector, and how he or she starts off on their own professional path. We’ll talk to NGO leaders who have formed civil organisations, together with young, bright NGO activists. We’ll also interview people who work with NGOs, e.g. accountants, lawyers, and public relations people, as well as others who, for some reason, have left the Third Sector”, said Anna Yakovleva, one of the project’s authors, a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Master of Applied Sociology for NGOs.

Among those already interviewed by the researchers during their project are: Leonid Kolton, Director of the St Petersburg “Hessed Avraham” Charity; Anna Orlova, Chairwoman of the NGOs Development Centre (St Petersburg); Ella Polyakova, Chairwoman of the Human Rights organisation “Soldiers’ Mothers of St Petersburg”; Larisa Korneva, former Executive Director of the socio-legal aid service “Alexandra”, which helps victims of domestic violence; Veniamin Volnov, Chairman of the Regional Association “The Siberian Initiative” (Barnaul); Elena Kalyanova, council member of Nizhny Tagil’s cultural and educational centre “Rainbow”; Viktor Kirillov, former co-Chairman of the Nizhny Tagil Society “Memorial”; Lyubov Spizharsky, one of the founders of the regional charity, “Azaria –  mothers against drugs”; Igor Kochetkov, Chairman of Russia’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender network; Oleg Tamarov, Director of the independent NGO “Law and Order” which helps in the protection of the rights of prisoners and those who have fallen on desperate times.

According to Anna Yakovleva, “People come to the Third Sector from different routes, with each story being unique. Almost every interview echoed the view that, by working for an NGO, people had an opportunity of doing something new that no-one had done before them, i.e. using the power of creative thinking. A second issue to emerge was that working for NGOs enabled people to use their own initiative and ideas in helping to resolve problems. This point is very evident when one looks at the history of those who founded various social movements. Thirdly, the NGO sector provides a forum for self-development. This is well illustrated from the stories of people of around 45 years of age, whose professional careers began during the 1990s. NGOs also provide resources on a wider level, namely opportunities for self-learning, travel, business trips, geographical mobility, the ability to influence decision-making, and, for example, becoming a member of various civil councils”.

Alongside the study of biographies of NGO members, there will also be a scientific element to the project “NGO as a social lift: trajectory of individual mobility in Russia’s NGO sector”, together with a publication of annotated biographies related to research on the Third Sector.

Also in the researchers’ plans is the idea of running an information campaign based on data collected during the project. Such a campaign would aim to illustrate just how much the Third Sector offers those who work in it, as well as helping to enhance its public profile. The researchers are inviting NGO workers from various parts of the country to take part in the project and explain in an interview how they began their career in the non-profit sector. Anyone interested should write to Anna Yakovleva ( or to the group “Master of Applied Sociology for NGOs”; on Facebook or via skype, anyakovleva.

Author: Yulia Vyatkina

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