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Łukasz Grajewski

The Third Sector in Ukraine – Where Is the Source of Its Problems?

Polish and Ukrainian experts had a great opportunity for sharing opinions about functioning of the third sector in Ukraine at the conference “Supporting civil society in Ukraine – different perspectives”, organized by the Polish Institute of Public Affairs (Instytut Spraw Publiczny – ISP). The conclusions were rather pessimistic – the situation of NGOs looks pretty bad, though not only in Ukraine.

Wolontariusze charkowskiej organizacji

Volunteers of FRI, a Kharkov organization, cleaning their city, source: flickr

The occasion for holding the conference was a publication of the new report under a lengthy title “Enabling Ukrainian NGOs to absorb international assistance. Review of capacity gaps and needs for institutional support”. Piotr Laźmierkiewicz, an ISP expert, and Iryna Bekeshina from the Ukrainian Democratic Initiatives Foundation surveyed representatives of 40 Ukrainian NGOs to mark out the strengths and weaknesses of the country’s third sector. Kaźmierkiewicz presented the main conclusion of the research: “There is a lack of institutional funding”. The majority of NGOs live from one project to another, frequently closing after a “project” source dries up.

The numbers prove that administrative and technical requirements of international donors are too steep for Ukrainian activists. According to the author of the report, no more than 500 NGOs receive aid from international institutions. Let’s compare this data with the total number of Ukrainian organizations of the third sector – 10,000 operating and further 70,000 officially registered. Kaźmierkiewicz voiced his opinion regarding grant giving organizations making a mistake acknowledging Ukraine of the time of Orange Revolution as a democratic country. For a long time this attitude was not challenged, yet recently the issue has come back, for once again the focus is on the necessity of supporting Ukrainian civil society.

Wladysław Galuszko from Think Tank Fund, a funding institution aiding analytical centres in Eastern Europe, talked about the problem with current authorities, who try to slander NGO activities: “The workers of the third sector are frequently called agents of the West whose money come from unknown sources”. According to the Ukrainian expert, a solution of a kind would be more transparency regarding activities of local NGOs. A high percent of them do not publish financial reports, attempting to hide double financing – gaining aid from various donors for one and the same project.

Yet the conclusions of preceding speakers were contested by Krzysztof Stanowski, former deputy Foreign Minister of Poland who is at present the President of the Management Board of Solidarity Fund PL. He divided the third sector community into two groups – members of the first, a professional and qualified minority, can write proper applications, know languages and launch complex and properly accounted projects, for they do not forget about reporting required by Western donors. Activities of most organizations, however, are rather spontaneous and nonprofessional, which does not automatically mean they are not needed – quite the contrary. Foreign donors should not require only growing professionalism from their partners. Stanowski used the example of Belarus to portray a situation when less transparency means more efficiency (for the sake of involved activists and their security).

The Ukrainian angle of NGOs’ functioning presented both in the report and during the conference was also commented on by Wojciech Tworkowski, who has been dealing with development aid and cooperation among NGOs in Ukraine for many years. He drew attention to the similarity between conclusions of the ISP report and the “Istanbul rules”, the result of a global debate what non-governmental organizations are and how they should operate towards local communities. This similarity ought to encourage to further discuss improvement of this comprehensive and hard to define matter that a civil society is.

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Translated by KD 

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Łukasz Grajewski

Socjolog, absolwent Studium Europy Wschodniej UW. Pracował w administracji publicznej, aktywny w trzecim sektorze (Fundacja Wspólna Europa, Polska Fundacja im. Roberta Schumana, Inicjatywa Wolna Białoruś). Autor licznych publikacji o Europie Wschodniej w polskich mediach.

Contact: [email protected]

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