Advantages and Disadvantages of the Civil Sector

Advantages and Disadvantages of the Civil Sector

What post-election changes has the civil sector witnessed, will the international organizations review their policies towards the civil society organizations (CSOs) – we interviewed on these topics the Program Manager of the Eurasia Partnership Foundation, Zaal Anjaparidze.

Interviewed by Lali Shalvashvili

Dear Mr. Anjaparidze, what was the civil sector like before the elections and how does it look after the elections? What has changed? Although a short period of time has passed and it is hard to have exhaustive answer, but you should have a certain opinion... 

Zaal Anjaparidze – I have not noticed any thoroughgoing and dramatic changes, one can say that the civil sector has not witnessed changes similar to those after the 2003 elections. Back then the civil sector has weakened, because the new authorities have changed approaches and started ignoring it. One similarity is that back then and now as well, after the elections numerous representatives of the civil sector have left to work for the authorities. To a certain extent, this indicates the trend by which our political class seeks qualified individuals among the civil sector, which in itself indicates that the sector shelters qualified and prepared staff as a certain human resource. I hope we won't have to confront the same situation as before – civil sector representatives who had left for the authorities have neglected the values they had served before and emerged in a strange role.

Another trend can be identified in the aftermath of the elections - unlike the post-Rose Revolution period, the civil sector actively and instantly reacts to mistakes that the new authorities willingly or unwillingly make. I believe this is positive. Yet, a short period of time has passed after the elections and it needs to be observed what will the civil sector do and whether it will actively participate in the formation of policies planned by the new authorities in various areas. It is a fact that the political approaches existing in many areas need revision. In the Eurasia Partnership Foundation I have to examine numerous projects authored by the CSO representatives. I can tell you that CSOs undertake active efforts to be engaged in the discussion processes that the authorities launch in various directions right at this stage.

I have participated in the meeting between the CSO representatives and the Chairman of the Parliament, at which the verbal agreement on cooperation was reached. Terms of cooperation are being developed and I hope it goes beyond the verbal eagerness, with concrete forms. Similar readiness was expressed earlier as well but the previous authorities have forgotten everything soon after and escaped the grip of the civil sector. Now I see the readiness of the authorities to build serious relationship with the civil sector, benefit from its potential, and at the same time the civil sector demonstrates sound criticism towards the authorities.

In parallel to the famous events, meaning the arrests, groups of persons have emerged, who try to show up in the name of the civil sector and protest the arrests. New organizations are being set up uniting members who are known among the public as supporters of the previous authorities. I have questions about all this, and particularly – the persons protesting the arrests now were totally silent for the past 8-9 years, when the human rights were massively abused in Georgia and number of undemocratic processes had taken place. Therefore, their double standards are unacceptable to me. Of course they have the right to express their opinion and there should be no limitations, but a public trust and perception towards them and their statements is a totally different matter.  

It is obvious that the public would have its own opinion and trust or distrust towards this or that organization...  

Zaal Anjaparidze – Of course. As the studies illustrate in general, public trust towards CSOs is scanty.  

What is the reason behind this? Often when one talks about the civil society, general public is meant. Does the sector have such mandate and does it exert influence on the formation of a public opinion?  

Zaal Anjaparidze – We may have mixed attitudes towards the studies – trust them in a certain part and not, but it is a fact that over the years the indicators of public trust towards and awareness of the civil sector do not change much. A small increase is noticeable, but it is not a significant growth that would enable the civil sector to enjoy full public trust and to state it is backed by a large portion of society, whose attitudes it is voicing. The society and CSO sector could not establish relations that would empower the sector to represent broad groups – they are perceived more as the elitist groups and somewhat alienated from the wide public organizations, who become exposed to the public only upon needs, for carrying out certain campaigns, for example. Nevertheless, general picture in this respect eventually becomes more positive, but the process is going much slower than we would have wished.

Civil sector is a certain "way", tool for the society to bring its voice and opinions to the authorities. How come this cannot be managed? What is the reason?  

Zaal Anjaparidze – One of the reasons is that apart from small exceptions, large portion of the civil sector fails to present itself to the broad public and have constant communication with the society. Communication is established when it is required under the project funded by some donor, for instance community mobilization, etc. In addition, majority of CSOs does not possess effective communication skills with the public, owing to the weak financial and institutional state. In order to establish active communication with the public, one should have tools and means and the knowledge how to use them. Only several CSOs possess these skills, resources and this level of development, enjoy public trust, are aware of the concerns and needs of their beneficiaries and take care of this systematically.  

You probably mean the so-called "watch-dogs", the organizations that enjoy the highest ratings...  

Zaal Anjaparidze – Not only them, but the human rights and service provider organizations as well. For instance, the Georgian Young Lawyers' Association offers free of charge consultations to the public, organizations operating in the social field teach various activities, etc. However, there are few such organizations, and since the tendency grows, we the donor organizations must support it. We have permanent contact with civic organizations – we meet them and listen to them to learn their problems, and achievements. For example, in Kakheti there are organizations that are involved in social entrepreneurship. The region's population shows interest in this respect and if we uphold it, more citizens will participate in these activities, giving them the opportunity of self-realization and civic activism.  

The process is slow and there is a desire to have it progress faster, but there are many interfering factors – grave socio-economic situation, which certainly does not bolster citizens to civil activities. Majority of citizens and households focus on their everyday problems. With such background it is difficult to demand or expect proactive civil actions from the ordinary people. On the other hand, if citizens are personally concerned on specific salient issue, they are proactive, and should CSOs assist them to channel efforts in a right direction, certain results can be achieved. There are number of successful cases of such joint efforts. Hence, I'm not totally pessimistic.  

International organizations are one of the key partners of the civil sector. Sector's activities would have been in fact impossible without them. Good or bad, we do not judge this because this is the reality. For this very reason civil sector has to fit to the grant competitions offered by the donors. How strong is the sector for offering its own topics to international organizations?  

Zaal Anjaparidze – Approximately 90 percent of funding of non-government sector accounts for donors. Reduced funding will undermine the sector. Majority will have to survive in other areas, as they will be unable to implement their ideas without funding. 

 As for the program-planning practices, donors start planning and designing programs after the preliminary consultations and research. We have permanent contacts with CSOs, experts, community groups, active citizens and try to build programs on the information received from them. A part of organizations may start implementing projects beyond their traditional activities, but in most of the cases the donors' programs are drafted based on preliminary research. For instance, we carried out the study on public attitude towards the culture of volunteerism and volunteerism in Georgia. The Volunteer Program was designed based on the study results. The same applies to other programs, and other donors work like this as well. Some program may not fully address local needs, but in most cases these programs are developed based on research and analysis.  

Yet, sometimes there are views that program and project overlaps occur... 

Zaal Anjaparidze – There are overlaps, but I view this also from positive standpoint. If the resources created as part of one program are used by another program, this means that the resource is strengthening and expanding. It is crucial to avoid duplication – which is already negative. Our Foundation tries to insure against this and we ask our applicants to study well the environment to find out if any other organization had implemented similar projects. We ourselves try to contact other donors and organizations to avoid such cases of overlap.  

What kind of impact will the changes in political processes and the new reality have on the activities of international organizations? Are the changes in their activities expected?  

 Zaal Anjaparidze – There is such probability, because when the Rose Revolution took place, the donors' priorities have changed. More funds were spent to assist the new authorities. Accordingly, their attention to and funding of CSOs has diminished, which has also contributed to their weakening. In general, it is a trait of the donors’ policy to respond to the challenges in the country as quickly and effectively as possible, and to be flexible towards the changes. We will see how the donors’ policy changes in the nearest future, probably, after the priorities of the new authorities become clear and they start implementing them. 

We can assume that donors will focus more on strengthening the civil sector, so that the activities of the new authorities are professionally and thoroughly monitored, because the experience has showed that the previous authorities went out of the civil sector’s control and this has not yielded any good results in terms of the democracy. If I were to define the donor’s policy, I would focus more on enhancing the control by the civil sector of all areas of activities of the new authorities and finding the new forms thereof. For instance, Georgia has joined the Open Government Platform, which implies the creation of e-government and active communication between the government, citizens and government members electronically. There are tremendous tools and prospects in this area for the civil sector and the authorities to move to the new relationship and to develop the instruments that are approved in the West. Initial steps are being made in Georgia in this respect, several organizations possess these tools and they observe how the ministries’ web pages are updated and the questions responded to. We should keep up with the modern trends. 

What are the advantages and disadvantages of the civil sector in general... 

Zaal Anjaparidze – Prior to the elections, the civil society was quite active, and the pressure from the international community was the result of their very activities. CSOs showed to the international community and the authorities that the civil society is effective and speaking in the voice of public. "Must Carry” – this was the public demand as it had the desire to receive alternative information. CSO groups negotiating this issue with the authorities in fact represented general public. The authorities acknowledged this and for this very reason they set at the table of talks. This is a great example of addressing the public demands. Reaction was efficient. Relevant initiatives were developed and submitted to the authorities, who could no longer ignore them. Therefore, I would rather hail the performance of the civil sector, yet, I wish these processes continue and extend at local level as well. There is a huge difference at the institutional, professional and public communication level between the capital-based and regional CSOs. I would identify little communication with the public as a disadvantage. Still many people here perceive CSOs as organizations pursuing the alien to Georgia values, and this is one of the reasons why direct and genuine links with the public have not been established yet. Another disadvantage is that the civil sector has failed to secure alternative sources of funding. Links between them and the business are weak. However, this is a two-way problem. Business does not trust the sector. On the other hand, the sector fails to duly present itself.  

Please list three values that the civil society should be built on.  

Zaal Anjaparidze – From my point of view these are honesty, professionalism and adherence to principles.

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