Fight for a strong civil society. The time is now.

 

Anna Korzeniewska

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In Poland and other countries bordering Ukraine, to which over a million Ukrainian refugees have already been directed (and according to the UN aid agency, about 5 million will come), we have seen an amazing grassroots movement of people, companies and nonprofit organisations ready to offer their support in the last few days. They donate goods (food, medicine) and services (transport of goods and people, housing) to the ones who left their country because of the Russian invasion. The situation is heartbreaking, but as with the Covid-19 pandemic, we pass the test of humanity.

Photo credit Unsplash.

Over the last three decades, Central & Eastern Europe has gone through tremendous socio-economic development. A steadily growing wealth of societies has become not only a dream but a reality for many. We’ve witnessed the emergence of better support systems for vulnerable groups and an increase in the number of social innovators, looking for ways to have a positive impact on communities. Although in recent years the states of Central & Eastern Europe, like many other countries in different parts of the world, reported the decline of democracy, transparency, accountability and the rule of law, we wanted to believe that we would tackle this challenge as well.

Now, when the sight of tanks and bombs at our neighbour is not a picture from a movie but a reality, the motto of our think tank ‘Money, time and knowledge are limited resources. If we learn to use them wisely, together we will change the world’ means more and more to us every day. No one could have imagined how challenged we would be in such a short time – first the pandemic, now the war in Ukraine.

Have we done everything we could?

We are now asking ourselves and we are asking the world – have we done everything we could in the last thirty years to build a strong civil society in Central and Eastern Europe, composed of committed donors and strong, independent organisations? Strong enough to face such crises? What does a strong civil society mean to us? When can we say that it is strong enough? These are difficult questions. There are no easy answers, and not much data for the facts to speak for themselves. And although we know how to mobilise in the face of the crisis, it is not enough to celebrate a strong civil society in Central and Eastern Europe.

…strengthening the region’s impact ecosystem, composed of committed donors and strong, independent organisations, is essential for the development of resilient nations, capable of dealing with threats to peace, democracy and the rule of law.

The problem we observe is that along with the growing wealth of the society and the growing willingness to support others, CEE donors, individuals and businesses, are not supporting nonprofit capacity building sufficiently enough. The most recent data[1] on the condition of nonprofits in Poland, which has just been released, shows that the Covid-19 pandemic worsened the sector’s situation. Sixty-seven per cent of organisations report difficulties in obtaining funds or equipment, nearly every second (47 per cent) has problems with retaining good staff and 43 per cent report burnout among their leaders. It is difficult to talk about a strong civil society when almost every second nonprofit (46 per cent) reports problems with maintaining financial liquidity.

Does it have to be like that?

The most comprehensive research on philanthropy in the region to date, Philanthropy in CEE 2020[2], shows that among individual donors, there is a philanthropic potential of 65 per cent growth – which would bring us from the €2 billion already donated today to potentially €3.3 billion. What’s more, 61 per cent of citizens understand and accept that nonprofits have to allocate part of their funds to capacity building. However, similarly to other areas that CEE citizens find important, such as peace and justice, only six per cent of them support such causes financially. What must happen for donors to actually increase their involvement? What to do to make nonprofits ready to effectively use this support?

We believe that strengthening the region’s impact ecosystem, composed of committed donors and strong, independent organisations, is essential for the development of resilient nations, capable of dealing with threats to peace, democracy and the rule of law. To ensure the sustainability of activities and greater positive social impact, we have to find a way to transform giving in Central and Eastern Europe from reactive and dispersed to strategic and systemic.

But it’s a long-term goal. And we are here and now. Post pandemic. With the ongoing war in Ukraine. We must take a position and react wisely, both in a form of immediate assistance as well as strategic, systemic solutions such as childcare, education, or employment to ensure a self-sufficient and dignified life for Ukrainian citizens who are escaping the war.

There is still a support gap

The global community – governments, people, companies and nonprofits reacted immediately, providing Ukraine with incredible support. But this conflict can escalate into a long-term humanitarian crisis. If we want to be able to support refugees in the months and years to come, there is a gap that still needs to be addressed: the capacity of nonprofits. Short-term, by providing financial support to organisations involved in the fight against this crisis, to cover their significantly increased costs, and long-term, by building their future financial sustainability.

To ensure the sustainability of activities and greater positive social impact, we have to find a way to transform giving in Central and Eastern Europe from reactive and dispersed to strategic and systemic.

This is the reason we created a dedicated Strong Civil Society Fund. We will initiate and coordinate collective action by awarding unrestricted grants to carefully selected nonprofits and co-impact initiatives to enable them to work on strategic solutions to long-term challenges faced by Ukrainian refugees – education, childcare, integration, psychological and legal support as well as employment opportunities, with a geographical focus on Poland and Romania.

Hear our voice

Crisis is always a trigger to a greater social engagement, it develops social solidarity. But it is maintaining this involvement that should become our key goal. Strong civil society is, long term, crucial to tackling social issues in the region. We are a part of one global society. Please hear our voice – the countries of Central & Eastern Europe need your philanthropic guidance and support in building a strong civil society. For the sake of all.

Anna Korzeniewska is a founder of Social Impact Alliance for Central & Eastern Europe, an international think tank whose mission is to facilitate more informed, intentional and impactful giving in Central & Eastern Europe.

For more on philanthropy’s response to the war in Ukraine, see Alliance’s round-up.

Tagged in: Ukraine-Russia war


Footnotes

  1. ^ „Kondycja organizacji pozarzadowych – najwazniejsze fakty” Klon-Jawor Association, Feb. 2022 (ngo.pl)
  2. ^ „Philanthropy in CEE 2020” Social Impact Alliance for Central & Eastern Europe, Aug. 2020 (ceeimpact.org)

Comments (1)

kogama squid

Over the past three decades, Central and Eastern Europe have experienced tremendous socioeconomic development. This really surprised me.


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