NGOs from Mahiliou Discussed Development Issues of Socially Beneficial Organisations in Belarus

On December 15, 2014, Mahiliou hosted a sectoral discussion "Opportunities for Cooperation Between the Government and Non-Governmental Organisations" where NGO representatives had a chance to debate whether there is a need to develop draft regulations on the activities of "socially beneficial" organisations. Participants of the event, who included representatives of local authorities, evaluated existing opportunities for public organizations and initiatives to participate in social services commissioning  and join certain governmental social service programmes.

The notion of "social services commissioning" or "social contracting" received wide recognition in post-Soviet countries in the past decades, with translators coining a special term for it which literally translates as "a social order" (as in “purchase order”, not as in “strict order”). This term is usually used to denote commissioning of services beneficial to certain social groups.

Irina Kozeletskaya, Committee for Labour, Employment and Social Protection of Mahileu Regional Executive Committee

According to Irina Kozeletskaya, representative of the Committee for Labour, Employment and Social Protection of Mahileu Regional Executive Committee, it is possible for the government and non-governmental organisations to find areas of common interest in the field of social services in future. She said that suggestions from public organizations about partnership between the stage and the private sector and about improvements to legislation in social services commissioning have been forwarded to the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection. In her opinion, public-private partnerships can be used in a whole range of national social programmes: not just the Comprehensive Social Service Development Programme, but also the State Programme for HIV/AIDS Prevention, the National TB Control Programme, and the Demographic Security Programme.

For example, a representative of «Open Hearts» Mahileu Charity Foundation Tamara Suvorova noted that close partnerships between public organisations and the Ministry of Health of Belarus are needed to ensure successful implementation of an existing project aimed to encourage birth rate growth. However, she estimates, the social services market has a lot of gaps and only a few active non-governmental organizations, which makes it difficult to ensure social services commissioning will be effective. In the field of preventing abortions, for instance, Tamara Suvorova’s organisation is virtually the only NGO representative in Mahiliou. This makes it even more difficult to participate in calls for state subsidies for social services: if there are fewer than 2 bidding organisations, the whole process is considered to have failed.

In many countries the government supports socially beneficial activities of NGO by providing grants to them, commissioning social services and giving them preferential tax treatment.

Tatsiana Svetlovich, Belarusian Red Cross Society

Tatsiana Svetlovich, Belarusian Red Cross Society representative, is convinced that there are certain “technical” issues of financing social services commissioning that require improvement. She claims that today the mechanism of subsidies provides for refunds to be given after social services have already been rendered. Such a mechanism means there is a month-long delay in subsidizing at the beginning of the financial year, which literally scares many NGOs away from implementing joint projects.

Funding and control mechanisms for NGOs in the social sphere can potentially be included in the draft regulation on “socially beneficial” organizations. Participants of the discussion recognised a need for the document where sponsorship and charity support mechanisms would be defined and a notion of “volunteering” would be introduced.

Guests of the meeting also agreed that NGOs should be more active, better informed and consolidated in the social sphere. In the participants' opinion, support for dialogue with local authorities is also very significant. One of the debaters, Pavel Brodov, representing Tabeya Christian Charitable Organisation, described how his organisation, which has been providing food to the homeless for many years now, was in talks with Mahiliou authorities on receiving support for their activities. According to Irina Kozeletskaya, representative of the Committee for Labour, Employment and Social Protection of Mahileu Regional Executive Committee, this initiative has been well-received and a relevant proposal has been made to the local budget draft for the next year.

There have been quite a few examples of public organizations having direct talks with the authorities on cooperation. However, the law requires social and demographic monitoring in the region to be organized before any specialized calls for social services commissioning can begin. In order to determine issues of priority for different social groups, not only local authorities can use statistical data from territorial social services centers – they can also join forces with NGOs to carry out sociological studies or use the method  of Community Needs Assessment. Olga Golomako, Head of the Mahiliou Women's Center of Support and Self-Education, considers this method to be cheaper and more effective when compared with volumetric studies, and says that it allows to quickly determine the "level of priority" for certain social issues.

Oleg Yurkou, Mahiliou Rehabilitation and Sports Organization of Wheelchair Users

In the opinion of Aleh Yurkou, Head of a Mahiliou public organisation for the disabled, successful partnerships in the social sector today depend on the public organisations painting a more objective picture to the government agencies and taking part in identifying ways of resolving social problems. At the same time, Yurkou says, it is important for social services commissioning not to be imposed on non-governmental organisations as it is very important for them to be motivated and willing to contribute to resolving social problems by providing social services. Yurkou says that a partnership can be an integrated one only if the public organisation is treated as an equal party and the state is understanding and supportive when approaching the issues of partnership.
See photos from the event.