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ISAR-RFE Training Program Helps Resource Center Overcome Organizational Crisis and Stand as Leader and Spokesman for NGO Community in Amur Region
In 1999, ISAR-RFE selected more than 20 individuals from various regions of the Russian Far East to be trained as trainers of NGO development. Upon completion of the “training of trainers” course, participants were to become resident trainers in various aspects of NGO development ranging from – to --. Although quantitative measures the initial success of the training program is not available - as the trainers began working in January 2000 and numerical data such as the ratios of trainings courses offered to NGOs in each region and the average rating of such courses, the training program has already resulted in immeasurable qualitative success in the Amur region. This success takes the form of the organizational strengthening of the region’s resource center, Amur Batyushka, which led to broader and more effective support of the regional NGO community, increased cooperation between NGOs and regional and local governments, and the heightened image/legitimacy of non-governmental organizations within the community at large.
The Amur region borders China, lies to the east of Lake Baikal, and west of Khabarovsk. It is the third most populous region in the Russian Far East and compared to other regions it currently faces tougher socio-economic challenges. Although the Amur region contains significant timber and mineral resources and would traditionally be considered an area ripe for foreign investment and aid, the perception that the region is a vibrant part of the inhospitable Russian “Red Belt”, i.e. an area still controlled by communists, has limited such assistance. The success of ISAR-RFE’s resource center in the capitol city Blagoveshensk – Amur Batyushka, however, contradicts the assumption that the foundation of a healthy civil society cannot be laid in a potentially hostile political environment. This success, in large part, is due to ISAR-RFE/USAID’s training efforts.
Prior to the beginning of ISAR-RFE’s training program, Amur Batyushka was facing an organizational crisis - suffering from a distinct lack of teamwork and strategic planning. The center’s employees focused only on performing concrete functions and were not interested or motivated to participate in resolving the broader developmental problems facing the center. The director, Igor Sakovich, primarily resolved these issues single-handedly and this negatively skewed the organization’s activities. After three of the organization’s employees began participating in the ISAR-RFE training of trainer’s program, this situation fundamentally changed. Staff members became interested in the development of the organization and actively participated in operational and strategic decisions affecting the sustainability of the organization. As a result, the Center changed its status from a division of a public organization to and independent noncommercial organization. Conducting trainings for non-governmental and governmental organizations alike also became one of the center’s fundamental activities and a potential resource for funding independent of international donor agencies.
Following the change in the organization’s status and the subsequent broadening of its mission from supporting environmental education to supporting civil society initiatives, the center not only received widespread recognition from local NGOs, but government authorities as well. For example, Sakovich was invited by the Mayor of Blagoveshensk to become a member of an organizational committee to facilitate interaction between local government bodies and NGOs. As a result, the center received requests from the Blagoveshensk City Department of Youth Affairs to:
- Conduct a seminar for the workers ăîđđŕéŕäěčíčńňđŕöčé;
- Conduct two 10-day courses for youth NGOs leaders;
- Develop a financial support program for a youth initiative group “On the Amur”;
- Develop a concept for the Amur regional government’s “Council of Citizen’s Youth Education.’
Sakovich was also elected chairman of the Council with the consent of the Mayor of Blagoveshensk. For their work, the Center received thank you letters from: the regional administration, the Mayor of Blagoveshensk, and the regional department on youth.
Following the completion of the ISAR-RFE training of trainers courses, the Center’s employees developed 17 of their own NGO training courses. The quality of the center’s trainings improved to such a high degree that their reputation has spread beyond the border of the Amur region and demand for trainings by NGOs in Vladivostok, Yakutia, Khabarovsk, and Sakhalin are steadily streaming in. Also, the improvement of the employees training skills directly impacted the quality and demand for the resource center’s consultation services. In the last year alone, the center provided more than 2000 free consultations to clients – more than any other ISAR-RFE resource center. As a result of these consultations, 15 NGOs received grants, 11 NGOs formed coalitions with NGOs in other regions of Russia, 17 NGO representatives were sent to trainings in areas outside of the Amur area. More than 10 NGOs also graduated to a higher level of organizational development – an example of this kind of progress is highlighted below.
The NGO “Psychological-Social Support for Human Development” is a ten-year old NGO that provides psychological-social services to Amur residents. During the last year, three members of the organization took part in four trainings on organizational development offered by Amur Batyushka. Following their participation in the trainings, the organization reported an increased ability to: communicate with its clients, schedule services for their clients, deal with its legal problems, work with the mass media, find additional sources of funds, and write grant proposals. Tangible evidence of the organization’s development include: the publication of organizational marketing materials; the opening of two additional centrally located branches; improved relations with businesses, government officials, and other NGO directors; and partnership activities conducted with NGOs in other regions of Russia – ‘Renaissance” (Magadan), “Yurga Youth Center” (Kemerovo), “Pilot” (Kamchatka), Khabarovsk Urban Center of Employment (Khabarovsk).
The center’s plans for the upcoming year include: issuing an NGO Fundraising Manual; conducting two regional conferences on charity; introducing a new “organizational evaluation” service for NGOs that will include the development of recommendations to raise organization efficiency, emphasizing working with volunteers; conducting a public campaign to advance public recognition and support of socially responsible business; conducting a training program for local governments in the Amur area; conducting a training program for business; and expanding support to civil initiatives in remote areas of the Amur area. According to Sakovich, “Without ISAR-RFE’s training program, it would have been impossible to form a united team within our organization, achieve the subsequent successes in our relations with the local government and NGOs, or set such ambitious plans for the upcoming year.”