When the trouble came to our house: How one Ukrainian community philanthropy organization is responding

Inna Starchikova The last six months have shocked the Ukraine. Unexpectedly, the state met problems with its integrity under the influence of our neighbour, Russia; citizens sought to stop the creation of an authoritarian regime and are trying to restore democracy. And finally, as the world is aware, we have a war in our east territory, leaving the rest of the country to try to solve all of these problems that have accumulated. It sounds like a lot of challenges for the Ukrainian state and citizens because it is. But, interestingly enough, this period of time has also yielded quite a bit of new information about philanthropy – examples and useful models – that can perhaps be used to define the main trends and risks affecting the sector for the next three to five years. Qualitative analysis of all of this information is still waiting to be explored more deeply, but I can already share some early observations:

1. Most NGOs and foundations lost “urgent charity” to social media. During this crisis, the main flows of charitable help from citizens went into bank accounts of individuals (via online donations), largely outside of the foundation sphere and without official records (money-boxes). This was especially highlighted at the local level, where calls for help from within informal networks evoked the greatest trust, and therefore response. People didn’t care at all about the tax implications of such donations. This was the situation we experienced in our city (Odessa), though it was common across the Ukraine.

2. There have been attempted raids on charitable foundations located away from the military zone. Some years ago we tried to discuss this problem, as well as possible mechanisms to counter it, with our colleagues at a national conference, but without success. There have already been several attacks this year aimed at different foundations. One of these raids received wide publicity (not to mention millions of Hryvnia, our currency, for the families of those killed at Maidan) and became a scandal, with members of the Ukrainian Philanthropists Forum getting involved with a team of lawyers.

3. Odd crowdfunding companies for government institutions have emerged. For example, the Ukraine has been left with a very weakened army. Citizens continue to pay taxes to maintain it, despite the lack of investigation or punishment to identify who was responsible for its destruction in the first place. Furthermore, instead of reporting what is happening with the millions of public funds being devoted to the army’s budget, there has been an enormous campaign in the mass media for charity donations to the army using modern mobile channels. In the end, it is likely that the same army generals who were involved in the first plundering have raised millions from patriotic citizens. These kinds of donations carry huge commissions in the Ukraine (more than 30% to business providers), but authorities never seem to mention this in their reports. Such “transparency” raises further concerns regarding possible abuses. There are additional risks associated with charity in the Ukraine, which means there is a need to reconsider conventional ways of providing international assistance as well as domestic help. We have preferred to deal with existing regional partners during this period, who have already proved their competences and capabilities.

On 2nd May there was a tragedy in Odessa, where we live and work, which garnered the world’s attention. Numerous citizens were killed. It was impossible for us to believe that dozens of inhabitants could be killed in this European city; the city was blanketed with confusion and depression. Our foundation provided different support after that, but I think that the greatest help was our psychological support: we returned faith to the people and to the community of thousands of residents by delivering messages and support through social media during the first evening and all night after tragedy. More information on the events in Odessa can be found in the “Report on the Human Rights Situation in Ukraine” published by Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights  on 15th June 2014. It has a large section entitled “Investigations into Human Rights Violations Related to the Violence in Odesa on 2nd May.”

I’d like to offer a few words and some comments which you cannot find in this report. We were also interested in determining the causes of the tragedy with a view to preventing such incidences in the future. However, our goal was not to punish the perpetrators or official groups involved, but rather to check the “state of health” of the whole community. We asked members of the community two closed-ended questions, with the possibility to add comments, as well as their own answers. Below, the findings:

%
Causes of the tragedy: What did you personally do wrong, which allowed the tragedy to happen on 2nd May in Odessa?
I failed to stop a friend who went to earn money for their participation in the meeting 0
I was not on the front lines to prevent conflict 7.41
I previously did not take action around the accountability of authorities 18.52
I did not support the earlier actions that could have prevented the tragedy 22.22
My actions, as well as inaction, could not have led to the tragedy of 2nd May 51.85
Further prevention: What steps will you take to reduce the risk of recurrence of such tragedies in Odessa? 
I will avoid participating in paid rallies and will discourage my friends from doing the same 38.57
I will avoid any mass gatherings 12.86
I’ll be sure to respond to the unscrupulous actions of the authorities 37.14
I will maintain regular contact with authorities 2.86
I will participate in manifestations against the abuse of authority 8.57
I will support activities reputable for me, including financially 0
I do not plan to do anything to prevent the tragedy in the future 0

 

We often try to use such quick instruments in order to accelerate our own internal reflections (and sometimes for proactive engagement). Our foundation developed its own direct “digital channels” to the community with the help and support of the GFCF. This table contains important information for better understanding the current, complex situation, as well as specific roles for community philanthropy organizations (CPO) in the future.

In my opinion, the main role of CPOs is the same as anywhere: to support community development based on a community’s needs and resources. At the same time, situations such as the one unfolding in Ukraine, set specific (not to mention challenging) tasks for CPOs. It is very important for us to understand what can be implemented without our involvement, and what has a high demand but little chance to be realized without our participation. A time of turmoil and change requires crisis management, when we should be focusing our efforts on the changes that the community really needs. We’ve already started supporting the design of a more modern system to encourage better self-government based on IT, mobile technologies, and the concept of direct democracy. This can enforce people’s participation in decision-making at the local level and can also provide new opportunities for monitoring local authorities as well as preventing conflicts. We are going to implement it first with civil society organizations, with an eye to further developing this infrastructure by the time of the 2015 local elections in the Ukraine. At the same time, our region still is at risk of falling back into conflict. We as an organization will therefore be focusing on building our capacity to work with larger humanitarian aid bodies, as well as to deliver conflict resolution services.

We didn’t imagine that the trouble would come to our house. Sometimes it’s scary and sometimes it’s deeply frustrating. However, many people living in Odessa greatly appreciate the place, and with this great, common love we move forward together, inspired to look for solutions even in the most dire of situations.

Inna Starchikova is Executive Director of the Charity Fund “Moloda Gromada” (“Young Community’) in Odessa, Ukraine

Leave a Reply

avatar
  Subscribe  
Notify of