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Rinad Temirbekov: Government and NGOs must learn to report about changes in society

17 Марта 2017 Almaty. March 17. KazTAG - Vladimir Radionov. One of the latest trends in the non-governmental sector of Kazakhstan is the fact that the Government tends to pay for the NGOs services, while the number of grants from the international organizations has been going down replaced by the state order.
Executive Director of the Eurasia Foundation of Central Asia (EFCA) Rinad Temirbekov believes the Government has different criteria  of NGOs selection for cooperation, while the public should learn to report not on the money spent, but on the changes achieved as a result of their work.
However, the process of changes must be reciprocal: state bodies also need to learn how to make a long-term analysis of NGOs work, as the real effectiveness of various projects can be seen in 2-3 years of their implementation.
Our talk with R. Temirbekov will focus on the professional level of Kazakhstani NGOs, opportunities of their cooperation with the state bodies and  public usefulness of this cooperation.

- Rinad, if we talk about the work of NGOs, we should make clear, in your opinion what is their professional level? Sometimes it seems that most of our public figures are trying to play on emotions.

- If we take the total number of the registered NGOs (including quasi-NGOs, existing only on paper), then the percentage of really working and useful ones won't be high. But if you look at those organizations that work, the overall level of their development is getting higher and higher. Many NGOs have already activated business processes from the point of view of the management. NGOs are not the entities isolated from society and living out of time: the society is developing - the organizations are developing as well. Among them there are formed, experienced, authoritative organizations.

In fact, conditionally NGOs are divided into the categories according to their specialization. There are some that work on the level of state bodies, when they can make proposals on equal terms with the Government members, develop bills, procedures, standards and defend them. That is, they are engaged in the development of "rules of the game" at the macro level.

There are NGOs which were originally created to work at the level of an ordinary citizen, they often represent the interests and protect the rights of socially vulnerable groups of people. So to say they provide legal aid. Although the right for accessible legal aid was announced in our country, the mechanisms do not function to the full. Therefore, there are always categories of people for whom certain services are not available - as lawyers do not aspire to go to the villages.

I believe that if someone wants to be a full-fledged member of the dialogue at one level or another, he must be competent, he is supposed to present information objectively, and not emotionally, to be a professional. NGOs sometimes need to look at themselves from the outside and see new opportunities of mutual benefit for each other, to learn from each other. There is no competition, the practice of the NGOs shows there will be no progress if the society is based on yesterday's stereotypes.

An NGO can continuously build progressive projects up to the state level, but if the population does not feel the need for them, if there is inertia and dependency sentiments there will be no progress. Therefore, the most effective projects are those which are aimed at the interests of the community, so you need the ability to catch this mood and mobilize, to make an effort. You can scold the Government for as long as you like, but if you cannot do gymnastics in the morning or clean your yard - what has it to do with the Government?

- You are talking about the welfare mentality in the society. And if you look at the other side, one can say about the NGOs the same way - "grants eaters" that work for their own profit. And such sentiments prevail. Why is this happening?

- Because there is a reason to think so. There are NGOs created solely to attract grants. Perhaps they are excellent guys and think that they are useful. But if you only aim to get a grant and work it out,  such an organization will not go far, you need a mission, goals, vision of your achievement, consistency and systematic work to progress.
There are organizations that work systematically in one direction and achieve results- they change processes, and life changes in that group of people for whose interests the organizations work.

As for the improvement of work, life itself makes corrections. Lately there have been less classical sources of funding for NGOs - from the international organizations, etc. - they say, Kazakhstan is already a developed country, and the volume of aid is reduced. At the same time, financing is increasing within the state order and from the private sector - from various corporations.
The Government has developed its own centralized funding mechanism. On one hand, it's good as with an appropriate control everything will be systematic and transparent. But if transparency suffers and people do not understand the priorities of selection for funding - there will be restrictions.

Now I see more advantages. Therefore, the challenge concerning sustainability of NGOs is deep, and this aspect - whether it is financial sustainability or a program - is least developed.

What is "program sustainability"? This is a management case in which if an organization has to leave the area of work for some time, then for the previous period it should accumulate the potential partners, followers, to carry out the task, to have a chance to receive substitute support from the partner organizations. If others believe in the value of what the organization does, which is vital, then the work goes in the correct way.

Financial sustainability is also not only the balance  of the debit with a credit, but it is also an ability to accumulate resources for development - to attend conferences, engage in scientific work, and conduct research.

- Since we've mentioned the state order for NGOs, I cannot help remembering the cautious attitude of the majority of public figures to it. They said that there was an intention to put them on a "short leash" this way. What do you think?

-  Dialogue and balance should dominate in the priorities definition. The Government has the right to "order music" - it is also a beneficiary, state bodies in this case are interested party, they have their own vision on how to develop further. The same thing concerns NGOs - they may have the idea about pressure points and prospects. And if the work of the NGO is focused on changing, say, a whole public cluster, interaction with the state is inevitable: it can concern the changes in the legislation, normative-legal acts and etc.

And today I can see positive trends in the activity of the state body responsible for the state order. According to the results of the second tender (they were announced recently), a third of the lots of the state order concerned the research in order to identify the needs. This is the right approach: in order to determine the focus for future work, it is necessary to collect objective information. The next stages will be the result of joint research and analytical work of NGOs and state bodies.

The second problem is monitoring of effectiveness of projects implemented for the account of the budget. We need a certain mechanism that will clearly define the following parameters: an organization got funding, it performed the work, what is the result? Social projects  are long-term, they need time. It takes a year or two to make the mechanism work. Monitoring standards are also being developed. In general, I am optimistic about this experience.

But speaking in medical language, one organ cannot be healthy, when the whole organism is prone to systemic failures from time to time: if blood circulation is broken - all the organs will suffer. And if we consider the NGOs development within the framework of the system development of the state and society - we are aware about the problems which exist. This is corruption, and the lack of systematic approaches in assessing the programs' effectiveness. New projects are being developed - national, business projects, etc., and after a while, even the deputies ask the questions: we open factories, but which of them keep on operating in 2-4 years’ time?

Is the objective information available anywhere: like for a certain period of time this number of new industries was launched, of them a certain number was closed for various reasons, while a certain number of enterprises reached the production capacities and etc.? This information should be collected by grains. So the system problems will affect the effectiveness of public organizations.

- Another problem of state order: the inconsistency of the allocated finances for the project with the tasks that it is supposed to resolve. The representatives of the non-governmental sector also speak much about it. Does the state save at the expense of quality?

- I do not want to say that there is some evil intent. At this moment you need to look at this from two sides, every medal has two sides.

I will not deny that on the one hand there are certain drawbacks in the planning of cost and volumes of work. But, on the other hand, no one forces to take this money. We often tell our partners: if you see initially that a particular  project is unrealistic - do not participate in the tender. And if all the NGOs said at once that it would not work that way and withdrew their applications, maybe it would be good too. Most likely, the life of quasi-NGOs would facilitate, which were originally created in order to take money. But this is the ethical side of the matter.

When the first tender within the framework of the new mechanism of social partnership between the state and NGOs was announced, there was such a situation: there were programs that seemed interesting to us, but when we looked at the total cost, we immediately realized that expenses would not be covered. And we did not participate, but we gave a recommendation: operating expenses must be planned to cover trainings, high-quality analytics, and etc. And more time was needed.

The position "do not want - do not take it" does not mean that NGOs should lay down their hands and do nothing. If you and the society believe that your activity is necessary, there will certainly be people ready to support this activity. The work of NGOs is socially oriented services. The methods of administration and management are the same in the NGOs and in the business structures. Sources of funding should be different. People will buy valuable services. And due to this you can provide the same service for free to a certain group of people. It is necessary to approach it in a balanced way.
Despite my critical attitude,  I have a hope that the state procurement mechanism is a good idea, but time will show what it will be like in the future.

Does the Government see partners but not "influence agents" in the NGOs now?

- If sane people work in the state bodies, they know that NGOs can be good sources, for instance, for expertise, that NGOs can do part of the work at their own expense. There is understanding of the role of NGOs - not so long ago the Prime Minister spoke about this. So there is general understanding of partnership.

But the devil lies in the details - in the implementation, as it all happens in reality. Here there are often a lot of questions. If an official has a formal approach to this (if he needs to gather 10 NGOs in the public council - he invites those who hang upon his lips), then the result allegedly done work will be formal. But at the same time, there are agencies that understand the need to transfer as many functions as possible to the public organizations, there are examples in the regions.

Another thing is that it should be turned into the national rule, so that the best practices spread as quickly as possible, so that was a troubleshooting mechanism. We lack the system of approaches: analysis, consistency, continuity. And we do not have continuity at the highest levels: new heads in the Ministries forget what their predecessors did on this post, they try to present their vision as something new, completely without relying on the experience that had been accumulated.

For instance, about five years ago we attended one Ministry where officials told us about creation of a business incubator as an innovation. In turn, we reminded them that in 2003 the Government had already issued a decree on business incubators creation. They could have done an analysis why the idea didn't work to avoid further mistakes.

In this respect, I like the Chinese approach: they never spit in their history. Even about Mao Zedong they said that  30% of its activities were wrong, and 30% were correct. They give adequate assessment to all that happened and try to learn from the past. With this analysis they rapidly progress.

We also need to introduce as many assessments of influence as possible. Not in terms of  "where the money was spent" but to report what happened, whether the mechanism is effective and how the situation changes in 2-3 years. We don't have much of it in the Government and in non-Governmental sector.

- Thank you for the interview!