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Russia's Third Sector in Conditions of Enhanced Social Activism

Priority areas of development: management
Department: Centre for Studies of Civil Society and Nonprofit Sector

Research Object: The nonprofit sector in conditions of enhanced social activism in Russia and abroad.

Research Goal:

To assess the conditions and prospects for the effective institutionalization of Russian citizens' growing social activism.

Empirical Base of the Research:

  • Five hundred fifty-eight scholarly publications on different aspects of this research topic;
  • Sociological data from previous rounds of Monitoring the State of Russian Civil Society;
  • Official government statistical data and historical data on the role of civil society in Russia's social transformation;
  • Data collected in Russia for Johns Hopkins University's Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project and for the CIVICUS Civil Society Index;
  • Data from an all-Russian representative sociological survey of the population, conducted to investigate the social and psychological characteristics of individuals who are inclined to become socially active in the third sector (n-2000 respondents (quantitative phase) + 50 respondents (qualitative phase); survey conducted in September-October 2013.

Research Results:

1. In empirical research, the social base of Russia's third sector can be identified by measuring the population's levels of trust and levels of participation in major civic practices.

2. The growing segments of the third sector's social base are the volunteer movement and recently retired seniors.

3. Classic and modern theories of social movements provide good research tools for analysing contemporary social activism in Russia. Combinations of concepts must be applied to explain and forecast the further development of social activism in Russia.

4. We identified the four basic functions of the third sector's infrastructure that ensure its development. These functions include motivation and mobilization; organization and support for current activity; learning / training and socialization; and the protection of interests, communication, and networking. Corporate volunteerism contributes significantly to the development of the infrastructure of the Russian third sector, whereas the role of Russia's professional scholarly associations and teacher associations is minimal.

5. An investigation of historic development trends in Russia's third sector over periods of enhanced social activity led us to conclude that the institutionalization of Russian civil society before the 1917 Revolution followed a developmental path similar to that of Western countries, although within the framework of the model of “retarded modernization”. In Russian history, enhanced social activity is to be considered a “productive” factor that positively influences the third sector.

6. We developed recommendations concerning the major elements of evaluations for programs related to government financial support for socially oriented NGOs.

7. An analysis of the importance of socio-cultural factors in democratic transitions was conducted.  An assessment based on empirical data has been made concerning the potential of Russian NGOs to be “schools of democracy” (according to the concept suggested by R.  Putnam). Russian NGOs play a crucial role in institutionalizing self-organization. Democratically structured local governments, as well as some government institutions where public influence is particularly high (eg universities), can play a similar institutional role. In Russia, activists in the third sector are innovative social actors. However, the institutions of Russia's third sector often show weakness when promoting “civic virtues”, which makes the “democratic learning process” more difficult. Russian's third sector institutions require urgent improvement.

8. Empirical research produced major demographic, social, and civic features of Russia's election observer movement. The movement is a new actor within Russian civil society. An absolute majority of this movement's participants may be counted as the “core” of Russian civil society. Their activity objectively leads to increased public trust in elections as a social institution, and supports the development of self-organization practices.

9. In post-Soviet democratic transition countries, the evolution of the civil society is far from complete; third sector institutions are still in development. In such countries, the typical elements of the third sector's developmental path include: a long history of the international donor community playing a strong role, and an accelerated perception of the institutional experience of the third sector in developed Western countries; further expansion of the role of domestic developmental factors, including in the areas of agenda setting for NGO activities, organizational culture, and sources of support for the third sector; the emergence of a government-support tool box for NGOs and the development of public-public partnerships in the area of social services.

10. In Asia, the development of civil society demonstrates a broad variety of combinations of Western-style imported institutions with transformed and adapted traditional institutional forms of community-based activity. An important segment of the third sector's institutional structure in Asia are mutual aid organizations that are deeply rooted in local community traditions.

11. Global civil society focuses on the following agenda: social, economic, and political instability, poverty, and climate change and its social and economic consequences; and food security and demographic change. The models of the global civil society's response to the above challenges are based on the primacy of human rights and freedom.

Level of Implementation: Data and recommendations based on the results of this study have been incorporated in policy papers presented to relevant policy-making bodies within the Russian government. Further implementation occurred during updated training courses for NGO staff, government and municipal employees, and faculty on cooperation between the government and the third sector in the social sphere. These training courses are part of a major government program delivered by the Russian Ministry of Economic Development. Recommendations on major elements of the evaluations of programs of government financial support for socially oriented NGOs were implemented during the course Monitoring Government Support Programs for Socially Oriented NGOs, which was conducted by the Russian Ministry of Economic Development in 2013.

Field of Application:

  • In public administration at all levels of government in Russia, including when developing programs to support philanthropic activity and volunteerism, and to facilitate civic self-organization;
  • In the design of evaluations for government-sponsored projects and programs of support for socially oriented NGOs at the federal, regional, and local levels of government;
  • In education and training programs for public servants;
  • In courses offered by diverse professional education institutions.



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