Select Committee on European Communities Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the Field Studies Council

1. BACKGROUND

  1.1 The FSC has come into contact with TACIS through:

    (a)  the Bisztro Fund in Russia where we have applied directly with our Russian partners on two occasions;

    (b)  as a member of a consortium bidding for Black Sea projects on two occasions.

  None of these bids have been successful.

  1.2 My comments below refer to the first set of experiences and are largely a response to issues numbers 1, 3, 6, 9 and 10 in the Committee's invitation for evidence.

  1.3 The FSC is working on projects in the region funded by other agencies:

    (a)  Russia—St Petersburg—on a project funded jointly by The British Council and the Environmental Know How Fund.

    (b)  Russia—Moscow—on a project funded by Charities Aid Foundation.

    (c)  Ukraine—Donetsk—on a project funded by the Environmental Know How Fund and The World Bank.

2. ISSUE 1

  2.1 It is undoubtedly true that environmental problems are widespread in the NIS—it has some of the dirtiest hot spots of pollution in the world. However, it is also true that the NIS has some of the cleanest environments in the world. The situation is not all bad. In fact the indicators are that the situation is getting better—though not because of clean up so much—as because the industries are closing down.

  2.2 The critical challenges for the NIS are to:

    (a)  clean up the mess of the Soviet period—especially to ensure that the heavy industries and farming do not continue to pollute the environment. It is these environmental problems which most NGOs focus on;

    (b)  ensure that the road to capitalism it is following does not produce the same environmental problems in the NIS that we have in the west. Some of these are becoming more apparent day by day—traffic is one—litter and packaging disposal is another—increasing use of recreational areas is a third. It is these environmental problems that are possibly a greater threat to the environment in the long term;


    (c)  ensure that the west does not export environmental problems to the NIS. i.e.: the export of smoking habits (a consumerist philosophy) and other specific products are declining in popularity in the west, while battery chicken farming in the Ukraine is expanding in a big way.

3. ISSUE 3

  3.1 The impression received by NGOs such as the FSC and its partners in the Ukraine and Russia, is that there could be more co-ordination between the programmes of the different donor agencies. Our experience of World Bank and EKHF co-operation was not particularly smooth—the different donor agencies have different regulations for the presentation of project proposals—different deadlines and different systems which means that trying to work with two agencies doubles a lot of the project preparation work especially.

  3.2 In the area of NGO support there could be much more co-operation to try and ensure that funding was focused. One area that comes to mind is in NGO training where different programmes from the US and Europe could work together much more effectively.

4. ISSUE 6

  4.1 This is the crux of the problem with the TACIS programme for NGOs—it is far too complex and bureaucratic, showing a lack of understanding of how NGOs work in the region. It is hardly a people to people programme.

  4.2 Within the Bisztro environmental programme we were also concerned with the apparent lack of awareness of the local real situation by the programme officers. For example, the Bistro officer in Moscow who rejected a project proposal for St Petersburg to train teachers and others in environmental education gave as the reasons the fact that the fund had already done some environmental education work in the city (two years ago they ran a workshop for journalists) and that environmental education was of a high standard in Russia (when it clearly isn't).

  4.3 The bureaucracy of the TACIS programmes is in marked contrast to the UK programmes I have experience of—including Charity Know How, Charities Aid Foundation, The British Council and Environmental Know How Fund. These are much more flexible and much more customer focused (if that is the right phrase).

  4.4 The FSC realises the importance of accountability for funding provided—and for making sure that the best projects are supported, but would also comment that the systems in place do not necessarily guarantee either of these things.

  4.5 Two critical weaknesses of TACIS as perceived by NGOs are the apparent difficulty of keeping to timescales—this makes project planning a huge problem. The second is the slowness of payment. This has nearly caused the collapse of NGOs in the UK waiting for money—and also causes big problems in the region.

5. ISSUE 9

  5.1 The use of consultants, ownership and sustainability are real issues which affect many projects. Many NGO projects focus on training and here the critical issues focus on who is being trained? how do we know that the training is really what is required? is it the right approach to training? how is the training being followed up and how do we know it is being implemented? Many projects do not really address these issues effectively and make the assumption that training itself produces change.

6. ISSUE 10

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  6.1 NGOs are increasing in strength in the region though they are still small and have a limited impact. The priority given by the general public to the environment is low—lower than five years ago, as people at the bottom end of the scale focus on survival and those at the top with money flaunt their wealth by demonstrating a lack of concern for almost everything except making more money.

  6.2 The FSC is involved in a project in Donetsk, however, which is both strengthening the local Ministry of Environmental Protection and also NGOs. The project focused on the development of the capacity of these two groups to involve the general public in environmental issues and also in the development of public awareness campaigns. We believe that this project has been highly successful, especially in a Ukrainian context and through the starting of a new NGO called GreenCity has built in some sustainability. The project developed a Green Yards community project and also a Clean Air campaign. Through the locally developed training manuals we are continuing with a second year of the project to train further MEPs and NGOs in Ukraine.

  The model for the project has been successful in improving local environments, through community groups being convinced through NGO support, that they can improve their own environment—they can do something. The lack of self belief that anything will change is one of the strongest barriers to change in the Ukraine.

  6.3 NGOs need more training, however, if they are to be successful—and they need more training of the right kind and approach. The main areas of need are in—management—working with people effectively—developing awareness—fund raising—project development—involving people and developing volunteers.

  The training given at the moment is very workshop based and does not always meet people's needs. What is needed is a much more flexible and customer focused approach to training and development. The FSC has made a proposal with The British Council to use BC resource Centres in the Ukraine as Learning Centres which could provide interactive training using computer based resources, internet, WWW, text based materials as well as local coaching support to work with individuals when they need the training.

  6.4 Many NGOs rely on the enthusiasm of one or two activists—the strength of the new GreenCity NGO is that it was started by ordinary people who had been involved in Phase I of the EKHF project.

  The activists are also often perceived as being non conformist members of society and this sometimes makes it difficult to attract new "ordinary" people to the NGO—or successfully influence decision makers. Direct protest is often the first resort rather than planned advocacy as such skills are often lacking.

  NGOs also talk a lot about democracy—but in themselves are very undemocratic organisations—claiming to speak on behalf of people but without a mandate to do so. NGOs sometimes have a very small membership base.

  6.5 The EKHF project in Donetsk is a good example of capacity building for NGOs and GOs working in partnership and the FSC would welcome the opportunity to talk more with members of the Committee about the project as a model and about the proposed Learning Centres project with the British Council.



 
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