The Forum is held in Moscow State University’s Lomonosov building on January 14 and 15, and is dedicated to support for socially targeted non-governmental organisations.
Also taking part in the meeting were Russian Human Rights Commissioner Ella Pamfilova, President of the National Health League Leo Bokeria, Civic Chamber Secretary Alexander Brechalov and Director of the House of Knowledge educational organisation Irina Guseva.
Prior to the plenary session, the President visited an exhibition featuring social projects designed to help children, young people and those in complicated life situations.
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President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, friends.
I would like to begin by thanking all of you and your colleagues for your work, for not remaining indifferent, for actively participating in the resolution of the issues facing the nation, facing Russia.
One of the speakers earlier today said that it looks as though public activity is shifting from politics to the social sphere. There is nothing surprising here, as elections approach we will see this activity shifting in the other direction. However, this does not mean the state will stop supporting NGOs involved in politics.
However – I would like to make my views on the matter clear – when we speak of NGOs operating in politics, I believe their activity should be aimed at resolving matters on a national scale. This could be improving the political system, the judicial system, or human rights’ protection, of course. However, NGOs cannot and should not be used to address some specific party issues; otherwise, the organisations would lose their non-governmental nature. Such purely political work that should be properly structured in a civilised fashion, including the competition between the opposition and the authorities, should be transferred onto the purely political platform of inter-partisan relations.
You are discussing many useful and important topics at this forum, as our colleagues have just said. They all have to do with developing the partnership between the state and civil society. Previous reports – both yesterday and today – contained many good practical proposals on how to raise the efficiency of socially targeted non-governmental organisations. I promise you that corresponding instructions will be issued to the Government to consider how certain proposals could be implemented.
More and more people today are driven to take part in the life of the nation, of their town or village, to undertake socially targeted projects, to be of use to those around them, to help those in need or in a difficult situation.
Voluntary, charity work and philanthropy are deeply rooted in Russian life, while the feelings of civic duty, patriotism, kindness and charity have always been our basic values. This, thank God, has not changed over the centuries.
We need to strengthen these traditions. I see this as a powerful resource for Russia’s development, for the consolidation of society and for ensuring social and inter-ethnic harmony.
We all know that Russia often faces serious challenges. To meet them with dignity and strengthen our self-awareness, our independence and sovereignty we should first of all create an atmosphere of cooperation and trust, follow the same agenda and expand the space free for civic initiative. I would like to highlight the fact that as you may have noticed, I singled this out in my recent Address to the Federal Assembly as well.
I would like to note that overall, cooperation and a meaningful partnership between the state and non-governmental organisations is developing dynamically, including in terms of implementing socially targeted projects. State support for non- governmental organisations is constantly growing in scope; we have an operating system of grants – something that was also said today. It was also mentioned that as of 2012, for instance, financial support for non-governmental organisations in the form of Presidential grants alone has grown almost fourfold to reach 3.7 billion rubles [about $57 million]. We will continue such financial support.
These resources are mainly allocated to address issues that can be most productively resolved together with the civil society. This includes support for the disabled, for veterans and orphans, the implementation of cultural and educational initiatives and the development of mass sports.
I believe that joint humanitarian projects have great promise both across the CIS and within the Eurasian Economic Union. I would like you to consider that as well.
I fully agree that the system of grants should be more flexible and efficient. It should take into consideration the entire range of projects requiring support, their unique features and nature. This also means establishing a model for funding large-scale and long-term projects.
At the same time, I would like to highlight the following: if we shift to such a mode of operation exclusively – or rather, if you do, since we agreed that we provide the funding and you create structures that distribute it (that is the way it is done, and it is quite efficient). However, if we shifted exclusively to long-term projects, what would this lead to? Very quickly, everything would transform into long-term projects, we will not have any new projects and we will not be able to promptly and flexibly respond to the things happening in society and in the country. This probably makes sense in some areas and is required as well, however we should see what amounts should be allocated for these long-term projects, which, as I have said, we also need.
Bearing in mind that a significant amount of work, and consequently, resources, should be transferred to the regional level, we cannot do it all by means of long-term projects. I also believe that transferring things to the regions is reasonable, because the people that work there have a better understanding of what is going on locally.
Speaking of regional efforts, we have to note that these organisations often lack experience, methodological and informational support and training. Here, of course, we have to provide people with specific assistance in filling in applications for grants, in early expert assessment of the projects, monitoring the implementation of those projects and their effectiveness. We must help them establish dialogue with local authorities, with the municipal authorities; help spread the best practices and develop educational programmes for representatives of socially targeted NGOs. Our colleagues have already mentioned this; I would only like to say that I also believe that these important efforts should be continued.
Another thing I would like to stress is that heads of regions, municipalities and federal authorities that have already been mentioned here should develop, as they say, an interest in their work with the NGOs rather than take a formalistic approach. This includes making available information about projects and programmes that require the participation of the civil society. Typically, the need to create common information portals was mentioned here earlier.
I believe part of the work in the social sphere should be handed over to non-governmental organisations. They are more sensitive to the needs of society and to the issues that come up as they tackle certain jobs. There is nothing wrong with this. This requires control and we have to be sure that state funding is spent effectively, but this can and should be done. Just as we aim in the commercial sphere to transfer certain state functions to non-commercial business associations, in the social sphere we should aim to transfer certain functions to non-governmental organisations.
We should of course try to create the most comfortable conditions for the functioning of socially targeted non-governmental organisations in the future and remove the remaining barriers to their activities in the social services, healthcare, education and other related areas, and create modern civilised legal conditions for your work, a good efficiently functioning legal field.
The issue of additional benefits for NGOs was raised here, including tax deductions. I spoke about this with Mr Brechalov [Civic Chamber Secretary] recently when we had a discussion on various matters. I told him then that this requires additional analysis. I would like this large audience to hear me.
Of course, we would like to support non-governmental organisations and create certain benefits and privileges for them. The thing is that we all know how it usually happens: as soon as someone receives certain benefits, others, who are not directly linked to this activity, rise in an attempt to use the new legal instruments that have evolved to support their profitable commercial activities. This requires an in-depth study and analysis.
Another point was raised here: we still have to supply definitions for such terms as define non-governmental organisation, or political activity. There are many things that are referred to as legal technicalities, but they must be elaborated. Today even ‘socially targeted NGOs’ is a very loose term. We need to clarify all this before we move towards providing benefits. However, I agree, we are very eager to make that move.
Finally, another important point. I am certain that society should know more about the activity of socially targeted organisations and the best regional practices and projects (I have just seen some of the projects you are working on – they truly are very impressive, very interesting and useful). A lot here depends on the media, of course. However, the civil society institutions themselves should learn to demonstrate the results of their work. I think it would be very useful if they could make specific well thought out and coordinated proposals to this effect.
I know you discussed a number of other issues both yesterday and today. I would like to wish you success and thank you for your work.
All the best. Thank you.