The team of Volyn Institute of Law brainstorming ideas for the social initiatives festival, Civic Pulse: Volyn Choice, in Lutsk City Park. Photo credit: Lidia Kozhevnikova / UNDP Ukraine

I dream about Ukraine where people take the initiative and bring about change. They don’t grumble, but take action. And there’s a civil society organization in every village to give a boost to the local community.” – Iryna Haiduchyk, 30.

Iryna Haiduchyk has been running the Volyn Institute of Law civil society organization for eight years. The organization promotes citizen engagement in the local community’s development and supports civil society organizations in the region.

Haiduchyk admits that it’s often challenging to persuade people that they are the ones in charge of the development of their city, town or community. Criticizing the authorities is not enough – action has to be taken.

People must be at the heart of decision-making

Today, more than 19 percent of the country’s population live in 803 amalgamated communities. With 49 recently created amalgamated communities, Volyn Oblast is a decentralization champion.

The Volyn Institute of Law helps local communities draft their development strategies, bringing together the efforts of the local authorities, civic activists, businesses and citizens. Haiduchyk believes that the more people are engaged in strategy development, the more likely it will become a real-life tool for change in a community.

Iryna and her team strive to find the right tools and approaches for every community.

“Sometimes we’re told that we’re making things more complicated than they are. There are plenty of ready-made community strategies available online. It sounds like a piece of cake, but it won’t work, because people only want to implement what they’ve created by themselves.”

“You might have brilliant ideas, but if the people from this village or community aren't particularly enthusiastic about them, these ideas are unlikely to succeed.” That’s Haiduchyk’s advice for civic activists.

For example, general assemblies are difficult to organize, since over 50 percent of the community population has to be present. Alternatively, it could be far easier to start working with local activists, encouraging them to create a volunteer group (to clean up a park, for instance). Other citizens might join the group later on.

Nurturing partners, not competitors  

While a lot of other civil society organizations compete for available resources, media attention and donor support, the Volyn Institute of Law helps other organizations to grow.

For half a year already, the Volyn Institute of Law has been functioning as a CSO hub, with UNDP support. The institute shares its own experience of institutional development, helps other organizations develop their internal policies, and trains their staff. Haiduchyk’s team believes civil society organizations have tremendous change-making potential in decentralization and the development of amalgamated communities.

“We’re often asked why we’re nurturing potential competitors. However, if we’re striving to make changes happen, then we need partners rather than competitors. It would be ideal to have at least one civil society organization in each community.”

Civil society organizations as a bridge between citizens and authorities

Volyn Institute of Law has been functioning as a CSO hub supported by the UNDP.

In 2016, the National Strategy for Facilitating Civil Society Development for 2016-2020 was adopted so as to create a favourable environment for civil society.

The Volyn Institute of Law is one of 117 civil society organizations united in a coalition to monitor and support the strategy’s implementation.

While many organizations are unaware of the strategy, it is important that they learn about the new opportunities that it brings. It was through the Volyn Institute of Law that many civil society organizations found out about the strategy. Now Haiduchyk and her team are working to improve the practicalities of the annual call for applications, which is open to local CSOs as part of the strategy’s implementation, so that more organizations are able to implement their ideas in their communities.

“The nourishment of local CSOs is an investment into community development,” said Haiduchyk. “They become bridges between citizens and the authorities – ones that can bring positive changes in living standards in our cities, villages, and communities.”

The CSO hubs’ network consists of 15 subnational organizations and is supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Ukraine under the “Civil Society for Enhanced Democracy and Human Rights” project, which is funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark.

Based on a conversation with Khrystyna Rybachok

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