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17 december, 2020

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“The voice of the Russian public must be heard at international venues” – Alexander Shkolnik

The Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation discussed opportunities and advantages that give NGOs consultative status with ECOSOC

“The voice of the Russian public must be heard at international venues” – Alexander Shkolnik

On December 17, the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation hosted an online discussion “Consultative status with ECOSOC: advantages and disadvantages.”

The participants of the discussion talked about the problems of obtaining and maintaining consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)*, issues of coordinated work of NGOs with such status at UN venues, as well as issues of interaction of public organizations with the relevant ministries and departments through international cooperation.

Opening the discussion, the Vice President of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation Alexander Shkolnik spoke about how obtaining consultative status with ECOSOC affected the important issue of developing public diplomacy and Russian “soft power.”

“In our country, the potential of public diplomacy is seriously underestimated. Meanwhile, international public organizations play an important role in the work of the UN, which is carrying out extensive work to shape the international agenda. Let me remind you that the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) formed the basis of our national goals. Russia has repeatedly stressed the importance of the UN in shaping international architecture, and our diplomats have always performed well in this area. It is essential that the voice of the Russian public be heard at all international venues,” said the Vice President of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation.

“As of 2020, 5,725 NGOs around the world have received this status; the share of Russian NGOs is just over one percent, which does not allow Russian organizations to establish proper interaction with the UN, participate in events, or present their vision of the world agenda to the international community and promote national interests,” he added.

According to Alexander Shkolnik, many non-profit organizations are not familiar with the international agenda, neither are they familiar with the procedure for obtaining the status. That is why, it is necessary to conduct educational and explanatory activities, and to provide organizational, methodological and informational assistance to Russian NGOs.

“The experience of Russian NGOs in terms of consultative status with ECOSOC has shown the effectiveness of involving representatives of the non-governmental sector in discussing the international agenda, including promoting Russia's priorities on the world stage,” said Alexander Letoshnev, Deputy Director of the Department of International Organizations under the Russian Foreign Ministry. "Currently, 62 Russian non-governmental organizations have consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council." He also named the main conditions for obtaining this status: the organization should not pursue the goal of obtaining benefits; it should deal with issues within the competence of ECOSOC; the goals and objectives of the organization must be consistent with the spirit, purposes and principles of the UN Charter, etc.

According to Alexander Letoshnev, an important condition that plays a large role in the consideration of candidates for obtaining the status is the non-commercial and non-governmental nature of their activities, meaning that excessive or explicit support from the state can lead to both the blocking of an application for obtaining such a status and the withdrawal of such a status from organizations that have already received it.

“I agree that the Russian non-governmental sector is rather weakly represented against the backdrop of increased activity of civil society in other nations. Even after receiving the status, organizations do not always participate at UN events; a common reason is the lack of adequate funding to send their representatives to these events,” Mr. Letoshnev said. "The main emphasis, in the opinion of the Russian Foreign Ministry, should be made on increasing their activity and recognition, as well as establishing constant interaction with UN structures and maintaining business relations with colleagues from other countries.”

The Chairman of the Coordination Council under the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation on Public Oversight of Voting, Director of the non-profit Foundation for Research on Democracy (an organization with ECOSOC status)  Maxim Grigoriev suggests considering the possibility of providing information and advisory support to members of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation, representing large public organizations that actively participate in international activities and wish to obtain consultative status with ECOSOC.

The Vice President, Head of the Executive Committee of the All-Russian Public Organization "Business Russia" Nonna Kagramanyan spoke about the desire of the business community to integrate into the work of the UN and its agencies.

“Russia is nominally present at various international platforms, however, despite the fact that we regularly pay membership fees to various international organizations, we do not fully use the opportunities provided by these organizations to present our positions and, accordingly, do not extract any profit for our country,” she noted.

Nonna Kagramanyan also drew attention to the fact that the UN offered other interesting formats of cooperation, and suggested that the Civic Chamber should hold several training events for business associations in order to show how work was conducted on such platforms.

“From a public point of view, obtaining consultative status with ECOSOC is relevant for representatives of Russian business and the non-profit sector who support the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” said Olga Golyshenkova, Deputy Chair of the Commission of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation on Development of Economy and Corporate Social Responsibility. “On the one hand, the entrepreneurial community has many worthy social and humanitarian practices and projects that support the Sustainable Development Goals. On the other hand, no one knows about this because there are no promotion channels. Thus, an incorrect image of the country is formed at international platforms,” she said.

According to Olga Golyshenkova, the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation should more actively promote the topic of obtaining consultative status with ECOSOC and the participation of Russian NGOs and business on international platforms.

Furthermore, representatives of the non-profit sector who already have consultative status with ECOSOC shared their experience with the participants of the discussion. The experts stated the need to monitor important international forums under the auspices of the UN and provide financial support to organizations that were ready to share their positive experience of working in the Russian Federation at international platforms. “Very often, representatives of the so-called Russian organizations appear at such events and their participation is paid for by the other party, which is only interested in listening to Russian civil society from a specific position. We need to support organizations that have proper experience and have something to say about their activities in Russia,” explained Jan Vlasov, President of the All-Russian Public Organization of Disabled People with Multiple Sclerosis.

According to the Chairman of the National Council of Youth and Children's Associations of Russia Grigory Petushkov, his organization has had consultative status with ECOSOC since 2009 and there have been more than 10 years of interaction with the UN – representatives of the National Council have actively participated in meetings of the UN General Assembly, the UN Commission on Social Development, the ECOSOC Youth Forum, etc.

He also said that the UN held a large number of events where representatives of civil society and NGOs from various spheres could actively take part, however, this information was not widespread in Russia.

In this regard, Mr. Petushkov suggested thinking about creating an information system within various ministries and departments. Each federal executive body should have an employee who would monitor and inform partner NGOs about upcoming international events in terms of their profile topics so that representatives of civil society could take part in them.

Concluding the discussion, the Deputy Chair of the Commission of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation on Social Policy, Labour Relations and Support of Veterans, Director of the Autonomous Non-Profit Organization “Research Center ‘Dissenting Opinion’” Ekaterina Kurbangaleeva suggested that the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation should coordinate the work on involving NGOs in interaction with international organizations through obtaining consultative status with ECOSOC. She noted that this work was possible only in close cooperation with the Russian Foreign Ministry. According to Kurbangaleeva, the formats of such work could be organizing various educational programmes and schools for NGOs and business communities aimed at informing on how to obtain consultative status with ECOSOC and how to fully implement it.

*Consultative status with ECOSOC – a special status that allows non-profit and non-governmental organizations to interact with various UN structures, along with ECOSOC and its subsidiary organizations.

The status allows NPOs and NGOs to participate in official meetings of ECOSOC and its subsidiary organizations, make written and oral statements, hold meetings with official government delegations and representatives of other non-governmental organizations, take part in various events and discussions, as well as organize their own events on the sidelines of official meetings and conferences.

Tags: Maxim Grigoriev, Ekaterina Kurbangaleeva, Olga Golyshenkova, Alexander Shkolnik

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