The Ukrainian Philanthropists’ Forum: thinking back and looking forwards
On the 7th of November 2020, the Ukrainian Philanthropists’ Forum (UPF) is celebrating its 15th anniversary. We sat down with the Director of UPF, Polina Nyukhina, to consider the progress which has been made within Ukrainian philanthropy as well as some obstacles to its development which still need to be dismantled.
In the early 2000s, Ukraine’s philanthropic sector was fragmented and chaotic, lacking both vision and leadership. In many ways, the emergence and growth of the UPF is emblematic of a budding civil society in Ukraine. In 2005, the Ukrainian Grant-Makers Forum was founded by six grant-makers who perceived a need for better infrastructure and greater intersectoral communication. Three years later, the Forum was renamed as the Ukrainian Philanthropists’ Forum thus widening the scope of its membership and reach. According to Polina Nyukhina, Director of UPF, the Forum has facilitated sector-wide change having contributed to better infrastructure and a more favourable legislative climate. There is, however, still significant progress to be made and UPF maintains a broad ambition to build up a culture of philanthropy in Ukraine.
Within the span of UPF’s existence, Ukraine has experienced considerable political and social upheaval in which civil society has successfully established itself as a noteworthy actor. The Euromaidan, or Revolution of Dignity, marked a turning point in the relationship between the state and third sector leading to closer communication and improved cooperation. Ms Nyukhina states: “Now we have a voice in our government, in our main ministries and in the local municipalities as well.” This also transformed many Ukrainians’ perception of volunteering who feel a greater sense of responsibility towards their communities.
These changes have translated into the UPF contributing to the second national strategy for support of civil society development in Ukraine. The first five-year strategy, launched after the Revolution of Dignity with the support of the OSCE, presented an ambitious vision for fostering growth within whole sector. The design of this policy-paper has been based on a collaborative process involving a range of sectoral and regional stakeholders. The inclusion of the UPF in drafting the strategy carries symbolic importance: it demonstrates the authorities’ recognition of the philanthropic sector as a stakeholder, as a change-maker within Ukrainian society. Although the strategy is not legally binding, it is complemented by yearly action plans which are.
Ukraine’s third sector is still limited by its lack of critical infrastructure. There is an absence of basic standards and common rules in terms of transparency, accountability and partnerships. There remains a need for deeper and broader communication within Ukrainian philanthropy and civil society, as well as with policy-makers and the Ukrainian population. Ms Nyukhina believes the State should play an important role in informing citizens about the contribution of non-profits in social changes. Ultimately, better self-regulation mechanisms are also required for Ukrainian philanthropy to flourish. Over the last 15 years, Ukraine’s civil society has grown in numbers, significance and confidence, which is reflected in the philanthropic sector, yet, the hurdles it faces should not be underestimated.