Prospects for Third Sector Development in Abkhazia

By Roman Dbar

Before we can begin this topic, it is necessary to understand the term "third sector," also known as the non-governmental sector. People are involved in three spheres of social life: The first is the governmental sector; the second is the commercial sector; and finally, the third sector, which consists of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The activities of the latter are not connected to either government or business. So what is the role of the third sector in contemporary society, and what kinds of people work in this sphere?

No matter how well the government or commercial sectors function, it is impossible to satisfy the needs of all members of society and independent groups of citizens. There are always people who are not included in officially defined spheres. It is easier to imagine what a successful official or businessman is like than someone engaged in the third sector. The latter are usually active people who seek solutions to unusual problems through informal approaches and like to take initiative. These people tend to have high moral and ethical standards.

How does this sector relate to the other two? Under normal circumstances, they do not work at cross purposes, but supplement one another and are a condition for a stable society, taking care of the needs of all of its members. The third sector can ease pressures in society by solving conflicts on various levels, interpersonal as well as inter-group. Social harmony is always a symbiosis of its functioning sectors.

NGOs seek ways to implement their ideas. Fund raising for such activities is an art form. There are thousands of funders, from the largest, who every year grant hundreds of millions of dollars, to the smallest who support projects of only two to three thousand dollars and even less. To receive a grant is not easy; it is necessary to learn certain skills. We need to direct Abkhazia’s developing private resources to the third sector. The commercial sector, despite economic difficulties, has responded well to social initiatives. We need such relationships with others.

During the Soviet period, the government funded and controlled what were called public service organizations. Unfortunately, it has been difficult in these new circumstances for independent organizations, the new NGOs, to build a third sector that differs from its Soviet predecessor which was so closely linked to the state. However, our society needs informal approaches to solve quite a number of problems generated by the war.

International organizations working in Abkhazia are actively exploring entire "unploughed fields" of endeavor. Clearly, our society cannot consider itself self sufficient and strong while our disabled and elderly are still dependent on international organizations. Local NGOs can be most useful helping the aged and disabled, by assisting with psychological rehabilitation, rebuilding towns and villages, working on environmental problems, and with children and young people. Much is to be done in these spheres. NGOs cannot do it alone, but their contributions can be significant.

For objective reasons, development of the third sector in Abkhazia has been slow because

* There is poor assimilation of international experience in NGO activity.

* Funds for public service organizations are not geared to assisting NGOs.

* NGOs themselves do not expect and do not ask for funding from these sources. Furthermore, no accounting system exists for such funding.

* International humanitarian organizations in Abkhazia are not actively involving local NGOs in solving post-war problems or in transferring their international experience to local organizations.

* Finally, Abkhaz NGOs face discrimination. They do not have direct access to international funds.

Under these circumstances, is creation of a full-fledged third sector in Abkhazia possible? Yes, it is. We have the prerequisites:

* Abkhazia has a large number of educated and energetic people who can quickly assimilate international experience.

* On the local level, our society has good mechanisms for self-organization.

* Despite the economic hardships caused by the blockade, a large number of international organizations are working in Abkhazia; their partnership and assistance can also guarantee success.

One of the main functions of NGO activity in Abkhazia today is to help regulate conflicts. They seek models of stable relations between Abkhazia and Georgia, and others in this post-war period. The main orientation of NGOs is to build a civil society. Our development depends on a law-governed and self-regulating society capable of solving any problem peacefully.

Creating a third sector in Abkhazia is not a goal in itself, but it is a step towards a civil society. Elements of civil society have existed in our country throughout our history. Today’s task is to preserve our unique culture and to adapt the experience of others to form a law-governed society of the 21st century.

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