Civil Society in Ukraine’s Restoration
Ukraine has one of the most vibrant civil societies in the world. In the decade since it launched and led the Revolution of Dignity, Ukrainian civil society has held successive governments’ feet to the fire while at the same time cooperating with authorities to build world-leading tools of transparent and accountable governance. In other countries, non-profit researchers, advocates, and activists are sometimes viewed as wonks and do-gooders advancing narrow or elite interests, but in Ukraine, civil society has achieved broad legitimacy as the beating heart of the nation. And while civil societies elsewhere focus mainly on the watchdog role of monitoring governance, Ukrainian civil society specialists draft the most important laws, advocate for their passage, collaborate with the government to implement policy initiatives, and send up signal flares to the Ukrainian public, diplomatic circles, and other foreign observers when reforms go off the rails.
Following Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, Ukrainian civil society mobilized like never before. In the area of humanitarian crisis response alone, the number of Ukrainian NGOs more than tripled from 150 to more than 450. Influencers with strong international ties pivoted to advocating for the provision of weapons. Researchers who are adept at tracing corporate footprints dedicated their talents to exposing international businesses that remain in Russia or have ties to actors supporting the Russian war effort. Legislative advocates pivoted to drafting the laws needed to meet the preconditions for starting the EU accession process. This has been a whole-of-society response.
Ukrainian civil society actors are also organizing to support what they hope will be a recovery and reconstruction process that features unprecedented transparency, accountability, and integrity. Three coalitions of NGOs—RISE Ukraine; Resilience, Reconstruction, and Relief for Ukraine (RRR4U); and Reanimation Package of Reforms (RPR)—bring together experts to build transparent tools for reconstruction, develop recovery principles, collaborate with the government, align international engagement, and more.
This paper presents for the first time a new survey of Ukrainian CSOs focused on recovery and reconstruction. Survey respondents are listed on pages 6 and 7. Half specialize in advocacy and analysis, doing the research and promotion needed to launch projects such as platforms to index destroyed properties and new approaches to calculating compensation, as well as other tools. The other half either monitor for risks such as corruption or provide social services—for example, organizing volunteers to remove debris in the wake of Russian attacks. Only 11% of the NGO respondents in our survey operate in more than one of these functional areas, which illustrates their professional adherence to their respective areas of specialization. While this helps protect against duplicative efforts and conflicts of interests, it also underscores the need for coalitions to collaborate across silos. Half of all NGOs working on recovery and reconstruction participate in a coalition.
When asked about the key problems they face, NGOs involved in recovery and reconstruction pointed to numerous examples ranging from lack of human capital (a challenge exacerbated by the war) to systemic funding shortfalls. Many regional and new organizations need professional capacity development in order to be institutionally prepared to receive and safeguard foreign assistance. But the most common gap NGOs mention is the absence of a mechanism of direct cooperation between Ukrainian civil society and the donor community—a need that could be met by the creation of a civil society advisory board to work with the G7’s donor coordination platform.
Survey responses demonstrate that NGOs can offer donors nuanced guidance. For example, on the process of selecting implementing partners, NGOs advise that donors scrutinize the track record of potential grantees in order to safeguard funds from corruption—the biggest risk to recovery and reconstruction foreseen by survey respondents—and that donors should also work with young organizations formed in response to new needs on the ground in Ukraine.
Taking into consideration these survey responses from Ukrainian CSOs, this study makes concrete recommendations for international partners looking to help elevate Ukrainian civil society:
- Give Ukrainian NGOs an advisory seat at the donor coordination table
- Provide capacity-building support to professionalize recovery-related NGO initiatives
- Establish a system for the selection of qualified implementing partners in Ukraine
- Enter the Ukrainian context through NGO coalitions
- Use DREAM and work with Ukrainian civil society to make this the most transparent reconstruction ever
- Insist that all projects include partners not only in the public and private sectors but also Ukrainian NGOs
In addition to recommending policies and approaches for donors looking to deepen engagement in Ukraine, this study introduces donors and investors to the landscape of Ukrainian civil society. It is meant to serve as a resource guiding the international community toward segments and actors of Ukrainian civil society that can help navigate opportunities and challenges on the ground. If a donor or investor wishes to engage in a particular sector relevant to Ukrainian recovery and reconstruction—agriculture, education, energy, health, local governance, anti-corruption, digitalization, internally displaced persons (IDPs), public finances, foreign policy, and so on—this study points them toward NGOs that could serve as informed local partners.1 The coalitions of NGOs focused on recovery and reconstruction are also helpful entry points.
Ukrainian civil society has hit the ground running to organize for an unprecedentedly transparent and accountable process of recovery and reconstruction. Civil society organizations know that their active involvement will be just as critical to a modern Marshall Plan as it was to meeting other historic national needs from 2014 to 2022. This should be welcomed and supported by all who hope to see Ukraine rebuild as a robust democracy under the rule of law that is ready for Euro-Atlantic integration. To lay the groundwork for that future, donors and other international partners should take steps now and throughout the process of recovery and reconstruction to coordinate with Ukrainian civil society.
Give Ukrainian NGOs an Advisory Seat at the Donor Coordination Table
Create a board of leading Ukrainian civil society experts to advise the Multi-Agency Donor Coordination Platform. Taking this step would be responsive to the many NGOs in our survey that emphasize the need for entry points to consult with the donor community at the planning stage of their Ukraine-related initiatives. It would give the G7’s donor coordination platform more analytic capacity and help broaden Ukrainian ownership beyond just the Ukrainian government.
Provide Capacity-Building Support to Professionalize Recovery-Related NGO Initiatives
Build the professional capacities of new Ukrainian NGOs to sustainably receive and oversee foreign assistance by providing them with related cultivation and incubation services. While the NGOs in our survey generally have these capabilities, they note that there are hundreds more that could use this type of support.
Establish a System for the Selection of Qualified Implementers
Create a digital system for independent evaluation of organizations’ processes of selecting the most qualified professionals to implement projects. This verification system should simultaneously satisfy both the needs of the donor community for screening future partners and the needs of Ukrainian organizations to improve their work under clear criteria.
Enter the Ukrainian Context Through NGO Coalitions and Localization of Aid
As the first step toward understanding the local Ukrainian context, donors should contact coalitions of NGOs or individual survey respondents specializing in the relevant sectors and functions. Ukrainian NGOs serve as essential guides to international partners looking to identify sector gaps, experts, and priority requests.
Work with Ukrainian Civil Society to Make This the Most Transparent Reconstruction Ever
Support the DREAM digital recovery management system through several forms of international assistance: financial and technical resources, capacity development among Ukrainian authorities, cultivation of support communities able to train other stakeholders in how to use the system, and perhaps most important and most challenging—because it would bring more transparency than most donors are accustomed to—donors using DREAM themselves by integrating it into their own data systems and requiring their implementing partners to use it.
Insist Upon Cooperation with Ukrainian NGOs
Require all projects in Ukraine to involve partners not only among the public and private sectors but also among Ukrainian NGOs. This mandatory inclusion of Ukrainian NGOs on all recovery and reconstruction projects will provide critical public oversight of donor funds that will be essential to ensuring transparency and accountability and thus safeguarding donor resources from corruption and other risks.
The Institute of Analytics and Advocacy (IAA) is a leading Ukrainian independent think tank that creates tools and conducts research to help authorities make effective decisions in the development and implementation of policies and to obtain sustainable results. IAA works on civil society development, policy and data analysis, development, and implementation of innovative digital solutions.
The Alliance for Securing Democracy (ASD) at the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) is a nonpartisan initiative that develops comprehensive strategies to deter, defend against, and raise the costs of autocratic efforts to undermine and interfere in democratic institutions. ASD has staff in Washington DC and Brussels, bringing together experts on disinformation, malign finance, emerging technologies, election integrity, economic coercion, and cybersecurity, as well as on Russia, China, and the Middle East, to collaborate across traditional silos and develop cross-cutting frameworks.
This work was produced with the generous support of the Smith Richardson Foundation.
A MARSHALL PLAN FOR UKRAINE
We Need a Marshall Plan for Ukraine.
The Marshall Plan was an audacious, innovative strategy to tackle the most pressing challenges of its time. Breaking Western Europe’s cycle of conflict and rebuilding economies devastated by World War II was an immense task, and the Marshall Plan is a concrete example of the scale of change made possible by imagination, pragmatism, and generosity. GMF’s work carries this spirit into the 21st century.