Comments by Non-profit Associations on the Cooperation Memorandum of Estonian Political Parties and Third Sector Umbrella Organisations
Kristiina Mänd, Network of Estonian Non-profit Associations and Foundations
The Memorandum of Cooperation between Estonian Political Parties and Third Sector Umbrella Organisations and the draft Conception for the Development of Civil Society that were moulded in cooperation of more than 40 different organisations have set up goals and principles on the basis of which people could more successfully participate in organising the public and social life. In parallel, an action plan for implementing the Conception and a possible development strategy for the third sector are being prepared. By helping to implement the guiding principles of the administrative reform, like providing better information to the population, encouraging participation in the life of the society and implementing the principles of public policy, the Conception for the Development of Civil Society is a good catalyst for promoting civil society in Estonia.
The work of drawing up the Cooperation Memorandum and drafts of the Conception for the Civil Society has been taking place from 1998 until today in the framework of the UNDP project managed by the Network of Estonian Non-profit Associations and Foundations. NENO also manages the project of the Estonian Volunteer Centre with the support of the Open Estonia Foundation and offers information and training also through seven regional centres and two information points with the support of the Baltic-American Partnership Programme NENO was created in 1991 as an Estonian Foundations Centre by 26 Estonian private foundations. In the 1990s, it has functioned as a competence centre uniting the third sector, and by now it joins 126 non-profit associations and foundations from different fields. Its aim is to advance joint activity among non-profit associations operating in the public interest and to raise awareness of the importance of civil society in Estonia through legislation, training, research and information.
The future objective of the NENO is to strengthen the third sector as an inseparable part of the civil society in Estonia, increase participatory democracy, make legislation more favourable towards non-profit associations, promote cooperation with the public and business sector, expand possibilities of financing, speed up and strengthen the institutional development of non-profit associations, and raise public awareness of and respect for the third sector. To achieve this, NENO is prepared to cooperate with all institutions having similar goals and is ready to use all the main roles of non-governmental organisations if necessary, including being a professional partner for the public and private sector, a critic and watchdog over the use of public resources, promoter of awareness of the objectives of the third sector and the one sounding the alarm bell, and if necessary also the “antibody” curing the complex organism of the society.
In implementing the Cooperation Memorandum and the Conception for the Development of Civil Society we are prepared to share our experience and cooperation networks.
Peep Mardiste, Friends of the Earth – Estonia
The draft conception for the development of civil society presented to the Riigikogu on the basis of the Cooperation Memorandum is a positive initiative, but yet it is only one important document among many others. Equally important is the constant exchange of information between political parties and non-profit associations and also the process itself. Cooperation with political parties has also stimulated exchange of information and cooperation between non-profit associations of different fields, and merely for this reason the initiative can be considered a success.
Officials take environmental NGOs increasingly more as equal partners. This is due to a constant increase of the professional level of the organisations, which, in turn, is often a result of close practical cooperation with experienced partners from abroad. The main problems, for example between the Ministry of the Environment and environmental organisations, arise primarily from the lack of information.
In order to involve the non-profit sector more effectively in decision-making processes, a concrete procedure should be laid down. The circle of potential participants should not be strictly limited; for example, the interest of environmental organisations is for some time already not limited to the environment protection only – increasingly more attention is given to energy production, transport, etc. For more effective public participation, civil servants could be trained about the nature and role of non-profit associations. It is important that all local or state institutions become aware of the existence and specific tasks of the third sector, and realise that cooperation is often mutually beneficial – both for raising the quality and efficiency of work, as well as for sharing responsibility.
Prof. Mait Arvisto, Estonian Central Union of Sport
The author claims that although people usually understand under the third sector organisations fighting for social rights and charity organisations, the sport system that is mainly composed of non-profit associations is one of the best developed (clubs and unions) and most international (membership in international umbrella organisations) and it presently unites about 90 000 people in Estonia. The Estonian Central Union of Sport, restored in 1990, includes 97 sport unions formed on the basis of 1200 clubs. Non-profit sports associations see their main task as cultivating voluntary, developing and recreational activities according to people’s interests. Naturally, all this presumes implementation of participatory democracy and equality and eventually it serves the interests of raising people’s vitality and quality of life.
Transfer from the Soviet-time basically state-run sport system to a free club-based system was accepted already at the Estonian Sports Congress in 1989 and it was fixed in the Estonian Sport Charter (1994) and later also in the Estonian Sport Act. Principles arising from the European Charter on Sport and the so-called European sport model, like creating equal conditions for participation for all interest groups regardless of ethnic origin, social status, sex, etc., equal access to management, recognition of “fair play” principles, fight against negative tendencies (doping, hooliganism, etc.), social partnership, and other guiding principles are also observed in the Estonian sports movement. From the aspect of globalisation, sport is seen as an environment facilitating integration and preserving of national identity.
The author shows that the club-based sport system in Estonia has still significant room for quantitative growth, considering that in the Nordic countries, Austria and Germany 30-40% of the population of relevant age group belong to sports clubs, as compared to our 7-8%. As before, the narrow model of competitive sport is prevailing and there is little room and support for the ideology of fitness sport.
Today, certain division of tasks between the public and non-profit sector has been agreed in Estonian sport, both on the level of laws as well as through a special cooperation and partnership agreement concluded in 1998 between the Estonian Central Union of Sport and the Ministry of Culture. In daily life, there is no shortage of problems – in the mechanism of state support, the priorities, criteria and control measures need to be specified, especially as the activity of sport schools is transferring to sports clubs, which on the other hand is connected with the expanding role of the business sector in sport.
The cooperation memorandum between non-profit associations and political parties, the conception for the development of civil society and other initiatives on similar basis are only welcome, because besides everything else such activities also foster cooperation of sports associations with other non-profit associations and other institutions in general. We can only hope that the started process will not be just a game of democracy or a cover for the lack of democracy, but it will be an efficient step towards competent and real participatory democracy.
Prof. Jaan Leetsar, Estonian Cooperative Union
On the global scale, cooperative activity has a firm place and sound internationally accepted principles of operation, on the basis of which about 900 million people on five continents have joined into cooperative associations, which is about 20% of the population. The Estonian Cooperative Union (ECU) was founded in 1919 and was restored in 1992. By its statute, the ECU is an association of cooperative organisations whose main objectives are promoting principles of cooperative activity and protecting the interests of cooperative organisations registered in Estonia.
The ECU is convinced that through economic, social and political cooperative activity the Estonian people can become actual masters in their own land. The ECU has two important roles to fulfil in this connection: first, to promote internationally recognised principles of cooperative activity in Estonia with the aim to stimulate people to more active self-help based cooperation both with the aim to receive business services as well as cheaper services; and second, to advise, defend and represent its members (as at 1 July 2000, the ECU had 58 legal members, with a total of about 40 000 individual members). The ECU wishes to develop mutually beneficial cooperation with the state structures and other umbrella organisations as equal partners. The Riigikogu and the Government could in the future delegate certain national functions for guaranteeing the development of cooperative activity to the ECU. The author notes that currently the ECU is not satisfied with the state’s activities in promoting cooperative activity. Major problems were caused by nationalisation of the assets of cooperative associations in 1940 and retaining them in state ownership after the reestablishment of independence in 1992. Several laws concerning cooperatives have been written without consulting with the ECU and they do not take into account the international practice of cooperative activity. For example, it is paradoxical that in Estonia cooperative banks can only be established beginning from this year. But it is still impossible to establish cooperative insurance companies.
The ECU is prepared to participate more actively in supporting cooperative entrepreneurship and in regional development programmes. On the basis of the foregoing, the ECU decided to join the cooperation memorandum of nine other so-called non-profit organisations and ten political parties, signed on 14 December 1999. The ECU hopes that the draft conception for the development of civil society, drawn up on the basis of the cooperation memorandum, will become a document that also satisfies cooperative organisations, and that decisions made on its basis will guarantee effective protection to the members of Estonian cooperative organisations against foreign capital, civil servants and various activities that trouble cooperatives. The members of the ECU have given its Board the authority to defend their interests with any legal measures.
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Valter Haamer, Estonian Cultural Societies
Over half a year has passed from the signing of the cooperation memorandum between Estonian political parties and umbrella organisations of citizens associations. During this time NGO centres in cooperation with the representatives of political parties have drawn up a blueprint of the conception for the development of civil society that the cooperation memorandum stipulated. Drawing up the blueprint was an intensive and developing activity as common interests had to be found that would promote cooperation with the central and local power and would stimulate a rise of citizens’ activities in the society. The author hopes that the blueprint of the conception that is a result of joint work will meet a warm welcome of the society and the public and the Riigikogu will accept its main principles. After adopting of the conception, a new work-field is waiting for the NGO centres and government agencies – they will need to prepare the documents to implement the project. This activity is closely linked with the current administrative reform because it is high time to involve also citizens associations in the process of the reform.
Until summer this year, it was difficult for the government to communicate with citizens associations because the latter did not have their own central institution. Now it has been created. On 1 July 2000, umbrella organisations of citizens associations formed the Representative Assembly of the Unions of Estonian Citizens Associations that includes national central organisations, including the Union of Central Societies of Estonian National Culture. The author finds that with the establishment of the Representative Assembly, the state has received a partner representing the common interests of citizens associations.
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Mikk Sarv, Movement of Estonian Villages and Small Towns Kodukant
The Estonian village movement has already for eight years been operating under the name KODUKANT (home place, in Estonian). The Kodukant programme was started in 1992 by the villages of Rapla county and it had three objectives: a) supporting local self-initiative, b) supporting local small businesses, c) supporting partnerships between villages, local authorities, counties and countries to develop rural life.
For the first four years, the programme operated in cooperation with the Swedish village movement with help of the funding by the SIDA development aid foundation, and there were participants from the villages of six counties and small towns. In 1996, the Estonian state took over supporting of the Kodukant programme as a regional policy programme, and in 2000 it was renamed a local initiative programme. Its management is decentralised to a working group comprised of the representatives of the counties.
Since 1996, there have been three Conventions (or Rural Parliaments) of the Estonian village movement. One of the central issues has been what can be done with one’s own efforts, and where assistance and cooperation is expected from local authorities and the state. At the first Convention held in Ida-Virumaa, a common decision was made to create an organisation uniting associations of villages in counties, called the Kodukant Movement of Estonian Villages and Small Towns. The second Convention set as its goal to expand European partnership of the Estonian village movement, for which a good opportunity was offered by the travelling exhibition of the European Network of Experience in Sustainable Development that was opened in September 1998 in Tallinn and later spread information about the Estonian village movement on its way through Poland, Hungary, Austria, Italy, Germany, France, Belgium and Portugal. The next step was in 1999 the Travelling Seminar for the Creation of Pre-Accession Partnership held in Estonia and Sweden where the representatives of governments and NGOs from ten Eastern European EU candidate countries gathered to learn about the Estonian village movement. The seminar report was published in the journal of the European Parliament. The last Convention in Hiiumaa in August 1999 assigned the village movement with the task to assist in the forming of a cooperation forum of political parties and non-profit associations, which peaked with the signing of the memorandum of cooperation.
During its eight years of activity, the Kodukant movement has stimulated civic initiative in Estonian rural areas, initiating new projects in cooperation with Estonian and foreign NGOs which unite the local community and raise people’s trust in their abilities. Next year, the “Sädenoored Kodukanti” (‘Spark Youth to Kodukant’) joint project of the Kodukant movement in cooperation with the Junior Achievement Foundation will begin and also a programme for small food processors in cooperation with the Ministry of Social Affairs will be launched. Cooperation with eastern European countries within the PREPARE programme will continue, as well as Forum Synergies and ECOVAST with trans-European associations.
The Kodukant movement considers the cooperation memorandum of political parties and non-profit associations and the conception for civil society to be an important basis that will enable us to continue implementing of the goals of the movement. We expect politicians and other non-profit associations to cooperate for the benefit of rural life. The situation of rural life both in Estonia and other European countries is so difficult that there is no time for complaining and blaming others. The only possibility is to look for solutions through mutual cooperation.
Ivo Eesmaa, Estonian Free Education Union
The activities of the Estonian Free Education Union are carried by understanding that education cannot exist outside the social and cultural environment. On the one hand, the content of education is always connected with a concrete cultural environment. On the other hand, the structure of the society dictates its own expectations and conditions for necessary readiness to cope in the society. Education that fails to consider these expectations and conditions will become a “matter in itself”.
As we are in transition from a totalitarian into a civil society, the whole population of the state needs new skills and they must be acquired in a possibly short time.
Exactly this factor determines the importance of adult training in the Estonian society:
- The Estonian state needs citizens who are highly flexible, responsible and constantly learning.
- Constant self-development is necessary for everybody in Estonia, regardless of his or her formal status.
- Lifelong learning and self-development are possible if favourable mental and material environment has been created for this.
A huge role in creating such a favourable environment belongs to non-profit associations, which form the majority of the institutions in Estonia who are involved in the fields of democracy, society and life education among adults. And it is an important role because right to learn must be guaranteed to the whole population of the country.
A democratic country can base itself only on the informed choices of its citizens in the issues that are important for the future of the state.
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Kristina Mänd, born 1969, BA in English language and literature, University of Tartu, 1991-99; MSc in NGO Management, New York University, 1996-97, USA. Work: head of office of Stockholm Environmental Institute 1993-94; chief specialist of the foreign assistance and loans department of the Estonian Ministry of Finance 1994-96, LIFEbeat, Music Industry Fights AIDS, New York, USA 1997-98; programme manager of AIDS Prevention Centre 1998-2000, managing director of the Network of Estonian Non-Profit Associations and Foundations 2000-.
Peep Mardiste, born 1972, landscape ecologist 1996 University of Tartu, MA in landscape ecology and environment protection 1998. Work: 1992-96 president of Tartu Students Nature Protection Club, 1995- Estonian coordinator of the Association of East-European NGOs CEE Bankwatch Network, 1998- coordinator of the Friends of the Earth – Estonia. Affiliation: Friends of the Earth – Estonia, Tartu Students Nature Protection Club, Fraternity Ugala.
Mait Arvisto, born 1940, teacher of physical education and sport 1962, University of Tartu, post-graduate studies 1968-71, thesis of the candidate in pedagogical science 1972. Work: professor of Tallinn Pedagogical University since 1993, Rector since 1996. Affiliation: deputy-chairman of the Estonian Central Union of Sports, member of the Board of the International Sports Sociology Association (ISSA), Estonian Sociologists Union.
Jaan Leetsaar, born 1946, hydrotechnology engineer 1971, Estonian Agricultural University, 1986 candidate’s degree in economics and in 1997 Doctor Latvian Agricultural University. Work: director general of the Central Union of Estonian Farmers 1990-92, Minister of Agriculture 1992-94, member of the Riigikogu 1994-95; professor of the Estonian Agricultural University 1994-. Affiliation: member of the Board of the Estonian Cooperative Union, chairman 1997-, assistant chairman of the Academic Cooperative Society, Academic Society of Farmers, Tallinn Forest Owners Society, Estonian Amelioration Society.
Valter Haamer, born 1929, educator, Tartu Teachers Institute 1949, Tallinn Pedagogical Institute 1957, post-graduate studies University of Tartu 1962. Work: teacher, director of studies and head of the department of education in Elva 1949-59, head of the office of academic affairs of the University of Tartu 1962-69, pro-rector for distant learning 1969-90, head of the publishing and printing department 1991-94. Editor of several publications (incl. “Raamatukuulutaja”) 1994-97. Currently manages the activity of the Press of the Vanemuine Society and is deputy-chairman of the Vanemuine Society and chairman of the Union of Estonian Cultural Societies.
Mikk Sarv, born 1951, biology studies 1969-71 University of Tartu and forestry 1971-75 the Estonian Agricultural Academy. Work: 1987-90 project engineer at Pirgu Development Centre, 1990-94 deputy county governor of Rapla county, 1994- adviser for development. Affiliation: Estonian-Samic Society, chairman of the Board of the Kodukant Movement, member of the Board of the Estonian Central Society of Local Heritage Studies and member of the Board of the Estonian Free Education Union.
Ivo Eesmaa, born 1953, physicist, teacher of physics 1979, University of Tartu, additional courses in adult training in 1994 and 1996 at the Nordic People’s Academy in Göteborg. Work: teacher at Kärdla Secondary School until 1988, head of the department of education and culture of Hiiumaa county government 1988-95, 1996, chief director of the National School Board 1995, mayor of Kärdla 1997-2000, director of Kärdla Secondary School 2000-. Affiliation: chairman of the Board of the Estonian Free Education Union, chairman of the Board of Hiiumaa Sports Union.