East-West Church & Ministry Report
Vol. 4, No. 2, Spring 1996, Covering the Former Soviet Union and East Central Europe

A Report on Russian Social Services--Food for Thought for Missions Relief and Development

Captain Michael F. Olsen

Salvation Army Captain Michael F. Olsen participated in a 12-member, 14-day fact-finding mission to Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, and Magadan in the Russian Far East (RFE) in May 1994, sponsored by U.S. Aid for International Development (USAID) and the Counterpart Foundation.  His findings regarding the region's social and economic predicament and its social-service needs deserve the attention of all parachurch ministries working in the former Soviet Union.  Captain Olsen's trip report concludes, "If there is to be an improvement and stabilization of the condition of the disadvantaged masses in the next decade, it will be found in the social responsibility, motivation, and services provided in the new, slowly emerging, voluntary sector."  Captain Olsen's eight-page evaluation, of which the following is an excerpt, stresses unique problems of the RFE, such as an extraordinarily high cost of living and rate of inflation and economic infrastructure collapse. Nevertheless, his comments almost always can be applied to the rest of the former U.S.S.R. as well.  Ten of his findings, detailed below, illustrate the enormity of the task before voluntary (including missionary) agencies that would seek to help the people of the former Soviet Union help themselves.

1. Collapse of the RFE defense and mineral industries has contributed to a significant increase in the need for social services for the average Russian.  This has been exacerbated by rampant inflation and collapse of the services' infrastructure.

2. Charitable NGOs [nongovernment organizations] are becoming a necessary supplement to historical government- and industry-provided social service, at a significantly lower level of service.  The funding and administration of government welfare benefits are confusing and inconsistent.

3. Russian social services NGOs generally are concentrating on providing assistance to members and are not working toward solution-oriented goals.  These NGOs tend to serve their limited membership constituencies.  Most Russian NGOs are best described as special-interest providers and not broad charitable organizations.

4. Most NGOs operate with a small paid staff and make little use of community volunteers.  Joined to a commercial, structural approach to organization, most NGOs in RFE have no program of volunteer recruitment, development, or training.

5. There are nearly no accepted standards for evaluating the management and effectiveness of NGOs.  Management skills, especially for those involved in entrepreneurial fund raising, are very low.

6. Staff training in nonprofit administration is not a widely accepted nor practiced concept.

7. There is little public trust shown in the social services and charitable NGOs and nearly no studied attempts at image building.

8. State funding of NGOs is limited to a few of the larger "hold-over" organizations from the earlier regime, i.e., Children's Fund, Russian Red Cross.

9. One of the main shortcomings of the existing law on charitable organizations is its requirement that organizations exist only as membership bodies.  This demand excludes registration of philanthropic funds, as well as that of professional associations specializing in the nonprofit field. (See editor's note.)

10. Charity is the only rival to a long-established state social care system and the surviving administrators from that system show a reluctance to accept the emerging role of voluntary organizations and social services NGOs.

Editor's Note:  The Russian Duma passed a new law on charities in July 1995 after years of deliberation.  For serious reservations about this legislation, including its "tightly drawn list of permitted activities" and its "refusal to provide any form of tax advantage" to donors, see Alla Kazakina and Mary S. Holland, "The Law on Charitable Activities and Organizations: A Preliminary Assessment," Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler CIS Law Notes, No. 19 (February 1996), 24-27; New York tel: 212-336-2107; fax: 212-336-2222; e-mail: pbwt@pbwt.com; Moscow tel/fax: 011-7502-221-1857 and 011-7095-253-9607; e-mail: pbwt@glas.apc.org.

Captain Michael F. Olsen is a native Alaskan now residing in Moscow.  He is responsible for all program development, humanitarian assistance, and government affairs for The Salvation Army in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, and Georgia.  His program budget is approximately $35 million.  In this position he managed the USDA FY '93 "Food for Progress" grant for the Russian Federation--5090 tons, valued at $11 million.  U.S. Humanitarian Assistance NGOs serving in Russia nominated Captain Olsen as their voting member of the U.S.-Russian Federation Joint Commission for Rural Development, which makes loans and grants up to $100,000 each for agribusiness and humanitarian projects in Russia.

Source:  Arlene Lear and Rose Gorman, eds.  The Russian Far East at the Forefront of Change; Report of the Volunteer Executive Service Team (VEST).  Washington:  Counterpart Foundation, 1994.  186pp., plus extensive appendices.  Cost: $15.  Contact:  Counterpart, 910 17th St., NW, Suite 328, Washington, DC 20006; tel:  202-296-9676; fax:  202-296-9679; e-mail: cpfsp@igc.apc.org.  Other Counterpart VEST reports are:  A New Era for Development:  Time for a Paradigm Shift, Russia and Ukraine, 1992; and Precipitous Independence:  Unprecedented Challenges, Kyrgyzstan, 1993. 

Captain Michael F. Olsen, "A Report on Russian Social Services--Food for Thought for Missions Relief and Development," East-West Church & Ministry Report, 4 (Spring 1996), 6-7.

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1996 Institute for East-West Christian Studies
ISSN 1069-5664

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