Double Impact: Civil society and media promote European integration reform in Ukrainian regions

European integration means reforms. The vast majority of required reforms are directly or indirectly linked to Ukraine’s relations with the EU, and they aim to make Ukraine and its society a part of the European community.

The European Union is helping Ukraine with the task of implementing these reforms.

One part of these efforts is the EU-funded project, Regions for Reforms, jointly implemented by the Institute for Economic Research and Policy Consulting (IER) and the “Evropeiska Pravda”..

The project promotes the effective involvement of civil society and media in local-level reforms, by encouraging better information sharing, reforms monitoring, and cooperation. Its main component is ongoing competitions for project grants. NGOs and media organisations selected for grants receive between 375,000 hryvnias and 750,000 hryvnias, depending on their activities, to promote pro-European reforms.

“The grant competitions under the Regions for Reforms project are very popular,”  says Iryna Kosse, the project manager and IER senior researcher. “In a seven-month period we have received around 300 grant proposals from media and NGOs, from which we selected over 20 proposals to receive grants.”

The first round of chosen projects kicked-off in December 2016. Earlier this month, at a conference in Lviv themed, “Ukraine and the EU: relations in times of uncertainty and rapid change,” the project summarised its interim results and held training sessions for applicants.

“The most popular activities among NGO applicants are seminars and workshops on issues related to the implementation of the Association Agreement,” continues Kosse.  “But NGOs do not have the capacity to analyse economic policy and monitor the implementation of the Agreement. This is quite expected, since such tasks require specific qualifications.”

The project manager says a common challenge associated with grant proposals is the inclination to reach a broad scope or propose a huge number of activities.

 “It’s better to propose a small-scale but high-quality project in a narrow field in which the applicant is qualified, rather than to diffuse effort and try to take on issues for which the applicant is not suited,” advises Kosse. “Also, many proposals lack a good plan for the distribution of responsibilities in partnerships between NGOs and media organisations.”

 The NGO Europe without Barriers has received a grant from the Regions for Reforms project and has implemented the Travel Responsibly information campaign. The NGO will hold training sessions, seminars, and interactive games “Smart Trip” will take place in six regions, Volyn, Lviv, Zakarpattia, Ivano-Frankivsk, Chernivtsi, and Ternopil.

“Our project is important in the context of the visa-free regime,”  says Iryna Sushko, the Europe without Barriers CEO. “We want to spread accurate and balanced information about the correct use of the visa-free regime among Ukrainians.”

Sushko says that the project aims to prevent an increase in illegal migrants from Ukraine to the EU after the introduction of the visa-free regime. The Travel Responsibly campaign will warn against searching for illegal employment abroad and falsifying travel documents.

Evropeiska Pravda is responsible for the media component of the Regions for Reforms project and helps media to implement their projects after they receive grants.

“Regional media play an important role in disseminating information about Ukraine’s implementation of its obligations for European integration and in explaining the nature and purpose of these reforms,” says Sergiy Sydorenko, editor of Evropeiska Pravda. “Our grantees have the difficult task of explaining  difficult issues to the general public, and not only residents of the large centres, but also small towns and villages.”

Based on lessons learned from the four rounds of grant competitions already completed, Sydorenko advises media applicants to focus on journalism (applications proposing roundtables, seminars etc. have been very common). Applications should also be as detailed as possible. Media organisations seeking grants should also be well aware of issues related to the Association Agreement, EU-Ukraine relations in general, and European integration broadly.

The Chernihiv municipal youth NGO Education Centre Initiative engages in civic journalism. Its website, “Chernihiv: Events and Comments” is quite popular in the city.

In January 2017, the Education Centre Initiative started implementing its grant project entitled, “Raising awareness of residents of Chernihiv region on European integration and implementation of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU.”

“Citizens’ awareness about reforms in Ukraine is obviously low,” says Pavlo Puschenko, head of the Education Centre Initiative. “The majority of Ukrainians have stereotypes and tend to perceive changes negatively. This is the reason myths and fears persist.”

Polls show that this problem is most pronounced in the eastern and northern regions of Ukraine, and in the Chernihiv region in particular.

“This is even worse in the regions bordering the Russian Federation, which face the influence of Russian media and social networks,” says Puschenko. “There is a need for information campaigns to spread awareness about current reforms in Ukraine and debunk stereotypes.”

 Achieving better cooperation between civil society and media organisations, and encouraging them to combine their efforts to promote reforms is another important part of the Regions for Reforms mission. As part of the project, civil society activists and journalists come together for joint conferences and workshops, the first of which were held in Lviv. More such meetings will be held every few months in different parts of Ukraine.

“The reason for the lack of information on reforms and on relations with the EU in general is also due to poor interaction between civil society organisations and the media,” says Kosse. “We hope that, as a result of our project, journalists will establish close informal contacts with NGOs and that this will enable them to efficiently fulfil their mission. At the same time, such relationships will provide civil society organisations with access to media tools to communicate their knowledge and experience to the public.

More information:

Regions for Reforms project: http://www.ier.com.ua/ua/regions_for_reforms

Permanent competition for NGOs: http://www.ier.com.ua/ua/Grants?pid=5336

Permanent competition for media: http://www.ier.com.ua/ua/Grants?pid=5338