How EU supports civil society in Ukraine

The EU priorities and visions for engagement with Ukrainian civil society, as well as the new communication campaign “Civil Society is YOU” — in an interview of EUProstir with Sinziana Poiana, Programme Officer for Civil Society Support of the EU Delegation to Ukraine.

“The experience that I have had in learning how to be a citizen in my community through the civic work that I was doing myself, has an impact on how I see civil society. And it goes exactly to this — a responsibility that each of us has towards making our communities and the life of people around us better”, — said in an interview of European Prostir Sinziana Poiana, Programme Officer for Civil Society Support of the EU Delegation to Ukraine.

Sinziana Poiana is in charge of civil society support in the EU Delegation to Ukraine. She has been working for the European Union for the past 10 years. Before, Sinziana was involved in setting up a number of non-government organizations and networks, in Romania and abroad. She holds an MA in Public Policy from the Central European University in Budapest.

“I feel very much connected to the work that civil society does”

— As we know, you started your career in civil society. Tell us about your experience in civil society before becoming a Programme Officer for Civil Society Support in the EU Delegation to Ukraine. 

— I joined the EU Delegation team in September last year, so I’m quite fresh in Ukraine. However, as you know, I have been covering issues related to civil society in all Eastern Partnership countries, including Ukraine, for the past 5 years. I have started my career in civil society, so this topic is very dear to my heart. I feel very much connected to the work that civil society does. I’m Romanian, which I guess also gives a certain level of connection to Ukraine and the ambitions here.

I started volunteering at a very young age. It was also an occasion in my small town in Romania to have access to English language courses. Basically I was volunteering for a local NGO that was promoting disabilities rights for children in our community. Since that time I feel very much connected to what citizens and how citizens see the responsibility to build the local community, and the power that engaging with your community, trying to identify problems, the solutions for your community has for you as an individual.

“The experience that I have had in learning how to be a citizen in my community through the civic work that I was doing myself, has an impact on how I see civil society”

Multiple activities — getting involved in my community since when I was 17, for example on environment issues — that were very local, very small, but I guess all of the things had this part of civic education and ultimately responsibility toward my community. The experience that I have had in learning how to be a citizen in my community through the civic work that I was doing myself, has an impact on how I see civil society. And it goes exactly to this — a responsibility that each of us has towards making our communities and the life of people around us better.

“When we speak about Ukrainian civil society, I think it is, definitely, the energy that is here, the potential for growth, social innovation, engagement”

— You are in Ukraine for a few months. What is your impression of Ukrainian civil society now? 

— When we speak about Ukrainian civil society, I think it is, definitely, the energy that is here, the potential for growth, social innovation, engagement. Even on my way here to this interview, there was a group of young people ahead of me. I could see that they were not happy with the way the cars are parked on the sidewalk, and they were taking photos of the license plates for what, I imagine, could be some sort of report that this was illegal parking and that it shouldn’t be in the passageway of people. So, you see this kind of thing, this kind of energy to get involved in public life, to contribute to public life and to make it better. I think this is really outstanding in the region geographically but also at any international standards.

Recently I was in Brussels to meet some of my colleagues who are doing a similar job in countries around the world. The EU has about 130 Delegations around the world. When I shared the experience that I have here with civil society — it is really, really outstanding.  When we speak about innovation, energy, motivation to participate… Even if it doesn’t come immediately, but solidarity also. When you look at the community level, I meet a lot of people here, who want to make things better also for their fellow citizens or who would stand up for someone who is unfairly treated. So, this I find quite impressive. There is definitely a lot of inspiration stemming from what Ukrainian citizens and Ukrainian civil society have achieved.

“My main mission here is to carry out and implement the vision that the EU has on engagement with civil society in all its external engagement”

— In what aspects do you, as a civil society support manager for the EU, plan to focus your activities here in Ukraine?

— I am in charge of civil society support in the EU Delegation. My main mission here is to carry out and implement the vision that the EU has on engagement with civil society in all its external engagement. So, from this point of view, we do have several priorities that we follow and this has to translate in one way or the other when it comes to engagement with Ukraine.

Of course, in Ukraine, there are multiple layers of policy that we need to take into account. Ultimately, what guides our engagement here is the needs of civil society on the premises that engagement with civil society is a critical part of advancing democratic governance, promoting rule of law and also building a resilient society. A society that can withstand change and that can engage on the path of sustainable change. This would be the overarching goal. My particular task is to see how we design programs, how we identify entry points for society to work with us on what we call policy dialogue, consulting civil society, but also how we fund civil society organizations, which type of organizations we fund.

— Please specify what are the EU priorities concerning Ukrainian civil society?

— Broadly speaking, we have three main priorities — to ensure an enabling environment for civil society organizations, to make sure that there is enough civic space for citizens and organizations to get engaged in the public life. The second one is to support civil society organizations to engage in policy dialogue with the government, either at a national level, regional or local level. The third is to build more capacities for civil society organizations, to reach their core mandate and to carry out their work.

“We have three main priorities — to ensure an enabling environment for civil society organizations… to support dialogue between civil society and the government… to build more capacities for civil society organizations”

Currently, in Ukraine, we do have substantial funding that is being allocated from our bilateral assistance to Ukraine — to civil society organizations. Most of it is dedicated to capacity building. This is where we have also big projects that do sub-granting, particularly outside Kyiv, to support smaller, newer organizations, but also funding towards major organizations here in Kyiv that conduct activities in various areas: anti-corruption, human rights, decentralization, energy-related issues, environment, sports. A very wide range of areas.

“We just launched a new communication campaign — Civil Society is YOU”

— Supporting the role of civil society through communication is also important. Recent EU campaigns have been very successful in Ukraine.

— Yes. By the way, in order to support and promote the role of civil society in Ukraine we just launched a new communication campaign — “Civil Society is YOU”. The campaign is designed to raise awareness among Ukrainians about the work of civil society organizations and the positive results they bring to their communities. We will showcase some of the initiatives and people behind them — people who invest their time, efforts and resources to make a difference. I do hope that their examples will encourage young people all over Ukraine to be even more civically conscious and get involved in civic activities in their communities. I invite everyone to check the website of the campaign at www.goznamy.org.ua (#GOZNAMY) and follow our social media where we will announce a civil society challenge very soon.

“For sure the support of eastern Ukraine does remain within the general priorities of the EU”

— We know that there is a lot of support for the towns in eastern Ukraine. Will there be changes concerning the support of projects there?

— Indeed there are very big projects that are now being carried out in eastern Ukraine. They are implemented by a consortium of our UN partners and tackle various areas starting with community building, community resilience, community development, but also women’s rights and other types of issues. I cannot speak about the future of this support yet, but for sure the support of eastern Ukraine does remain within the general priorities of the EU.

“We are looking at initiatives from batteries recycling to changing regulations on energy efficiency and waste management”

— How in the new decade does the EU see cooperation with Ukrainian civil society? May there will some new focuses?

— I think the major change, and also looking at the global debate, is that the EU and especially our new leadership has started taking a more prominent role in what it means to have truly global governance on environmental issues. You may have heard about the EU Green Deal. It’s one of the aspects that would be at the core of our foreign policy and internal policy. This has come very strongly, and I think with a lot of legitimacy also from civil society and local civic groups. You will be seeing this coming very strongly from our cooperation and our political engagement in Ukraine as well. To give you an example — we are looking at initiatives from batteries recycling to supporting regulation change on energy efficiency and waste management.

Things that had been going on for some time, but still the EU Green Deal will probably put them more prominently out there. It will reflect also (on) civil society. I was reading a report earlier this year, just in January on figures relating to political attacks against civic activists. It was painful to see that environmental activists are really at the target of these attacks. I think it’s a question of not only how do we offer protection to these people from the civil society point of view, but it also shows you the magnitude of the issues and the level of resistance against something that ultimately should lead to a better global future for a more sustainable life for all of us.

“I can tell you genuinely that I feel guilty living in Kyiv and not sorting my garbage”

After 10 years of having lived in Western Europe, I can tell you genuinely that I feel guilty living in Kyiv and not sorting my garbage. I’m sure that with a little bit of awareness and the opportunity to do so, Ukrainian citizens could reach this level of… Maybe, it can be done in a more creative innovative way or building on traditional models of people managing their waste, maybe not in a modern way or in a Western way, but in a way that fits their current lifestyle.

This is just one example where you will see a big reflection and a big push from the EU side to aspire to a greener lifestyle with everything that it means — energy sustainability, environmental protection, etc.

“If I am to pass a message to Ukrainian civil society, I think most generally it will be gratitude”

— Can you give some message to Ukrainian civil society? “Don’t give up” or maybe you notice something that we cannot see from our part?

— I don’t see the Ukrainian civil society that I met so far, either here or in Brussels — at the point of “don’t give up”. They are more at the point of entitlement in claiming their rights, they are committed to take Ukraine towards this vision that they obviously have: a country that is developed, that does not struggle with poverty anymore, a country where people have equal access to services, know their rights and can claim them, where they can work with authorities for achieving these goals.

I think, If anything then I can take these lessons from Ukrainian civil society, I maybe pass them to civil society in other countries. But if I am to pass a message to Ukrainian civil society, I think most generally it will be gratitude because for as long as civil society in Ukraine succeeds and they continue to be a role model for civil society in other countries, then we all are grateful that they exist, that they pursue their missions, that they contribute to pluralist debate which is basically a fundamental function of an independent and thriving civil society.

Source: EUProstir