Civil Society Organisations in Tajikistan represent a wide array of different groups and are involved in a diverse set of activities, including humanitarian and charitable work. In the past decade, the involvement of the Civil Society sector in Tajik society has begun to rise as the number, scope and reach of civil society organisations (CSOs) has increased steadily. This trend marks a drastic change from the situation that existed during Soviet times in which the state was centrally responsible for all decision-making regarding structure of governance, the economy and important social decisions. CSOs in Tajikistan represent a wide array of different groups and are involved in a diverse set of activities, including humanitarian and charitable work and support of professions, organisations and the marginalised members of society.
Since 1997, Tajikistan has taken a number of important steps to ensure that CSOs occupy an important position in the country’s social fabric. Reforms have been introduced permitting for the growth of CSOs in both number and scope, allowing them a greater role in society. The appearance of registered CSOs began during the social transformations of the 1980s and hastened in the post-independence period. In 1997, there were 300 CSOs formally registered in Tajikistan; by 2006 the number had grown to more than 2,700.
Civil Society Activities of MSDSP
Grassroots mobilisation and empowerment is key to strengthening the capacity of community-based organisations.Improving governance and strengthening civil society at the local level are the cornerstones of the Mountain Societies Development Support Programme (MSDSP), a programme of the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF). MSDSP works at the local level to strengthen governance and civil society in Tajikistan’s rural communities.
Established in 2004, the main objective of MSDSP’s Local Governance Programme is to strengthen the capacity of local government and civil society organisations in the planning and implementation of local development initiatives.
The Local Governance Programme’s main activities include the training of local government officials and civil society actors in techniques and approaches to strengthen governance systems. Since its inception in 2004, the programme has been responsible for providing training to over 450 government officials through 180 different training sessions. Overall, over 3,000 individuals have been directly or indirectly impacted by the programmes. Since its inception, the Local Governance Programme has expanded from the Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) region to also include parts of the Rasht Valley and Khatlon regions.
To support these activities, MSDSP seeks to foster further collaboration and linkages between local government and civil society organisations. TO this end, MSDSP encourages the development of Sub-district Development Committees (SdDC), which provide a vehicle for civil society groups and local governments to collaborate on common objectives and bring improvements to communities.
The major responsibility of the SdDCs is to assist in developing a Jamoat Management Plan (JMP) for the sub-district level where it is located. These plans are developed through an inclusive process of stakeholder participation and consensus building. Once developed, these plans assist in guiding the development programmes that are implemented at the sub-district level. In 2006, a total of 35 JMPs were implemented while over 2,000 individuals were provided with the opportunity to participate and offer input towards their creation.
MSDSP supports SdDCs with regular training activities. In April 2006, some SdDC members, local government officials and MSDSP staff participated in a one-week study tour of local governance programmes in Armenia and Georgia. The study tour provided participants with an opportunity to gain valuable insight on local governance experiences in the two countries.
MSDSP also hosted a conference on local governance in June 2006. The conference highlighted MSDSP’s approach to creating partnerships between local governments and communities in order to ensure participation of all stakeholders when planning development initiatives in the region. Participants included members of regional and local governments, representatives from donor organisations, other Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) operating in Tajikistan and MSDSP staff.
Civil Society Programme of the Aga Khan Foundation
In March 2006, His Highness the Aga Khan launched an eight-country Civil Society Programme (CSP) in recognition of the role that Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) play in the development process. The goal of this initiative is to ensure that CSOs achieve sufficient levels of quantity, quality, geographic distribution and spectrum of activities so that civil society has an unmistakable positive impact on the quality of life for significant segments of the national population.
CSP provides technical advice and assistance in an effort to help build the capacity of individual organisations. At a broader level, it works with other CSOs, the private sector and the government to create an enabling environment that will further reinforce the work of AKDN agencies.
In Tajikistan, the CSP is currently aiming to achieve five major outcomes:
1. Establish a baseline of information about the civil society sector.
2. Build the capacity of an increasing number of high quality and sustainable CSOs.
3. Strengthen the appreciation of the government, businesses, CSOs and citizens in the country of the need for integrity, ethics and good governance in the management of its future and a determination to inculcate these principles through civic education.
4. Strengthen the government’s understanding of the comparative advantages of CSOs, leading to mutually advantageous collaboration between the two sectors and the creation of an enabling environment for CSOs.
5. Establish a greater understanding on the part of businesses about the usefulness of programmes of corporate social responsibility, many of which will involve CSOs.
Establishing a Baseline
One of the major obstacles to improving the prospects of CSOs in Tajikistan is a consistent lack of information regarding successful work in the sector. In 2006, CSP collaborated with Allavida-UK, a British international development NGO, to conduct a base-line survey of the civil society sector in Tajikistan. The survey was conducted by a team of nine Tajik researchers who were guided by a neutral advisory group consisting of government officials, the media, NGOs, international donors, business leaders and academics. The outcome of the survey was a database of Tajik NGOs created by a local organisation named the Civil Initiative Consulting Group (CICG).
In April 2007, a national conference entitled, “Civil Society Development in Tajikistan: Realities and Perspectives,” was conducted to present the results and findings of the research. The conference brought together representatives of CSOs operating in Tajikistan, government officials, individuals from the private sector and media institutions. The conference’s objective was to disseminate the key lessons and recommendations of the research. Topics included partnerships between CSOs and government; civic education; prospects of philanthropy development in Tajikistan and the role of international organisations; and the role of development agencies and donors in the process of civil society development.
In addition to the base-line survey, CSP provided support to the Democracy Development Centre in the publication of its book, Civil Society: an Insight into Best Practices. This study examines the work of 25 successful CSOs across Tajikistan and draws upon their work to highlight best practices and lessons learned for the sector. The purpose of this study is to influence the public’s perceptions of CSOs, the work they do and their important role in society. Future initiatives of CSP will aim to identify what is hindering greater coordination between CSOs and their stakeholders and to develop approaches to overcome these obstacles.
Fostering Partnerships with CSOs
CSP supported a further study conducted by the Civil Initiative Consulting Group that examined key criteria, benefits and lessons from successful partnerships between the government and many CSOs in Tajikistan. The aim of this research was to build an initial body of evidence that establishes the foundation for improving collaboration between the two sectors at the local, regional and national level.
In February 2007, CSP collaborated with various business projects of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development in Tajikistan and Afghanistan to conduct a workshop on the benefits of collaboration between civil society and the private sector. The workshop focused on the development and benefits of corporate social responsibility initiatives in achieving business objectives.
Improving Civic Education
One of the initial objectives of CSP is to create effective teaching materials that can be used in seminars, workshops and schools to inform citizens of the roles and responsibilities of citizen in a country. CSP collaborated with the Academy for Peaceful Development in Dushanbe to collect information on the work of organisations involved in civic education in Tajikistan.
Once the information was collected, a national conference was organised to discuss the importance of civic education for the development of the civil society sector in Tajikistan. One of the outputs of the conference was the development of a modular training called “Civic Education in Tajikistan,” which is to be introduced through workshops to those individuals and organisations active in the education sector of the country. It is hoped that these organisations will then incorporate this material into their training and advocacy activities.
Enabling CSO Self-Assessment
Especially for nascent CSOs, an understanding of internal capacity, organisational development and strengths and weakness can be critical to ensure effective future progress. To address this issue, the CSP has created a Self-Assessment tool which aims to help CSOs conduct internal analysis, guide programmatic planning and assess management strategy through the collection of data from the organisation’s partners, clients and staff. It can also be used to evaluate an organisation’s internal documents such as budgets, revenue streams, internal policies and others.
As part of the tool’s directives, after data is collected and studied, the organisation must create an action plan which will guide both the enhanced implementation of its current programmes and the process of strategic decision-making. The ultimate goal of the tool is to increase organisations’ capacity to deliver goods and services to beneficiaries in the communities where they work.
CSP is currently planning to establish a committee that recognises and certifies those organisations which have successfully completed the Self-Assessment process.
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