International advocacy work gains bigger value in times of geopolitical changes

On the 29th November 2016,  the 5th Annual Civil Society Capacity Development Forum, was held in Kyiv. Its aim is to enhance capabilities of civil society organizations through advocacy of reforms, prevention of corruption, overcoming consequences of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine and improvement of the socio-economic condition of Ukrainian citizens. Experts of leading Ukrainian think tanks took part in one of the panel discussions which were held during the Forum.

The panel discussion “Civil society: united for the sake of international advocacy efforts” gathered Serhiy Solodkyi from Institute of World Policy (IWP), Roman Nitsovych and Olena Pavlenko from DiXi Group, Lyudmyla Melnyk from Institute for European Politics (Berlin). The discussion was moderated by Olena Prystayko, Executive Director of Ukrainian Think Tanks Liaison Office in Brussels.

Inna Pidluska, Deputy Executive Director of the International Renaissance Foundation launched the debate, telling about Foundation’s Think Tank Support Initiative, which is supported by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA). This program is aimed at strengthening the institutional and financial capacity of the Ukrainian think tanks, as well as at improving their skills, knowledge and capacities in international advocacy of Ukraine. She gave the floor to experts, so that they shared their experience with the audience.

Olena Pavlenko, responding to a question about the factors that motivate the Ukrainian think tanks an international advocacy work stated that from one point, proactive international advocacy keeps the national reforms process going, but from another point, it also helps to defend national interests. As, for instance, the advocacy campaign by DiXi Group, that aimed at preventing the implementation of “Nord Stream 2”. Pavlenko underlined that in the case of such serious threat to national security, the government must use all support and expertise from think tanks.

Serhiy Solodkyi mentioned that it is also vital to secure as much support from international stakeholders as possible to share Ukrainian discourse to Europe and the world. As an example, Solodkyi told about the current European discourse which is vastly dominated by the Russian depiction of what is happening in Ukraine. Thus, the task of think tanks is to ‘break’ the wall of abundant Russian narration.

In the next question, experts defined main types of advocacy work and respective principal action directions of think tanks. According to Roman Nitsovych, it is crucial to present organization’s activities abroad and establish communication with decision-makers. Contacts should be maintained on a regular basis through emails, meetings and, ideally, mutual projects:

Good partner gives you a part of his credibility, and this gives your organization a more serious level and sets a higher standard for your organization’s final product.

Olena Pavlenko mentioned that it is also important to maintain the collaboration with journalists, especially abroad where the information about Ukraine with precise analytics and credible facts is highly valuable.

Olena Prystayko added a comment about the regularity of advocacy work:

Expertise hits the target only when it considers stakeholders’ interests.

Think tanks are a major source of recommendations for the government and state agencies, but it is essential to stay neutral to any political engagement, said Serhiy Solodkyi. He gave an example of IWP’s publications that became a valuable set of recommendations in light of recent geopolitical changes and stressed that it is important to continue productive work with civil servants and state agencies. Nevertheless, essentially, the objectiveness and substantiality of recommendation are crucial:

Do not fear to criticize the government; critics mobilizes the government it constitutes a productive work.

Three principles of successful advocacy work:

Olena Pavlenko: political neutrality + objectivity + constructive stance

Serhiy Solodkyi: quality + reconnaissance + feedback

Roman Nitsovych: timeliness + partner + sustainable friendship

Lyudmyla Mel’nyk: objectiveness + good timing + results

Lyudmyla Mel’nyk presented the practical example of Ukrainian and German think tanks collaboration. The joint project of Institute and Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation aimed at researching the perspectives of the cooperation of Ukrainian and German think tanks and how Ukrainian think tanks are evaluated in Germany and giving recommendations for the improvement of work. The main recommendations from Mel’nyk were: substantial research on target audiences, active work with stakeholders and a proactive position in establishing partnerships with potential international partners.

Olena Prystayko gave final remarks at the end of the discussion. First of all, she mentioned, each think tank has to do an active work in preparation and strengthening of the expertise and quality analysis. Then, it is important to know own audience to channel the message about the importance of Ukrainian issue to Ukraine’s partners and stakeholders in Europe and the world.

We have to let our partners know that defending our interests they are in fact defending theirs

Finally, according to Olena Prystayko, it is necessary to be bold in creating strategies and recommendations for stakeholder, based on own expertise, since think tanks’ task is to produce roadmaps, which has to be taken into account by governments in policy implementation. To enhance the work with citizens and push forward the reforms are the primary task in today’s changing political environment, said Prystayko.