Already back in Canada, I was growing weary of the system in which such organizations operated. It is understood that an organization that is “non-profit” cannot be a commercial enterprise, which leaves it little choice but to seek donors and financial assistance. And this system of donor dependence continues today. I experienced this first-hand in Armenia, where you can never be sure that you’ll have funding next year and if so, whether donors will change their criteria or focus.
This has become more of an issue for me as I conduct research on my thesis, which as I mentioned in an earlier post, will be looking at adoption and use of ICTs (information and communication technologies) by NGOs in Armenia. I’ve begun by studying NGOs in general and then looking at the particular nature of NGOs in Armenia, and the research that I’ve come across only confirmed what I already knew: that the term “civil society” came about in Armenia (and other post-Soviet countries) following the collapse of the Soviet Union and that it immediately became equated with the development and growth in NGOs. And all this was tied to aid from the West, which, I would argue, for all its good intentions, didn’t really achieve its objectives in post-Soviet countries, namely, that of democracy building.
I am not about to argue that democracy (or building democracy) is a bad thing, nor is my aim to criticize civil society development — both are very important processes that needed (and still need) to happen in countries like Armenia. But what I am critical of is the processes, tools and systems that were put in place in the early 90s to achieve them.
It is obvious to me that more NGOs does not bring about civil society, and, in fact, I would even argue that this term “civil society” has become part of what is known as “NGO speak,” that is, the particular language of NGOs, which led to the mushrooming of NGOs in the 90s in Armenia, as Dr. Armine Ishkanian argues in her paper “Is the Personal Political? The Development of Armenia's NGO Sector During the Post-Soviet Period” (Berkeley Program in Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies Working Paper Series, 2003).
There’s a lot from Dr. Ishkanian’s paper that speaks to me and my own experience in Armenia, in fact, 10 years after it was written. NGOs (the world over, really) are still dependent on donors, and the intentions of the West from those early days of independence still haven’t solved the problem of a lack of democracy in the country. The problems these NGOs were created to address (poverty, pensioners’ needs, the rights of veterans and families of deceased and injured soldiers, and more recently, domestic violence, to name a few) still exist, and having more NGOs, at least to me, doesn’t seem the best way to address them.
These are just but some of the thoughts on my mind as I try to understand more about the NGO sector in general and NGOs in Armenia in particular, before moving on to exploring the communication strategies of such organizations, particularly their use of social media. Any resources, thoughts, opinions, suggestions of topics not yet explored in this domain would be most welcome.