Taimi Tulva, Professor of Social Work, Tallinn Pedagogical University, Department of Social Work
Firstly, I would like to point out some tendencies that characterize Estonian society today, which is emerging from the period of transition and is ready for mature democracy.
These characteristics are:
The public sector is interested in the partnership with the third sector because it is possible to share the tasks and solve the problems on a more grass-root level. The role of the state in these kinds of partnerships is likely to be the initiator of the process, who also contributes the initial resources, supervises and guarantees the quality of the cooperation. Until recently the private sector was not motivated in participating in the social partnerships, but currently there are examples like providing on-the-job-training, field practice and permanent work for disabled people; also giving equipment and classrooms for training. International businesses are more reliable partners for the public and the third sector; they have also contributed to changing the organizational values and culture of domestic firms and making them more willing to enter into social partnerships.
The third sector has a number of synonyms in different countries, e.g. non-profit, voluntary, socio-economic, etc. Such terms as NGO (Non-Governmental Organizations), CSO (Civil Society Organizations), NPO (Non-Profit Organizations) have been used, which emphasize different aspects of citizens' initiatives. The third sector consists of NGO-s, i.e. those associations and societies that are not part of the public sector and whose activities are not oriented for profit. In this article the third sector and the non-profit sector have been used as synonyms.
Estonia is different form the rest of the European countries because of its weak civil society (Ruutsoo, 1998). The human resource of contemporary Estonian is limited, for which reason it is necessary to concentrate on the accumulation of all three types of capital - economic, social as well as cultural. The civil society is characterized by non-profit citizens' initiatives that was limited under the conditions of the soviet system and that is why the third sector has become more widely known only after Estonia became newly independent in 1991. It is important to note here that the third sector was well developed during the first Estonian Republic 1918-1940: there were a number of associations based upon citizens' initiatives beginning with voluntary fire-fighting and ending with societies dealing with charity.
There were 14 247 registered NGO-s and foundations in Estonia on 01.01.2001 (see also Helbe, 2001). The growth in the number of NGO-s has been rapid as in 1998 there were approximately 5 600, in 1999 about 11 200 and in 2000 about 12 200 different associations and societies. They can be divided between 18 different fields, from which 670 are responsible for charity and welfare. A number of them have established umbrella organizations: e.g. the Estonian Chamber of Disabled People, the Estonian Union for Child Welfare and others. Among them there are about 160 associations that are occupied with developing Estonian research and development activities, e.g. the Estonian Association of Social Work Researchers, the Estonian Union of Doctors, the Estonian Association of Demographers, the Estonian Association of University Women, etc. Also a number of international clubs like Lions, Zonta, Rotary, operate effectively.
Citizens' self-initiatives as a way of life have been traditionally strong in Estonia. The soviet period restricted the activities of citizens' associations; the work of state-regulated trade unions was favored. The activities of citizens' associations formed during the first Estonian republic were stopped. At this point most of them have been re-established (e.g. Estonian Women's Union, Estonian Association of University Women, Estonian Society of Home Beutification, etc.) and a number of new societies and associations have been founded. The Open Estonian Foundation established by the philanthropist George Soros has influenced greatly the development of different NGO-s. The organization has conducted surveys, issued specific literature, and introduced the ideas of civil society in Estonia; supplied the new NGO-s with materials and organized training sessions.
A public opinion survey (Kivirähk, 1999) carried out at the end of 1999 ordered by the Chancellery of the Riigikogu (Estonian Parliament) on the relationship between citizens and local governments showed that the most wide-spread was the membership in the tenants', summer cottage owners' or consumers' unions (about 28%). A significant number of respondents participated in the free-time clubs (11%), dancing-singing and instrumental ensembles (12%), sport societies (10%), vocational and professional unions (18%) and pupils' organizations (6%); 4% of the respondents belonged to the international cultural, educational, scientific and training societies and religious organizations. It is probable that the same people belong to a number of associations. The associations from different fields are represented in the third sector mostly by two umbrella organizations:
Some important questions
The problems of associations dealing with different fields of the non-profit sector were assessed in 2000 on the basis of specific criteria by a group of experts who where representatives of the financial supporters of the Estonian non-profit sector, the representatives of the counseling centers of non-profit associations and representatives of the Estonian Civil Society Development Concept (Helbe, 2000). The sustainability of the Estonian NGO-s was evaluated on a 7-point scale. The study involved calculating the NGO Sustainability Index, which had been developed by the US Agency of International Development (USAID), in Central and East-European Countries. The purpose of the indexation was to analyze the sustainability of the third sector in Estonia, the aspects threatening it and the possibilities for development.
The general assessment was 2,4. Often the people working in the non-profit
sector are not able to evaluate the needs of the NGO-s and to arrange their
activities so professionally as to guarantee at least a satisfactory level of
finding financial resources and maintaining the livelihood and sustainability of
NGO-s as well as developing cooperation at both national and international
level. Often the leaders of the NGO-s lack a clear understanding about the
positive aspects of cooperation, and for that reason they don't see the
usefulness of partnerships either on national or on international level.
In terms of the legislative framework (assessment 2,4) the most important document is the Law on Non-Profit Organizations adopted in 1998. This law provides for three types of non-profit organizations: foundations, non-profit organizations and societies.
The organizational ability to act of the NGO-s was evaluated with 2,5. Most of the NGO-s lack a clearly defined management structure and often the people don't have necessary management skills and experiences. In bigger organizations there are paid employees and volunteers, the smaller ones have big financial difficulties; and it is hard to maintain the livelihood of organizations.
The monetary vitality was evaluated with 2,8. There are a number of NGO-s capable of getting support for their activities both from Estonia and abroad. Still most of the NGO-s lack sufficient resources for maintaining their long-term existence; and they operate according to the 'project to project' principle.
Despite the aforementioned problems the NGO-s are able to influence public policy (index of representation 2,0). Nevertheless, a lot of NGO-s, especially in the counties, are not aware of the possibilities to influence public policy and they lack the necessary skills and resources. There is a need for specialized training and counseling.
The provision of services was evaluated with 2,5. The local governments acknowledge and value more and more the provision of services by NGO-s and their flexibility in providing them. The dominating feature is going to be mixed welfare, according to which services provided by the public and private as well as third sector are needed.
The infrastructure was evaluated with 2,5. The Estonian Association of
Non-Profit Organizations and Foundations has created 9 support centers for NGO-s
in the most strategic places all over Estonia. The support centers promote
cooperation between the local NGO-s, the local governments as well as the
private sector. At least once a year a round table for Estonian NGO-s is
assembled, the first one was organized by the Estonian Center of Volunteers.
County as well as local governments search to find resources in order to promote
the activities of the NGO-s in order to support local development.
The public relations were evaluated with 2,5, which shows a lack of cooperation between local governments and NGO-s. Nevertheless, the local governments see NGO-s as potential cooperation partners and as effective providers of services. The NGO-s try to publicize their activities through information materials and different events (forums, conferences, seminars, round tables, etc); the public is still not enough informed about the activities of the NGO-s and also the media is passive in discussing the third sector.
The analyses of sustainability of the NGO-s showed that the following aspects characterize the Estonian non-profit sector:
The willingness of the Estonian non-profit sector to cooperate with the public
sector was evaluated to be high. The search for new possibilities to promote the
development of the non-profit sector in Estonia has only begun and the Estonian
Civil Society Development Concept has been formulated.
The Round Table of Estonian Non-Profit Organizations - EMÜ (http://www.ngo.ee) was assembled for the first time at the beginning of 2001 and the round table also selected a representative body, which stands for the ideas of the third sector that are based on the decisions and opinions of the round table. If necessary, the representative body holds negotiations with the state institutions and represents the round table in dealings with them. The representative body has the right to form work groups and other structural bodies to carry out its duties better and nominate the representatives of the sector into the work groups and commissions that are formed by the government and deal with the questions of the third sector.
The idea to formulate the Estonian Civil Society Development Concept emerged in 1999 and the material was finished after the active and creative cooperation of a number of people for over a year. It covers the main principles of cooperation between the public and the non-profit sector.
The cooperation is based on the following principles:
With the implementation of the Estonian Civil Society Development Concept the
delegation of services from the public sector to the non-profit sector will
become more regulated and intense. In child protection the future is probably in
offering support services. It has already become a custom that NGO-s participate
actively and successfully in the contest for the provision of support person's
services. The contest for finding a support person for the disabled people and
families with children in Pärnu was for example won by a Pärnu County
Association for Child Welfare, which offers the support person's service for 20
families with children that belong to a risk group.
Often the NGO-s have been founded as pressure groups, but later on the role of a supervisor has been abandoned as the possibilities for the non-profit sector to provide alternative services has been limited.
The legislation on the third sector either promotes or hinders its development. Here the Law on Non-Profit Organizations (RT, 1998) and the Law on Foundations (RT, 1995) are important. Approximately 1% of the state budget in 2001 is allocated for NGO-s.
The possibilities for funding vary:
The participation fees form an increasing part of the financing of the Estonian
citizens' associations. Because of the economic difficulties of the state the
international contributions still make up an important part of the financing.
The participation of private entrepreneurs in supporting the citizens'
initiatives is still modest.
Individuals have started to support the third sector financially. Estonian
biggest individual philanthropist has been Mrs. Aino Järvesoo, who has lived
for half a century as a refugee in Germany, Finland and USA. She left her home
in Florida in 1996 and came to live in Estonia. The 90-year-old lady has
contributed about 2 million kroons for different programs concerning education
and Estonian livelihood (movement of students, movement against alcohol,
artificial fertilization of women).
Assessments about the activities of the third sector
There are at the moment not many studies about the activities of the Estonian third sector. The problems between the local governments and the citizens' initiatives have been analyzed in the study of the population ordered by the Chancellery of the Riigikogu (Kivirähk, 1999). It aimed to clarify in what fields the services provided by the local governments can be contracted out to the private sector or the NGO-s. The respondents favor most that the NGO-s provide services for the spending of free time (54%). The contracting out of some welfare services to the NGO-s was considered possible only by 16% of the respondents. The respondents were ready to support financially marginal groups and local schools.
In a study carried out by a student (Eranurm, 2000) the role of the third sector
in the provision of social services was analyzed. 70 social workers were
questioned, from whom 73% returned the questionnaire. The social workers gave
their assessment about the activities of the third sector in society. Charity
oriented activities were emphasized (22%), also being a pressure group (20%),
interest group (17%) and club movements (16%) were considered vital. The role of
the third sector is not yet clearly defined, but cooperation with the public
sector is considered to be promising.
The third sector is seen in the welfare first and foremost as an interest group,
free time organizer and as a charity organization. At the moment the third
sector has started to provide services for disabled persons, youth and children,
elderly and families. It turned out that the services offered by the NGO-s are
considered to be more flexible and cheaper than the services provided by the
public sector. There are a number of NGO-s in Estonia that offer a wide range of
services, the most well-known from whom are the Estonian Chamber of Disabled
People, the Estonian Union for Child Welfare and the Self-Help and Counseling
Center for the Elderly. The sub-organizations of the Chamber of Disabled People
offer the services of a support person, personal assistant and taxi for
disabled; they have also started with psychosocial and legal counseling. There
are also private initiatives to organize the day-care for children; at the
moment there are 7 private day-care centers for children.
The study on the coping of the elderly (Tulva & Kiis, 2001) showed that 33% of the social workers favored more involvement of the NGO-s in the provision of services. Especially in the case of those services which the local governments are unable to provide either due to the shortage of resources or for some other reasons. Also the need for more cooperation between the NGO-s and the local governments was emphasized. The task of the third sector was seen in activating the elderly, supporting the activities of the organizations of the elderly and providing domestic services. It is interesting that the number of the NGO-s offering services to other interest groups (children, crime victims) is relatively small, but from all the services provided for the elderly 33% are organized by the NGO-s, the diaconate centers and the church.
The role of the private sector in the provision of services has been up to now
relatively small, although there have been some private initiatives to establish
hospices and rest homes. A German firm Kursana, who has financed the renovation
of the building and the obtaining of contemporary technical instruments, has
rented the rest home in Merivälja. The firm aims to provide high quality
services and also organizes the training of its employees for that purpose.
Social workers also emphasize the importance of neighbors' and friends' assistance and the help from diaconate workers in supporting the elderly psychosocially and in alleviating their loneliness.
The basic document on the Estonian elderly policy (adopted in the Estonian
Government session 28.09.1999) states that "the state, the local
governments, the private sector and the NGO-s have to solve the problems of the
elderly together", that implies the development of a mixed care in Estonia.
It is important that the elderly who are more healthy and active, and
participate for the purposes of self-fulfillment in different organizations,
would be ready to assist their more dependent family members, relatives and
friends if necessary. For that purposes the movement "Elderly for
Elderly" is becoming more active and seems to develop into a novel and
There are considerable expectations for the third sector for implementing the senior policy and its initiatives are appreciated.
There are attempts in Estonia to develop citizens' initiatives and promote the cooperation of the third sector with the public and private sectors. The NGO-s themselves have considered most important the support from the state and tax allowances, politicians on the other hand have emphasized the possibilities for contacting out social and other services. The organizations providing services should be seen as a possibility to implement new ideas. Bottom-up initiatives may provide alternatives for the services provided by the state and local governments (Lagerspetz, 2000). Raising the professional level of the managers and staff in the third sector is considered important. Another purpose of every organization is to raise its social capital, which means mutual trust and readiness for cooperation with the society and the capability to participate in the development of the democracy. The tasks and roles of the NGO-s in society are becoming clearer; cooperation with volunteers helps to make the work of the non-profit sector more efficient.
Private entrepreneurs should participate more in the financing of the activities of the third sector. The role of the state should be more in regulating the activities of the NGO-s legally, including also tax allowances for the supporters of the third sector.
Estonian Civil Society Development Concept (2001)
Helbe, M. (2000). Estonian NGO Sustainability Index 2000.
Helbe, M. (2001). The Activities of the Volunteers in Child Protection. Child and Family in Present-Day Estonia. Collection of articles. Tallinn, TPU, 96-102.
Kivirähk, J. (1999). Local Governments and Citizens' Initiatives. The report of a study ordered by the Chancellery of the Riigikogu.
Lagerspetz, M. (2000). Roles of Civil Society in Present-Day Estonia. Journal of the Parliament, 2.
Law on Non-Profit Organizations (1998). State's Gazette I, 96, 1515.
Ruutsoo, R. (1998). Civil Society. Estonian Human Development report. UNDP. Tallinn.
Law on Foundations. (1995). State's Gazette I, 92, 1604.