USAID: Estonia's civil society most viable in region
Estonia topped the Civil Society Organization (CSO) Sustainability Index for Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia for 2015 published by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
"CSOs continued to be capable advocates in 2015, and the elections showcased CSOs' influence on public discussions and policy," read the report on Estonia. "The sector's public image remained largely the same. CSOs are quite visible in local and national media, although CSOs involved in advocacy are not well-known."
"The overall sustainability of CSOs did not change in 2015," the report continued. "The legal environment deteriorated slightly, as CSOs are dissatisfied with the government's response to issues facing the sector. In addition, the total amount that individuals are allowed to deduct from their personal income — representing the total of donations, training expenses, and some other costs — was lowered."
Infrastructure supporting civil society organizations as well as the legal environment continued to be seen as Estonia's strongest features.
The sector's public image remained generally unchanged during 2015; CSOs were quite visible in local and national media and enjoyed mostly positive coverage.
The legal environment in Estonia was given a weaker score by one point than in the report for 2014, as in several segments the environment was lagging and potential to increase the effect of civil initiative remained untapped. Also, the new government cut incentives for donors, said Maris Jõgeva, executive director of the Network of Estonian Nonprofit Organizations.
The weakest scores that Estonia received for the seven criteria measured were for the financial viability and organizational capacity of CSOs.
In the preface to the report on 2015, USAID noted that on one end of the CSO sustainability spectrum in the region were Estonia and Poland, which recorded the highest levels of sectoral sustainability of any country measured not only in the CSO Sustainability Index for Central and Eastern Europe, but in any edition of the CSO Sustainability Index worldwide.
"CSOs in these two countries, as well as most other Baltic and Visegrad countries, benefit from a supportive legal environment, infrastructure, and public image, have significant organizational capacities, and are strong advocates and service providers," read the preface. "While financial viability continues to be one of the weakest dimensions of sustainability even in these countries, CSOs in Estonia and Poland have access to more diverse sources of funding, including government grants and contracts and individual and corporate philanthropy."
Latvia, the Czech Republic and Lithuania followed Estonia and Poland on the regional scoreboard.
According to the report, on the other end of the spectrum were Belarus and Azerbaijan, where CSOs operated in highly restrictive legal environments with virtually no room for independent advocacy, resulting in poor public perception of the sector.