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Conception of NGO Network “Friends of Baikal Basin”

Conception of NGO Network “Friends of Baikal Basin”

When you have friends you are vast as a steppe, without friends you are narrow as a palm

(Mongolian proverb)

Today, there are many environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in Russia. Many have extensive experience of  successfully implementing projects concerning nature protection, practical aspects of sustainable development, environmental education, and effective forms of self-maintenance. Such experience is very important for the development of public activity, unfortunately this experience is often lacking in regional NGOs which often don’t have the close contacts with colleagues enjoyed by national organizations (Sobolev, 2006).


Some regions of Russia have reputable environmental organizations which have strong links with governmental organizations. Members of these organizations are experienced in preparing official documents and can find meaningful solutions to ecological problems. The NGO “Baikal Ecological Wave” from Irkutsk city is a good example of such an organization (Yablokov, 2004).


Well-known scientist Vladimir Yakimets who studied non-governmental organizations in Russia proposes that there have been three hypothetical periods in the development of NGOs in Russia: 1991-1995 “romantic period”, 1996-2000 – “meaningful and controversial period”, 2001 – present (this period doesn’t have a symbolic name because of contradictive evaluation into ongoing processes: decreasing or increasing of public initiatives). The author analyzed this process by investigating the system of interactions between government and civil society in the frame of dominating in Russian research tendencies, which reflect the condition of official and non-official rhetoric in civil society. Such models have some shortcomings and need to be corrected. However, this represents one of the few attempts to study the history and development of non-governmental organizations in Russia (Demidov, 2008).


Improving the environmental awareness of the public is an important factor in securing the sustainable development of society and non-governmental organizations make great contributions to such processes. These organizations include environmental NGOs which are specifically targeted on nature protection and sustainable management. Their main goals are environmental education, practical preservation of natural objects, leading public ecological control and promoting the alignment of the economy and society to environmental protection and sustainable development. They develop public initiatives and involve the public in decision-making processes.


Lake Baikal (UNESCO World Heritage Site) has the potential to develop the environmental awareness not only of Irkutsk Oblast’, Republic of Buryatia, Zabaikalsky Krai of Russia, and Mongolia, but of the whole world.


Implementation of the proposed network can help in strengthening and facilitating cooperation between Russian and Mongolian NGOs in the field of sustainable development of the Baikal Basin.

It should be noted that environmental NGOs play an important role in the facilitation, elaboration and implementation of different projects, such as

  • Nature conservation and improvement;
  • Facilitating social and educational activities for training of scientific and creative forces in local communities;
  • Promoting of local community to participate in environmental and natural resources protection and their sustainable use.


Creation of the transboundary NGO network “Friends of Baikal Basin” will be the first step towards enhancing the involvement of civil society in the transboundary collaborative process.


The network will form structured, well-defined and efficient NGO partnerships to allow for adequate and coordinated representation of civil society in the context of the implementation of the transboundary and national strategy action plan (SAP). Virtual web-based tools for creating and maintaining partnerships will include a website and an email list-serve. It will encourage the membership of community-based organizations (CBOs) and NGOs (registered and non-registered). The virtual partnership will operate in Russian, Mongolian, and English, with country-specific content managed in each country respectively.


This Friends of Baikal Basin Network will also be engaged under a UNDP/Coca Cola funded, practical, hands-on initiative to benefit Baikal and to see the benefits called “Every Drop Matters”. The Every Drop Matters Project in Russia is part of the regional UNDP-Coke water partnership and is one of the five pilot projects planned in five countries (Russia, Romania, Turkey, Kazakhstan, andCroatia). One of the purposes of the initiative is the protection of drinking water resources and promoting the sustainable economic development of local communities and their water resources, as well as awareness-raising on water issues (Project document, 2010).


1. Experience of international cooperation of NGOs

1.1. Questions of international cooperation of NGOs

International cooperation between NGOs started in the former USSR in 1988 through the organization of Nature Protection Brigades and the Socio-Ecological Union. The first step was the joint project with German conservationists “Green Movement” (Larin et al.,). One of its significant breakthroughs was a conference which was organized by the Socio-Ecological Union. This organization later formed the professional – Center for Independent Ecological Programs (CIEP) together with American environmental non-governmental organizations. Many organizations participated at this conference, such as ISAR, Sacred Earth Network, Earth Island Institute, etc. This conference was very important for the Soviet conservation community, especially for leaders and activists of regional NGOs.

At the same time top international environmental NGOs began to work in the country. After the second visit of David McTaggard (one of Greenpeace’s founders) the Greenpeace Department opened in Moscow. At the same time the first international field projects financed by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) began operations.

International collaboration between Russia and Mongolia started during the Soviet era. T.B. Tsyrenova (2011) gave the historical digression of formation and development of both governments cooperation in the field of protection and sustainable use of transboundary water bodies. At the current time the political base of Russia and Mongolia cooperation is an Agreement signed in 1995. This Agreement defined the political and legal framework for the implementation of interstate policy based on principles of “reasonable and equitable use” of transboundary waters. Such cooperation to a large extent ensured the holding of international status of Russia as the guarantor country for preserving the unique UNESCO World Heritage Site – Lake Baikal.

The problem of distribution and sharing of transboundary waters is a big concern for the Mongolian economy given the limited water resources available in the country. On the other hand, cooperation with Russia in the field of sustainable use and protection of water resources give the opportunity to explore the positive Russian experience in scientific and educational studies.

In the Baikal region the active collaboration between Russian and Mongolian NGOs also started from international projects, notable projects include: Davis Plan (1991-1993), Cambridge University project “Preserving of natural and cultural environment of Inner Asia” (1993-1996), project with Scientific Committee of NATO (1994, 1998), TACIS project on technical assistance at the Baikal region (1997-2000), GEF project “Biodiversity conservation in the Baikal region” (1998-2003), etc.

The Tahoe-Baikal Institute (TBI) Summer Environmental Exchange Program worked in the Baikal region from 1992 in the frame of international exchange, where in addition to Russian and American participants projects often included young scientists and conservationists from Mongolia. Besides, some TBI projects have been implemented in the Mongolian portion of Baikal basin. The oldest NGO of our region “Buryat Regional Association on Lake Baikal” has good experience in cooperating with colleagues from Mongolia. It is one of the few examples of effective cooperation between Russian and Mongolian NGOs.


1.2. Challenges of cooperation between Russian and Mongolian NGOs

The conservation of Lake Baikal’s ecosystem cannot be realized without Russian-Mongolian interaction in the field of transboundary water protection, because the great portion of the Selenga river basin (the main water resource of Lake Baikal) is situated within the territory of Mongolia.

Cooperation between Russian and Mongolian NGOs is far from perfect, something which can be attributed partly to the following factors:

-          State border is a barrier to mobile interaction between Russian and Mongolian NGOs. The distance between Ulan-Ude and Ulan-Bator is about 580 km (about 8 hours drive), but people often spend a lot of time at customs during the border crossing.

-          Language restrictions. Few representatives of environmental NGOs in Russia and Mongolia can speak fluent English. Organizing the communication only on Russian or Mongolian can be complicated.

-          Cooperation between NGOs of Irkutsk Oblast’, Republic of Buryatia, and Zabaikalsky Krai of Russia is not coordinated which does not give the opportunity to organize systematic policy with NGOs of Mongolia.

-          Small budgets of NGOs. Usually, Russian and Mongolian NGOs operate mostly on the basis of small grants.

In conclusion, significant barriers hamper both countries’ ability to move ahead both within their national envelopes and jointly on a robust transboundary level. These barriers include: policy and regulatory gaps, institutional weaknesses, poor utilization of Best Available Techniques and Best Environmental Practices relevant to key issues facing the Baikal Basin, and low levels of awareness of transboundary Baikal Basin issues.

2. Goals and tasks of NGO Network “Friends of Baikal Basin”

There were about 80 registered environmental NGOs in the Baikal Region of Russia at the beginning of 2013. A quarter of these are non-profit organizations – autonomous non-profits, non-profit partnerships, coalitions, and unions (Saraev, 2013).


There are around 25 environmental NGOs in Mongolia right now, with the number of active participants ranging from 300 to 8000 people. People from the countryside (herders, farmers, local people of small settlements, representatives of small tourist companies, etc.) are actively participating in public awareness actions. The activity of Mongolian environmental NGOs is coordinated by Mongolian Nature Protection Coalition (Shirapova, 2010).

Directions of activity of the NGO Network “Friends of Baikal Basin”:

-          Establishing constructive dialogue between government and society in the field of ecological safety and protection of citizens rights for a better environment;

-          Development of relations between NGOs and state authorities on the basis of partnership for solving environmental problems of the transboundary Baikal Basin;

-          Participation of NGOs in realizing the GEF/UNOPS project “Integrated Natural Resource Management in the Baikal Basin Transboundary Ecosystem”;

-          Organizing the Baikal Forum of NGOs;

-          Analysis, summarization and practical implication of Russian and international experience in NGO partnerships

-          Preparing and organizing of joint social actions and activities.

-          Organization and leading the discussions using email list-serve on the base of a web portal (which will be created by the Baikal Information Center);

-          Creation of a unified register (White Book of Baikal Region) of the CBOs and NGOs (registered and non-registered);

-          Enhancement of relations between NGOs and mass-media;

-          Supporting of purposeful Web sites, publishing and distribution of information bulletins and other information resources about CBOs and NGOs activities for the citizens.


3. How the NGO Network “Friends of Baikal Basin” will work

Organization of the transboundary network “Friends of Baikal Basin” will be developed by the Baikal Information Center (BIC) on the BIC web portal in Russian, Mongolian, and English for creating different discussions. Participants who have problems with registration, communication, etc will receive free consulting.

“White book of the Baikal region - 2010” will be republished and become available on the BIC web portal. Representatives of environmental NGOs of the Baikal Basin will be invited to participate at the interactive Baikal Forum of NGOs. Information will be distributed by list-serve. Thus, environmental NGOs will have constant contact and connections with each other.

4. Expected results

Implementation of the NGO network “Friends of Baikal Basin” will increase the prestige of NGOs, social responsibilities of businesses, civil activity in the Baikal region, consolidate efforts of government, NGOs and business in order to obtain effective results in complex management of natural resources of Baikal region which will provide sustainable development of tranboundary Baikal Basin.

According to defined tasks we expect the following results:

-          Improvement of interactions between Russian and Mongolian environmental NGOs;

-          Preparing an analytic report detailing activity of environmental NGOs in the transboundary basin;

-          Creation of a platform for discussion of cooperation problems and development of social partnership technologies (public expertise, social project fair, etc.)

-          Conducting regular information exchange between Russian and Mongolian NGOs;

-          Launching special TV programs about activities of NGOs on local TV.

-          NGO network “Friends of Baikal Basin” members are able to quickly respond to pertinent and burning issues;

-          Increasing the number of joint Russia-Mongolian projects and volunteers participate in projects;

-          NGOs take active part in the creation of transboundary protected areas (“Baikal-Hovsgol”).

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