NGOs and the Georgian public’s expectations

The so-called third sector which consists largely of non-governmental organizations is diverse in Georgia, with organizations focusing on issues ranging from LGBT rights to political party development. To what extent these issues match up with the “demand” of the population though is still an open question. This blog post provides a snapshot of which issues Georgians think NGOs actually address and compares it with what Georgians think NGOs should be doing more of. Ultimately this provides an approximation of the “perceived supply” and “perceived demand” for NGO services in Georgia from the population’s perspective.
In the 2014 Volunteering and civic participation survey funded by USAID and conducted by CRRC-Georgia, Georgians were asked, “In your opinion, what issues do the NGOs in Georgia address most frequently?” and “What issues would you like to see NGOs addressing more often?”  Georgians reported that NGOs most frequently address elections, healthcare and/or social assistance, minority rights, and media and freedom of speech. Significantly, the second most common response to the first question was “don’t know” (22%). This supports the findings in a previous blog post, according to which a large share of the Georgian public fails to correctly identify organizations as NGOs or non-NGOs.
In contrast, Georgians most often mention “increasing prices, poverty or unemployment” as  issues which, in their opinion, NGOs should address more often. They also think that NGOs should focus much more on healthcare/social assistance and education, even though they believe that NGOs already work on these issues to a certain extent.

Note: The results do not add up to 100% as respondents were allowed to select up to three answers to each question from a show card. 

The gap between what Georgians think NGOs should be doing more often and what they think NGOs actually do is apparent in a number of important areas. While the population most commonly believes that NGOs work on election issues, only 5% want them to work more in this field. The greatest gap between what Georgians think NGOs are doing and what they think they should be doing more of is on issues related to increasing prices, poverty or unemployment. While NGOs may not be the right agents to affect change on the economy, policy issues aside, this expectation coincides generally with what Georgians consistently report to be the greatest problems in the country – unemployment and poverty. Answers “Healthcare and social assistance” and “Education” come in next with the greatest gaps between what the population perceives NGOs are doing and what they think NGOs should be doing.

Note: Only gaps that are larger than 10% are shown. 

What accounts for these gaps? The fact that NGOs and their activities are frequently funded by donors rather than the general public in Georgia may explain some of the discrepancies. While donor priorities often coincide with what the population demands, this is not always the case and hence, NGOs may address particular issue(s) that donors believe to be important, but which the population may be unaware of or uninterested in.
A second factor which could contribute to these gaps is the communication strategies of NGOs. As noted in a prior blog post, a large share of the population is not well informed about NGOs. This likely implies that information on what NGOs are working on does not reach the general public. Hence, there may be a number of NGOs working on poverty, healthcare, or education, but compared to those working on elections and minority rights, their communications are less effective.
A third potential factor, which is closely related to the second, is the role of the mass media. The two issues which Georgians are most likely to think are covered by NGOs, elections and minority rights, consistently receive concentrated media attention, clustered around specific events. The 2012, 2013, and 2014 elections and the May 17, 2013 IDAHOT demonstration come to mind in this regard.
What other issues do you think are at play when thinking about what NGOs are working on and where their efforts should be directed? Join in the conversation on Facebook or in the comments section below.

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