Executive Strategy

In recent years, Ukraine’s civil society has become one of the key players in developing, advocating, and implementing policy reforms critical to Ukraine’s success as a functioning European democracy. The reforms have resulted in policy changes but mostly failed to bring immediate and visible gains for the society. Therefore, the public support for the reforms and trust in the government’s efforts have diminished. Corruption remains widespread and new anti-corruption institutions have shown rather limited progress. The drive for positive change is getting exhausted; some achievements of recent transformations are in danger of being reversed. Facing the 2019-2020 presidential, parliamentary and local elections, pro-reform groups remain dispersed and fail to establish a strong political constituency. The unresolved political and armed conflict with Russia, the annexation of Crimea and the war in the Donbas continue to drain Ukraine’s resources, cause mass human rights violations, and disenfranchise millions of people. Yet, despite these challenges, reforms continue, and civil society remains at the forefront of positive changes. Civil society is increasingly able to recognize and resist the “reform capture” and produce models that can be taken on board by the government – from community policing to participatory budgeting. However, there is a visible gap between the ambitious goals and real capacity of CSOs, – and a significant distance between expectations of an active minority seeking and driving systemic reforms and a passive and paternalistic majority. Within civil society, tensions grow between advocates of liberal values and traditionalists, with the latter gaining broader support in the conflict-stricken society.  

Our role 

IRF is a leading civil society donor and a recognized civic actor in dialogue with the government and CSOs, a convener and facilitator for major stakeholders, experts, and opinion makers, a source of policy and reform expertise, and a strong voice for greater participation of civil society in implementing the reforms. IRF gains its strength from being both part of the OSF network and of Ukraine’s civil society: globally connected, nationally recognized, and locally embedded. IRF is often the first donor for emerging civic initiatives and a supporter of networks and communities seeking to further expand the civic space and make an impact on public policy. We work in close collaboration with OSF’s Eurasia Program, the Open Society European Policy Institute (OSEPI), Open Society Initiative for Europe (OSIFE), Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI), Public Health Program (PHP), Human Rights Initiative (HR&EI), Education Support Program, Early Childhood Program, and the region’s national foundations. Through these partnerships we achieve a balance between national, regional and global priorities and exchange learning on how we achieve better policies and help protect and expand the civic space. IRF has been active in OSF’s Shared Frameworks: “Fostering a New Era in Global Drug Policy” and “Legal Empowerment”, and seeks to contribute to the potential “Safe and Humane Borders” Shared Framework. Domestically, IRF is an active member of the donor coordination mechanisms. We join efforts with the USAID, EU, UN agencies, the World Bank, and bilateral donors to support civil society and reforms through our flexible grant-making and fast operations.  

This unique role places IRF at the forefront of change but also makes it a target of the “old Ukraine”.  Hence, this strategy is designed to respond to any of the three scenarios: (1) if the political will and the society’s demand for the democratic change prevail, we will support active civic participation to speed up the reforms; (2) if the reforms are stalled, we will focus on building capacity of civic initiatives and institutions to push forward the uneven progress, to prevent stagnation and backsliding on reforms; (3) if illiberal trends prevail, we will counter the backlash on the open society by defending and strengthening watchdog activism and build partnerships to enable a “frontlash”.  

Under each of these scenarios, IRF will work on cross-cutting priorities: protecting human rights, building accountable institutions, advocating for non-discriminatory policies, and strengthening the new and younger generation of civic leaders. 
Our focus will be on the three interlinked overarching goals: 

  • Goal 1: Develop and support inclusive public policy processes nationally and locally, and foster the culture of participation in policy-making that respects human rights and civil liberties (37% of the total budget)  

Portfolio 1.1: Accountable public policy and civic participation. IRF builds on anti-corruption, deregulation, decentralization, energy, education, law-enforcement and healthcare reform proposals designed by partner think tanks and coalitions and adopted as enabling laws and policies. We will take this work forward through concepts, ‘Improving quality of public policy, participation and communication on reforms’ and ‘Decentralization and local democracy’, and a field ‘Transparency and accountability of the public sector’ aiming at supporting the implementation of reforms in local governance, health care, education, and curbing corruption, by means of (1) enhancing civic participation and pro-reform actors’ policy-making skills, and building policy processes that help reduce corruption and conflicts; (2) identifying and strengthening new civic leaders to enable them to contribute to better public policy-making and to mobilize broader communities for change; (3) joining forces with reformers in the government to develop and implement public policy instruments and help assess progress of implementation; and (4) strengthening civil society voices in communication on reforms, thus countering political populism. We will share lessons and tactics across OSF on how reforms in public health, procurement, and education are simultaneously anti-corruption work, and how communication on social costs of corruption makes it relevant to people and reduces risks of a backlash.  

Portfolio 1.2: EU integration & international instruments for Ukrainian transformations (concept). We will support the implementation of the Association Agreement and promote European integration of Ukraine as a systemic leverage on its value-based transformation and sustainability of reforms; and advocate for the inclusion of Ukraine in the debates on the future of Europe, in particular, migration and security. We will support policy monitoring and advocacy for meeting political criteria for the EU accession, and achieving greater de facto sectoral integration. We will seek to bring Ukraine into the EU policy debates, by promoting collaboration between Ukrainian and EU-based think tanks. We will support initiatives aiming at reducing political tensions between Ukraine and its neighbors by helping maintain dialogues between intellectuals, civic leaders, and opinion-makers, and develop platforms for international dialogue on sensitive issues and countering the backlash on open society values. We will also seek to help maintain international pressure for a peaceful settlement in the Donbas and de-occupation of the Crimea.   

Portfolio 1.3: Consolidating the health reform through ‘Accountable health financing and rational use of resources for healthcare’ (concept) and improving the governance for health (field). Our objectives are better access to treatment for all patients; public oversight of the establishment and work of the national procurement agency; inclusion of palliative care and services for people who use drugs into the basic guaranteed primary healthcare package; enabling autonomy of health facilities, forming the new decentralized hospital districts and creating local ownership of the healthcare services and resources. We will help expose the socio-economic costs of corruption in healthcare, scale up regional advocacy for cost-effective health care financing models, and link them to the overall reform processes by building tech-advanced monitoring tools and foster engagement of civic actors in independent oversight of the budget processes and procurement of health services and medicines. We will partner with major governmental donors to ensure civic voices and inputs in the reform.  

Goal 2: Build a more resilient and influential civil society that shares open society values and has a positive common agenda for Ukraine, and mitigate the impacts of the ongoing conflicts on the Ukrainian society  (11% of the total budget) 

Portfolio 2.1: Building resilience of civil society and enabling environment for civic activism, and mitigating conflicts in the society (field). As illiberal trends take root across the continent, we seek to maintain and expand an enabling civic space, empower a younger generation of civic leaders and actors to promote open society values, and build frameworks for horizontal self-organized collaborations and social innovations. We will support civil society’s communication on open society values, foster cross-sectoral partnerships and help build a domestic resource base for civic activism. We will seek to contribute to reducing antagonisms, conflict and radicalization in the society by providing inclusive platforms, facilitating dialog and consensus-building, and giving the voice to vulnerable groups and minorities. We will work together with the Eurasia Program, OSIFE and national foundations to counter disinformation and empower vulnerable groups to challenge propaganda and hate speech against them. To respond to the trauma and divisions caused by the deadly conflict in the Donbas and the annexation of the Crimea, we will foster cross-regional initiatives that involve people affected by the conflicts, primarily Crimean Tatars, and support building grounds for post-conflict reconciliation in the Donbas through culture activism, civic education, engaging academics and other intellectuals, enhancing critical thinking and information literacy.  

Portfolio 2.2: Preventing impunity for grave crimes (field). IRF has contributed significantly to gathering evidence of mass human rights violations and other grave crimes in the Donbas and the annexed Crimea. We will continue support to the documentation work and serve as a facilitator for the ongoing communication between NGOs and the national investigation authorities with the International Criminal Court (ICC) within the opened preliminary examination on Ukraine. We will help build capacity of the national justice system to implement provisions of the international humanitarian law in the Ukrainian legislation; advocate for harmonization of the Ukrainian legislation with the ICC’s Rome Statute; design and implement elements of a transitional justice mechanism in Ukraine that will be able to succeed in ending entrenched impunity for grave crimes, strengthening deterrence, and contributing to the establishment of credible truths about the contested history.  

Goal 3: Enhance inclusion, equity and non-discrimination in policies and practice, empower and protect the vulnerable and marginalized, promote inclusion as a value and social good (31% of the total budget) 

Portfolio 3.1: Inclusive education reform and improving teacher training (field). To ensure that inclusive education (IE) provisions meet the right to education of all children with special education needs, IRF will help establish and disseminate working models for advancing IE, like inclusive resource centers, and engage communities in taking ownership of the process. IRF will work in partnership with the Education Support Program and Early Childhood Program, the Ministry of Education and key grantees to improve public support for inclusion, build capacity of teachers and education managers, and engage Roma and other minorities and special needs groups in the inclusion discourse. We will also promote the reform of teacher training to include open society values.  

Portfolio 3.2: Criminal justice reform and procedural guarantees for human rights (concept). Seeking to promote protection of human rights at pre-trial stage and efficient collaboration of key criminal justice actors to assure procedural safeguards for detainees, we will help design and promote instruments and build practices, which assure procedural safeguards within pre-trial stage of criminal justice system. We will build capacity in the law-enforcement and justice sectors to introduce rights-based instruments, including custody records, quality management, and new standards for police investigation. 

Portfolio 3.3: Roma leadership and empowerment (field). We will help introduce inclusive approaches in key spheres of education, health, social aid, and housing for Roma; empower a younger generation of Roma leaders and activists for effective policy advocacy; improve access to justice and legal empowerment; and facilitate Roma inclusion into the mainstream human rights movement and cultural dialogue. We will work with the government and local communities to establish effective models of health and social mediators, centers for responsible parenting, and community-based teachers’ assistants. We will also continue collaboration with the Roma Education Fund on provision of fellowships to Roma youth, and engage the alumni in the civil society work. We will promote culture activism and networking to counter stigma and hostile narratives and build a positive discourse on the Roma identity.  

Portfolio 3.4. Promoting the Right to life and physical integrity by countering human rights abuse and advancing the right to health in closed settings (fields). Seeking to reduce torture and ill-treatment in confinement and improve access to essential medical aid, IRF will support the civic monitoring community within the UN’s National Preventive Mechanism (the Ombudsman+ model), introduce new instruments aimed at removing systemic deficits, and support designing procedures of investigation into cases of torture and maltreatment in confinement. We will support advocacy for the Istanbul Protocol against torture and invest in forming a network of lawyers and prosecutors to effectively address torture and ill-treatment in detention, health and social care settings, and counter gender-based violence, particularly towards sex workers, people who use drugs, and LGBTI. We will support advocacy for better access to controlled medicines, palliative care, HIV/TB/HCV treatment in the law enforcement, penitentiary and health facilities.  

Portfolio 3.5: A balanced and non-discriminatory drug policy (concept). IRF has succeeded in advancing progressive legislation on the use of opioid medications for pain management and drug dependency. To counter the risk of the national policies and practices being reversed, we will promote a balanced approach between access and prevention; improve access to antidotes for drug overdose; advance best practices of the use of controlled drugs for medical purposes; advocate for decriminalization of drug use, specifically to reduce excessive criminalization of drug possession for personal use and petty crimes related to drug use. 

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