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Given the widespread climate of repression expressed in the recent “foreign agent law” in Russia, it might easily be assumed that Russian NPOs are fully controlled by the state and merely function as government-organized service implementers. However, despite a difficult policy environment, Russian NPOs have developed a variety of strategies for policy advocacy.
The article aims to analyze the advocacy strategies of social sector NPOs in Russia. Based on empirical research in eight Russian regions including 142 interviews with NPO representatives, state officials and policy experts, the article shows in which ways and under which conditions Russian social sector NPOs have used advocacy strategies to influence policy making at the local and regional levels. The analysis focuses on four main aspects of policy advocacy: (1) which types of social sector NPOs exist at the regional level and to what extend are they involved in advocacy, (2) what kind of advocacy strategies do they use, (3) how do they evaluate the effect of their advocacy efforts and (4) what factors explain the relative success of nonprofit advocacy in Russia’s region from the perspective of the organizations involved.
The article argues that social sector NPOs in Russia’s regions to a certain degree have found ways to cooperate with state institutions and influence policy-making at the regional and local level. The findings from our study of the advocacy activities of Russian social sector NPOs confirm the expectation that NPOs use a variety of advocacy strategies. However, the way in which the organizations engage in advocacy and the extent of their involvement depends on the type of organization. The effects of nonprofit advocacy also depend on the policy field of the respective organizations. NPOs are most likely successful in their advocacy, if their policy concerns coincide with policy priorities set by the federal government and if the organizations succeed in strategically using their capabilities, e.g. knowledge expertise, skills in specific policy areas, in the communication with state officials. However, NPOs strongly diverge in their evaluation of nonprofit advocacy, ranging from optimistic to negative views on the effects of NPO influence on social policy-making. Overall, there is a clear dependency relationship between the administration and NPOs, which challenges the core idea of independent/autonomous nonprofit advocacy on behalf of marginalized social groups or neglected social causes. In Russia, non-profit influence in social-policy making is often ad-hoc and depends on ‘signalling from above’.