Hopkins program offers E. Europeans look into U.S. non-profits

March 31, 1992|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Staff Writer

The focus of economic attention on the democracies emerging from communism has been on freeing their markets, figuring out how to get the profits rolling that will spur the delivery of goods and services.

The Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies decided to look in another direction, at non-profit institutions that are beginning to sprout in the rubble of the Iron Curtain.

Though some are rebirths of organizations that existed before World War II, for the most part their roots are shallow and their status fragile since they are growing in societies where everything was supposed to be non-profit just a few years ago.

Ten representatives of Eastern European non-profit organizations -- charity groups that do everything from helping the elderly and mentally ill to encouraging start-up businesses -- are winding up a six-week stay in Baltimore and environs. They are participants in the Institute for Policy Studies' initial Third Sector Project, a workshop designed to teach the basics of how such operations run in democratic societies.

The 10, from Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, have attended lectures and seminars at Hopkins and been assigned to intern-like positions with a variety of charitable organizations in the area. They've lived with representatives of their host organizations, which range from Associated Catholic Charities and the Chimes to the South East Community Organization and Clean Water Action.

Among the many surprises was learning how non-profit agencies in this country often blur the line between the public and private sectors.

"I was very surprised to find that the major source of funds for so LTC many organizations is government funding," said Andrew Verbitskij, who runs a foundation in Moscow that works with the elderly and on a number of other projects.

"We knew that the government supplied some money, but not to such an extent. We need to know how that process works."

Mr. Verbitskij said he was impressed that the granting of government money was done for what appeared to be the right && reasons.

"The results depend on the capability of the agency," he said. "We are used to things being done under the table."

"Just two days ago, I was at public hearings in Annapolis," Radoslaw Jasinski, director of a Polish foundation encouraging the development of business, said. "If you asked for money, each organization got 10 or 20 minutes to give a speech, all out in the open. This was a new experience for me."

"Even with the private foundations, it is open here," said Wanda Wrobel-Remstedt, who works with ethnic minorities in the border areas of Poland. "And it is required to be open. In Poland, you have no information about the big foundations, how they spent their money, who they supported. It is wise to be open."

At the same time, it was recognized that this money did not appear without effort. "Fund-raising is big work. It is so professional," Ms. Wrobel-Remstedt said.

Olga Stankovicova, of Czechoslovakia's Olga Havel foundation, was impressed by the variety of fund-raising activities, noting that walk-a-thons might go over well in her country because "everybody there loves to walk."

"I was surprised how well-organized things are," Stanislava Dudova, of the Association for the Care of the Mentally Ill in Czechoslovakia, said. "Our group in Czechoslovakia is 2 years old. We are not large. I don't know if it is necessary to have such a complicated bureaucracy to run organizations. On the other hand, things are well-organized."

"You have a lot of paper used at every agency," Alena Huptychova of Czechoslovakia's Charta 77 Foundation said. "There is such a lot of propaganda material produced. And it is a very complicated system of governments -- federal, state, county, city. For fund-raising, it seems to me very complicated.

"But we are a very different part of the world," Ms. Dudova said. "The non-profit sector here is such a variety of organizations funding a lot of services. Our needs are not the same. We are starting to have unemployment, but we don't have homeless yet.

"One problem you don't have here is people being afraid to try something new. In our country, you have to realize everything has been the same for 40 or 50 years. You don't imagine that they can be different," Ms. Dudova said. "There is such diversity here. Any idea you have, you can try to realize it. You can fight for it. You don't have to be afraid. We are free, but we are still afraid. It is a psychological burden that we bear."

Lester Salamon, director of the Institute, said that the 10 participants were selected from hundreds of applicants. Plans call for follow-up programs in all of the countries.

"We are talking about cooperating in the future," Ms. Wrobel-Remstedt said. "Every one of us is coming out of here with a different experience. We want to share what we have learned."

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