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28 Genn- 2014 - Non-Governmental Organizations in Armenia
By Areg Gharabegian
January 2014
There were almost no non-governmental organizations (NGO) in Armenia during the Soviet era.
After the devastating earthquake of December 1988 and during the years of war in Artsakh,
NGOs began forming in Armenia and they were heavily involved with relief and humanitarian
efforts. The Government of Armenia was unable to cope with the dire situation resulted from the
earthquake and war; therefore, it had to accept the active participation of civil society
organizations (CSOs).
Alongside humanitarian aid, major international organizations and NGOs started contributing to
the development of the local non-government sector. Also, the major Armenian organizations
from Diaspora provided humanitarian aid and contributed greatly to the reconstruction process.
This period can be considered the first stage in the formation of local NGOs. The focus of these
new NGOs was on refugees, women, children, the elderly, and the disabled but their activities
were somewhat limited. NGOs’ inability to meet growing demand for emergency services and
operations was due to the lack of local NGO skills, knowledge, capabilities, and absence of an
appropriate legal framework.
Even though most of the NGOs were located in Yerevan, local NGOs began emerging in the
marzes (provinces) too. Local NGOs began implementing projects in education, health, culture,
community development, and income generation. In 1997, the number of local NGOs reached
more than 500. By 2001, data from the State Register showed that there were 2,585 NGOs
officially registered. In 2010, the State Register reported 45 international NGOs and 5,700 local
NGOs. However, out of the total number of local NGOs registered, only less than 15% can be
considered operational. As of these operational ones, most are small outfits which are not active
and some have vague and obscure missions. The following are missions of few of such NGOs:
 The main goal of the organization is to participate actively in social and legal life of the
country in order to promote free and safe life for the youth.
 The main goals of the organization are to develop the art and psychology and to form civil
 To organize and collect all the recipes of Armenian national cuisine and publish it. To
participate in international contests, seminars, and meetings.
Table 1 presents a list of operational NGOs and their fields of activities but not all are necessarily
International NGOs can be classified under the same categories as local NGOs, but with two
additional categories:
 infrastructure development and construction; and
 capacity building and technical assistance for local CSOs, self-governing bodies, and
community councils.
A survey conducted by World Learning revealed that, in the 1990s, 70% of NGO leaders were
women. However, by 2001, 58% of NGO leaders were men, and in 2009, the percentage of male
NGO leaders was 63%. While the Government of Armenia and the Armenian CSOs do not
practice gender discrimination to cause this shift; therefore, this shift could be based on the fact
that men came to view NGOs as a job opportunity and a means to further their careers.
In 2004 there were approximately 75 international NGOs operating in Armenia but recently the
number has decreased. The reason for this decline may be the stable economic growth in
Armenia in 2006 and 2007.
Table 1 – List of NGOs
Source: The Professionals for Civil Society NGO
Government Involvement
The gradual increase in the number of international NGOs in Armenia and the corresponding
need to regulate the activities of all types of CSOs led to the Government of Armenia adopting its
first Law on Civil Society Organizations in 1996. The law encouraged international NGOs to shift
their activities from emergency response to development, the protection of human rights, and
enhancing the capacity of local NGOs. The law states that Armenia recognizes the crucial role of
NGOs in the development of civil society and aims to promote the establishment of NGOs as
legal entities. The government has also passed decrees, regulations, memorandums, and
agreements related to cooperation with NGOs, and formed institutional bodies and units in
community and national levels.
NGOs in Armenia utilize informal and less structured volunteering process when they are
interacting with the society in comparison to Armenian NGOs in Diaspora. NGOs in Armenia also
have issues with volunteer mismanagement; sporadic volunteer recruitment; lack of skills
assessment, orientation, and training for volunteers; and recognizing volunteer contributions.
Engaging volunteers in long-term regular commitments, instead of ad hoc projects could better
utilize this important resource.
Because voluntarism for social society was not a common practice during Soviet era, there is a
need to widely publicize the value of volunteerism to get more people interested in becoming
volunteers for different causes. Presently this important resource is underutilized by NGOs in
Armenia. NGOs also should realize the expectations of the volunteer in order to retain
involvement and commitment over time. A non-profit organization with a strong and committed
volunteer base is more likely to attract new funds.
Human Rights, Public Policy 154 Yerevan 522
Youth 80 Vanadzor 104
Humanitarian Assistance 71 Gyumri 82
Women Issues 67 Goris 38
Community Development 66 Yeghegnadzor 31
Children, Family Issues 65 Kapan 20
Economic Development 62 Martuni 14
Health, Medical Problems 52 Ashtarak 12
Environment, Ecology 51 Noyemberian 11
Education 43 Sisian 11
Handicapped Issues 43 Stepanavan 11
Professional Association 43 Ijevan 10
Art, Culture 32 22 other cities with less 88
National Heritage 28 than 10 in each one
Agriculture 27
Science, Technology 26
Mass Media 20
International Relations 13
National Minorities 12
Refugee Issues 12
Sports, Hobbies 9
Total 954
By Field of Activity By Location3
Democratic Governance
The internal democratic governance of NGOs in Armenia is another issue that needs to be
addressed. NGOs have developed written policies for democratic governance but often do not
follow these policies. NGOs hold elections to select their internal leadership, yet the rotation rate
of such leadership is low. Typically founders of NGOs hold their positions for a long term, which
affects the formation of independent boards of directors.
Most Armenian NGOs have bylaws and constitutions that outline their governance mechanisms
but it seems sometimes these mechanisms are developed to get the required permits and to
attract new funds, rather than a genuine intention of democratic management. Members are also
often excluded from decision-making processes. Unless NGOs embrace these democratic
procedures into their regular operations they cannot establish a credible reputation in the
Funding Sources
Financial sustainability is one of the main challenges that local NGOs in Armenia face. It is this
challenge that limits their capacity for impact and distorts the image of civil society as a financially
dependent sector. It is necessary to diversify source of funding by fostering partnerships with a
full variety of potential funders, such as individuals, corporations, and government. NGOs in
Armenia undertake fund-raising activities through various events, exhibitions, concerts, and other
activities. However, the majority of NGOs have difficulty with fundraising because they lack
experience in fundraising methods, basic marketing, and financial management skills.
Activities of Armenian NGOs are heavily reliant on external funding. Some donor organizations
work directly with NGOs, while others operate on a bilateral or multilateral basis. The Armenian
Diaspora also assists the local NGO sector by allocating funds or providing in-kind assistance.
Many NGOs believe that if donor organizations leave Armenia, the scope of NGOs’ activities will
be curtailed and many of NGOs will become non-operational due to lack of funding.
The Civil Society Fund is one of several programs supported by the World Bank, which has
provided grants since 1999 to NGOs and other CSOs in Armenia. The grants support activities
related to civic engagement, and the focus is on empowering people who have been excluded
from society’s decision-making processes. The individual grants are between $8,000 and
Today’s unfavorable legislative framework related to the donations to nonprofit organizations
does not provide the NGO sector with an opportunity to acquire alternative financing. Therefore,
limited and unsustainable funding from donors and the government make the NGO sector more
dependent, affecting their independence and sustainability. The Armenian business sector does
not invest in NGO development. If they do support them, the investment is limited to one-time,
project or event base charitable contributions. Often NGOs take funding for a project that is not in
line with their mission, values, and principles, but project requirements are determined by the
donor’s agenda, which then affects credibility of the organization. Armenia’s state budget
allocates some funds for NGOs on a competitive basis.
Lack of transparency and accountability is another issue with NGOs where most of them do not
produce and disseminate annual reports and financial statements. The majority of NGOs claim
that their financial information is publicly available, yet on closer inspection, it becomes clear that
they rarely report to their beneficiaries when it comes to the finances and the quality of their work.
The majority of Armenian NGOs think that the preparation of reports requires additional financial
expenditure. Reporting of finances and activities would improve the public’s perception of NGOs.
Effectiveness of NGOs
One of the underlying causes of civil society’s weak impact on policy and pressing social issues is
that the sector’s achievements are predominantly due to the support of only a small segment of
the Armenian population. The NGOs have failed to extend their outreach and rally greater support
and higher levels of citizen participation in their activities.
Long-term financial insecurity stands as another hindrance to the levels of CSO organizations in
Armenia. Armenian NGOs have relied solely or predominantly on international donor funding,
without diversifying their income sources or developing a long-term strategy to change this
situation. As a result, the instability of work in the NGO sector does not attract young specialists.
Increasing the professional skills of CSOs, through trainings and staff development could help
strengthen the level of organizational development and achievement. What is of most importance
is to focus on staff retention, and retain the professionals in the sector, as well as to establish a
culture of information sharing and knowledge transfer.
Fragmentation and competition among NGOs occur frequently, resulting in an ineffective system
for Armenian CSOs. Because of limited coordination among NGOs, the sector lacks updated
information and a database of NGOs. This creates an inadequate picture of these organizations
and, consequently, gives people a poor perception of NGOs. This also affects the ability of NGOs
to influence the decision-making process in the public administration.
Some issues facing the civil society include a short-term approach, lack of strategic thinking,
clustering around pro government or opposition groups, and poor organizational capacity. In
order to increase citizen participation and sponsorship, NGOs need to realize that they need to be
deriving their legitimacy from the society, as they depend on popular support. Increased
transparency and accountability are vital to support this action. This includes reporting to their
beneficiaries just as they do to their funders and presenting an inclusive account of all aspects of
their activities. Improvements in these fields will contribute towards increased levels of trust
towards the civil society sector by broader society and will foster increased citizen participation.
Civil Society Briefs, Asian Development Bank, Armenia Resident Mission, November 2011.
Armenian Civil Society: from Transition to Consolidation, CIVICUS, Civil Society Index Policy
Action Brief, 2010.
The Professionals for Civil Society NGO, database of NGOs, World Learning, Inc.


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