Giving Communities a Voice to Boost Development in Rural Russia

July 27, 2016

Across the Russian Federation, local communities and rural territories often lag behind the large urban areas in terms of economic growth and continue to face development challenges caused by inadequate social services, insufficient infrastructure, and poor living conditions.

Limited participation of citizens in municipal decision-making processes compounds the problem, leading to ineffective use of local budgets and slow overall progress.

To help address these challenges and improve development outcomes in rural Russia, the Local Initiatives Support Program (LISP) is assisting selected regional governments in identifying, prioritizing and addressing specific community needs – with direct input from local citizens.

Since 2007, eight regional governments – the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania; the Republic of Bashkortostan; Stavropol and Khabarovsk Krais; Kirov, Tver, and Nizhegorodskaya Oblasts; and the Jewish Autonomous Oblast – have been implementing LISP in poor rural communities.

Through the Program, local citizens are invited to participate in community meetings where priority problems are identified and suitable projects or initiatives to address those problems are selected and approved.

The bulk of financing for the projects comes from regional budgets, with additional contributions from local municipalities and businesses, all of which is complemented by small contributions from local citizens – helping to ensure greater ownership of projects by the community. On average, contributions from citizens amount to about 10 percent of the overall cost of a project.

LISP supports small-scale, demand driven micro-projects that are identified and prepared with the participation of the local population. These micro-projects aim to improve the quality of local infrastructure – including community centers, local cultural and sports facilities, local roads and bridges, water supplies, and gas distribution networks.

“The main idea of LISP is to make life in rural and urban settlements a little bit better. And it is people’s participation in addressing the various issues that indeed generates the outcomes demonstrated by the Program,” says Ivan Egorov, Deputy Minister of Finance of Tver region.

The World Bank was asked by representatives of Russia’s regions to provide technical assistance in the design, preparation and implementation of LISP, especially with regard to the introduction of the participatory approach to improvement of social infrastructure and services at the local level.

“The Program helps encourage local communities, and the participatory approach increases transparency of the local budgets,” says Andras Horvai, World Bank Country Director and Resident Representative for Russia.

Over the past nine years, more than 3,000 projects based on local initiatives have been implemented in Russia, benefiting about 1.5 million people per annum.

“The Bank supports subnational local initiatives in eight regions of Russia. The most important feature here is the co-financing of the local projects by people - their in-kind contributions and organizational support to their own ideas - which makes the local initiatives a success, besides improving trust between citizens and authorities,” says Ivan Shulga, World Bank Task Team Leader for the Local Initiatives Support Program in Russia.

One such example is a local project to provide access to potable water of adequate quality, which was also a significant factor in reducing social tensions in the villages of Martynovo and Moshki of Torzhok district, in Tver region. The Program provided a big boost to civic engagement. People were empowered to solve pressing issues through their own initiatives, while successfully partnering with the government in terms of both organization and financing.

“It was tough at first, as people did not believe that we would succeed. But when they saw the outcomes, they became eager to continue with the project,” concludes a resident of the Moshki rural municipality.

The success of LISP has also been recognized at the federal level. In 2016, through an agreement between the World Bank and the Ministry of Finance of the Russian Federation, twenty-four more regions in Russia joined this national program of participatory budgeting and community-driven development.