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Statement: Government continues to look down on development cooperation and volunteering



The Finnish Government continues to incapacitate civil society by ruthlessly cutting even more from development cooperation funds. In its budget session last year, the Government already subjected development cooperation appropriations to cuts amounting to around 400 million euros, almost half of the total. In the spending limits discussion on 5 April 2016, the Government decided to cut an additional 25 million euros from them. The new cuts target funds that are available from 2018 onwards.

These cuts make the future of development cooperation activities organised by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and student unions extremely vulnerable. The Government’s new cuts make it clear that it does not consider NGOs’ development cooperation activities important and instead aims to permanently diminish their role. Nonetheless, students are still prepared to do their duty to alleviate global problems and poverty.

Because of the cuts of 2015, the Student Union of the University of Helsinki already had to cancel our planned cooperation with a Kenyan organisation as well as to decrease funding for our project in Bangladesh to one fifth of what was planned. Thousands of Kenyans and Bangladeshis living in poverty in the countryside will now be excluded from the projects that aim to help farming communities adapt to climate change in Bangladesh and to save girls from genital mutilation in Kenya. Only one project remained safe from the cuts: a project promoting women’s and girls’ reproductive health and school attendance in Zambia’s Eastern Province. This project, however, comes to an end in 2016.

Hope for securing funding for new projects is fading out faster than ever – the Student Union’s development cooperation is under threat of ending completely.

HYY continues the tradition it started in 2007 and donates 0.7% of its annual budget to development cooperation, in accordance with the target set by the United Nations General Assembly. After the new cuts, only 0.39% of Finnish gross national product is directed towards development cooperation. In addition to this, students make voluntary donations to the Student Union’s development cooperation projects, and these amount to a total of 5,500 euros per year. The true lifeblood of the projects, however, is the thousands of volunteering hours poured into them. With the additional cuts it is making, the Government is now showing more contempt towards this work than ever before.

Ministry for Foreign Affairs intentionally making NGOs’ work more difficult

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs has recently changed the process of applying for support for communications and global education projects. In total contrast with the information it gave in its press conference last November, it now rejected the opportunity for NGOs to cover part of their self-financing contribution with volunteering. In practice, this means that the Ministry for Foreign Affairs now prevents organisations from covering part of their expenses with volunteering. The Ministry only announced this reversal on 12 April, three days before the application period begins – and even then, only after Kepa ry had noticed the change in the model application form they had received for comments.

Applying for the appropriations has now become extremely difficult for organisations with small budgets, as they have to look for additional funds at very short notice. With this decision, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs is throwing away an immense amount of work already spent on planning. Moreover, it boggles the mind to see the Ministry devalue the worth of volunteering when it is not only a guarantee for actually seeing through the projects but also an integral part of communications and global education that aims at supporting active and responsible global citizenship.

Fortunately, a great majority of students have again shown their support for HYY’s development cooperation this spring. In addition to the annual direct donations amounting on average to 5,500 euros, students have participated in the Zambia week organised by the Committee for Development Cooperation on 4–7 April on the campuses of the University of Helsinki. In three days, the event raised over 300 euros worth of donations, while the UniCafe student restaurants owned by HYY Ravintolat donated 0.10 euros to the project for each Zambia meal they sold – adding up to over 400 euros.

It is clear that the work carried out for global equality and a safe future is highly valued by students. On the other hand, by now the Finnish Government has clearly proven its indifference towards this work. The Student Union urges that during the rest of its term, the Government acts in a way that shows it respects development cooperation and wants to do its global duty in helping our world’s poorest.
Marketta Vuola, Development Cooperation Coordinator
tel. +358 50 543 8450

Susanna Jokimies, Chair of the Board
tel. +358 50 543 9610
The Student Union of the University of Helsinki