The Initiative for Social Action and Renewal in Eurasia, or ISAR, promotes citizen participation and the development of the non-governmental sector in the countries of the former Soviet Union. ISAR offices in the United States and Eurasia support citizen activists and grassroots non-governmental organizations in their efforts to create just and sustainable societies through programs that emphasize information exchange, cooperative activities, and networking. ISAR also educates the public in the U.S. and Eurasia about the unique role that grassroots organizations play in shaping positive social, political, and economic transformation in the countries of the FSU.
Established in 1983 as the Institute for Soviet-American Relations, ISAR served as a clearinghouse on U.S.-USSR citizen exchanges. In the glasnost era, as news of the severe environmental degradation plaguing the Soviet Union reached the West, ISAR focused its attention on citizen efforts to protect the environment.
In 1991, ISAR and the Socio-Ecological Union, a large environmental umbrella organization, jointly organized the first U.S.-USSR NGO conference on the environment and launched an effort to create an FSU-wide environmental e-mail network.
In 1993, with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), ISAR began implementing small grants programs in the FSU.
Today, ISAR has become a network organization that provides support to grassroots NGOs through field offices in Azerbaijan (Baku), Belarus (Minsk), Kazakhstan (Almaty and Atyrau), Russia (Moscow, Novosibirsk, Vladivostok), and Ukraine (Kyiv), as well as its home office in Washington, D.C.
Since 1993, ISAR has distributed more than $4 million in small grants to over 2,000 NGOs in eleven countries as well as $2 million in support of U.S.-FSU cooperative projects.
ISAR's exchange programs have brought FSU activists to the United States to meet with colleagues at nonprofits all over the U.S. For example, in the fall of 2000 ISAR's women's leadership program brought ten Russian nuclear safety activists to the U.S. to work with American NPOs in cities such as Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Los Alamos, New Mexico; and Savannah River, Georgia.
ISAR's Transcaspian Program convenes environmentalists from around the Caspian Basin, including Iran, to seek solutions to the environmental problems caused by oil and gas exploration.
Each ISAR office produces publications and Web sites that offer news and analysis on civil society and the NGO sector.
ISAR-D.C.'s quarterly journal, Give & Take, explores key civil society issues and features articles by FSU authors and experienced U.S. practitioners working in the region.
All these programs and partnership projects allow ISAR to reach out to grassroots NGOs throughout the former Soviet Union to further the organization's mission of strengthening civil society in Eurasia.
In 1999, grassroots organizers in Moldova worked with local authorities to turn a simple river cleanup project into one of the country's first national parks.
In the Caspian Sea basin, NGOs from Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Iran, and other littoral states are confronting oil companies in an attempt to reach some agreement about how watchdog groups can interact with investors to preserve this vulnerable body of water.
The ISAR Web site highlights the organization's mission and programming in Eurasia and provides information about upcoming forums and events. In addition, Give & Take, ISAR's quarterly journal, can be purchased online along with other publications published by the organization.
ISAR's programs are funded by a range of private and government funders, including USAID and a number of Western foundations and private individuals. Grants and donations fund ISAR's efforts to find and support activists throughout the FSU who are trying to address the needs of their own communities — in the process leading and inspiring their fellow citizens and serving as an antidote to the grim picture of the region so often presented in Western media.