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Bad News For The British Council In Russia

Russia and the British Council are at odds as Russia is asking the British Council to close its offices and the British Council initially refused. The British Council then reported that its British and Russian staff were harassed by Russian authorities.

The word is that this is connected to the spat between the two countries over the extradition of the Russian citizen accused of poisoning former Russian security agent Alexander Litvinenko in London.

From what I’ve heard, I’d certainly leave a wide berth around the Russian government these days and avoid getting on its collective bad side.

One connection I find interesting – and applicable more widely in EFL – is that while the British Council is here referred to as “the cultural arm of the British embassy” I have also seen it referred to as an NGO (which stands for non-governmental organization) and a charitable organization.

VSO – the organization which places volunteers, including volunteer English teachers, in developing countries, and maintains that it is not part of any government (in contrast to the Peace Corps which is a part of the US government) – does in fact cooperate with the british council to do a shorter term volunteer placement program.

I certainly don’t think the blurry line dividing charitable, government, non-profit, and for-profit is only connected to the British Council. There are, for example, organizations which offer TEFL certificates – and also language schools – billing themselves as officially non-profit.

They appear to have an advertising budget and offer paid services such as courses to teacher trainee and English language learners. International House as an organization is one – though how this applies to schools that “join” and get to use the name is not really clear. I think most of us who have encountered IH in one of its many manifestations would be pressed to explain how our experience with it differs substantially from a for-profit language school.

Is categorical trust in the goodness of non-profits misplaced? I don’t doubt that there are non-profits that do fine work, and in fact I one day hope to work for one. But it strikes me that many people, myself included, don’t really know exactly what can or can’t be a non-profit.

It’s interesting to read through what is available at Idealist.org on gaining status as a non-profit in the US. I regularly cite Idealist as a great resource, and found skimming these pages interesting simply because it confirms the vagueness of what a non-profit is.