This was said at the closing plenary by Dr Gerry Salole, Chief Executive of the European Foundation Centre, with which most of the participants agreed with. At least I did. This year’s Grantmakers East Forum was held in a very inspiring place, the city of Tbilisi and the country of Georgia where I was reminded that the power of people, individuals and peacefully organised groups, is the most resilient power of change – from pressing politics to opening doors to a democratic society.
For me, coming from Bosnia and Herzegovina, the country in which people still didn’t find the way to run its own Rose Revolution or the peaceful 100 days ‘Shame Protests’ against the non-functional government. The introductory morning session at the conference was a great awakening of the forgotten personal awareness about the importance of supporting spontaneous and brave civic movements that can really make powerful changes in our society. In addition to that, we heard how technology can be a very helpful tool for such movements to grow even without having the exact plan about communication strategies.
The other two sessions that I attended were also very inspiring and I would like to share some key points I noted from the first one. The session entitled ‘Changing the narrative: from shrinking space to vital civil spaces’ was greatly moderated by Evelien Van Egmond from Hivos. We had three great speakers who presented their experiences with opening different types of civic spaces so that people stay involved and motivated to participate in community development.
Ms Tamar Dagargulia from Zugdidi Community Development Centre presented the Open House Project supported by Robert Bosch Stiftung in 2009. She stressed the importance of providing physical spaces for people to meet and discuss local issues and problems, especially in the small villages where people are given fewer chances to participate in community development and decision-making. In this space, they succeeded in bringing local government representatives and social services to discuss important issues with residents.
Ms Ketevan Khachidze from Orbeliani, Georgia presented their on-line space provided for young people to submit initiatives for community improvement. She stressed the importance of simplifying the administration process for submitting applications so that more people engage in giving ideas to the government for community improvement. She also stressed that the transparency about finances spent as well as regular information about the progress of each initiative was very much appreciated by the public.
Ms Ieva Morica from Open Society DOTS&LAMPA Festival stressed the importance of finding creative ways to engage people in discussions. Their Conversational Festival Lampa in Riga in 2019 attracted more than 20.000 visitors! By creating space for people to communicate with each other with dignity – this Festival is really strengthening democracy. I very much liked their approach of choosing the topics through which they inspire people to care about each other, about their neighbours and country.
Because I fond them important, I share some learning points and interesting inputs from participants:
- People do not easily come across spaces to discuss issues, problems, government obligations and we need creative ways to keep citizens active.
- NGOs need to connect with natural and non-formal groups and individual change-makers; so their not just closed in their offices and within their projects, log and time frames. They should put values before log-frames; have trust in people more than in bureaucracy and work with people and not just for the people.
- Foundations need to be more flexible with their funding and timeframes and be ready to support spontaneous change makers.
- Government funding is contextual (watchdog organisations cannot accept government funding) and we all need to give importance more to the citizen’s funding.
I hope these inputs were interesting enough to make you join the next EFC GEF conference in another inspiring place in Europe in 2020!
Jasna Jašarević is executive director of Tuzla Community Foundation, Bosnia and Herzegovina