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Report Summaries: Local Capacity-Building

Project B118: Developing Effective Environmental Projects in Eastern Europe

The purpose of this three-year project was to identify ten bona fide environmental groups in three Eastern European countries, Moldova, Ukraine and Albania, and to develop with them a set of sound environmental project proposals. A related objective was to help strengthen the capacity of indigenous non-profit groups and to empower local communities to tackle environmental problems and face up to the challenges posed by globalisation, pollution and climate change. This report is about Year 3 of the project; it also provides an overview of the whole programme.

Year 3 Objectives: The objective of the last year of the project was to: prepare two new project proposals (eight were produced in Years 1 & 2); research potential funders for three of the (so far) unsuccessful bids, and work with partners to apply for financial support; and undertake various capacity-building and awareness-raising activities with partners and local communities. As it turned out, we devoted most of our effort during the year to developing the work in Albania.

Visits to the Region: Staff and consultants made six visits to the region during the period, five to Albania and one to Moldova / Romania. Logistical reasons prevented us visiting our third country, Ukraine. We visited / worked with nine non-governmental or community-based organizations, seven in Albania and two in Moldova; and we were in contact with three groups in Ukraine.

Proposals: We completed two new proposals during the period (a school project and a community development project in Berat, Albania); and we reviewed a third that had failed in previous funding rounds (a project on environment and health in Odessa, Ukraine). We were successful in funding the first in July 10 and the second in April 11. We also worked on a fourth proposal (in Kukës, Albania) to see if we could find alternative funding.

Training Workshops: We undertook a number of initiatives with local partners in Albania to build in-house capacity and improve public participation / raise public awareness. We organised a two day workshop in Tirana on ‘Public Mentality & Sticky Messages’, and workshops on ‘Environmental Education’, ‘Questionnaire Design’, and ‘Information Management’. We also developed a new presentation for schools designed to open children’s eyes to the world about them and improve their understanding of and attitude towards science. And we took the opportunity during one visit to the region to trial the talk with children in two remote rural schools in Romanian.

Overall Performance & Project Outcome

Over the course of the project (Sep 07 – Mar 11) we contacted / visited more then 40 non-governmental and community-based organisations as well as government offices, environmental protection agencies, city halls, schools and funders active in the region; we conducted one-to-one coaching sessions with around 50 local partners, and ran eight training workshops; we researched 16 project ideas in depth and worked with local partners to develop 10 of these into viable project proposals; and we succeeded in obtaining grants for six of the proposals with grants totalling $205,000. And we achieved all of this within the original budget of $79,000.

There was also a very fruitful sharing of contacts, experience and ideas which has impacted on the performance and direction of all the organisations involved (including ours) ¯ new skills acquired, new people attracted, new projects ideas, new ways of working, and new approaches to campaigning; and this in turn has led to the development of a number of close working partnerships which we expect to last for some considerable time.

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Project B087: Vision & Values

Preamble

It was one of those hot sunny days in July. I was with one of our Romanian partners, in her office in Galati overlooking the Danube, and we decided to take the day off. This was unusual for two workaholics, but it proved to be a good decision. We took the ferry across the river and spent the morning at the ancient monastery of Celik Dere (photo below), which nestles in the gentle hills of Dobrogea. And in between admiring the icons and tapestries, and talking with the sisters tending their gardens, our conversation kept returning to our shared concern about the rapid pace of change in society and the erosion of social values. In Eastern Europe there was welcome economic development, albeit slow, but much of what people seemed to value most was being lost, their sense of community and aspects of their culture. And ‘globalisation’ was being blamed. At the time we under-stood very little about the phenomenon despite the well-publicised street protests in Seattle, Prague, Nice, and Gothenburg . And we wondered what this might mean for the work of development groups like ours.

And as we talked, we speculated how useful it would be to bring together a dozen of our close partners from other countries in Europe and Africa to explore the nature of social change in more depth. Busy people hardly ever make time to reflect on such philosophical questions because they are so preoccupied with local actions, and with deadlines and the serious business of survival. And yet an understanding of underlying issues like globalisation and the nature of social values is so important to their work and the health of civil society.

How valuable it would be to reflect on the past, and on local feelings and traditions, and the nature of cultural difference, and identify the things that really matter to different groups in society -- especially those things that are in danger of being lost in our in-creasingly unified yet fragmented global society.

How useful to explore our concerns about the present -- the feelings of isolation for so many; public attitudes (‘mentality’); the abrogation of responsibility for the environmental consequences of our actions; the disquiet about bureaucracy and corruption in so much of public life; the poor level of communication and cooperation within civil society… the list is long!

And how inspiring to compare our vision for the future, and understand better the kind of targets we might realistically set. Which values do we most treasure, and how do we see that they are passed on to our children? Indeed, do we share the same core values? And how can we improve our understanding of change in society, sharpen our message, and increase our impact?

One year later the dream became reality, and we have not been disappointed by the results! With the help of a generous grant from the Network for Social Change we brought together a dozen of our NGO colleagues for a 10 day residential workshop in Milton Keynes. They came from Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, The Netherlands, Romania, Russia, Sierra Leone and Sweden.

In preparation for the workshop (which we held in early Oct 02) we prepared position papers on various topics -- ‘The Role of NGOs in Civil Society’, ‘Public Mentality and Cultural Difference’, ‘Corruption’, and ‘Values and Beliefs’. We also looked at the ‘Big Picture’ -- the nature and implications of globalisation, and the likely impact of regional po-litical initiatives such as EU enlargement and New Partnership for Africa’s Development . This was hard work, but highly rewarding none-the-less -- a wonderful learning experience.

In this paper we have summarised some of the ideas to come out of our discussions and research. We have focused on development issues rather than on emergency relief. We have also included some notes that local groups might find useful when planning activities or workshops around the theme of ‘vision and values’.

The paper is a joint effort: it was drafted by myself and my colleague Danny Wootton, but many others have made important contributions -- we have acknowledged these at the end. We are well-aware of the inadequacies in this work and are fully responsible for any errors of interpretation or fact. This is a first attempt to tackle some highly complex issues and bring together a few of the ideas Powerful Information has been developing for over a decade. We are not philosophers nor sociologists; we are development workers simply trying to learn lessons from our work in the field and put our principles into practice.

We hope that others find our analysis useful. And if any are stimulated to comment (or take us to task) we will be delighted, and more than happy to post useful contributions on our Web site.

Mike Flood [15 Apr 03]

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