||Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe|
A Project to Enhance Collaboration Between NGOs
and Local Government in Armenia
Funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State
Working Together — Building Community Connections is a program to stimulate greater citizens’ participation in public life and to encourage effective communication and collaboration between NGOs and local government in Armenia in order to more effectively identify and address serious problems in the community.
Nearly fifteen years after regaining independence, Armenia remains caught in authoritarianism and centralized rule. Its overall transition to democracy has stalled, impeding not only efforts to achieve regional stability but also the initiatives of Armenia’s civic community to improve their communities.
Building Community Connections, funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State, aims to foster civic activism at the local level to build a national network of civic-public partnerships that offer models for addressing community concerns. The project arose out of the ongoing collaboration of IDEE with its CfP partners, the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly (HCA) and the All Armenian Union of Women (AAUW). Following their effective work in the Networking Women in the Caucasus program, IDEE, HCA, and AAUW agreed on the need to initiate a program to promote civic life and citizens’ participation at the local level, encourage effective and democratic mechanisms for addressing community problems, and generally to foster greater confidence in basic democratic processes and government accountability within Armenian society.
Although the regional approach of the Networking Women program had been a large success, funding for regional programs diminished. Building Community Connections was thus a means for continuing the basic work of Networking Women within Armenia and for utilizing its capacity to foster greater local democracy. Building Community Connections has not only drawn upon the same two partner organizations, but also on many of the leaders trained within this program, both men and women. A centerpiece of the Networking Women’s program, the Citizens’ Forums and Citizens’ Forum manual, have been used as the foundation of the new program, adapted to meet the specific needs of Armenia and to encourage community outreach. At the same time, the program hopes to increase public accountability for elected local officials, who generally stay out of the public’s eye, by offering concrete citizens’ participation in local projects.
In order to encourage partnerships between NGOs and community activists and local governments to solve local problems, IDEE and its partner organizations have trained teams of facilitators to organize and carry out Citizens’ Forums in 8 regional cities and 2 residential districts of Yerevan. These facilitators include NGO leaders, trainers drawn from the Women’s Networking in the Caucasus program (WIC), newly identified civic activists, and reform-minded municipal leaders who support the goal of greater citizens’ involvement in the work of local government. The cities (Artashat, Artik, Charentsevan, Goris, Hrazdan, Idjevan, Kapan, Medjlis and Yerevan’s Arabkir and Nor Nork districts) represent a broad geographical range, from western to eastern and northern to southern, and include large regional centers as well as middle-sized and smaller cities, each having distinct problems but all facing grave economic and social dislocation that Armenia has endured since regaining independence.
The Citizens’ Forums are designed to bring together civic and municipal leaders, media representatives, youth activists, among others, in a common process for defining the conditions in each locality, identifying the most important problems, and choosing those that can be worked on together through citizens and local government cooperation. For example, in Artashat, the key problem chosen was establishing an ongoing link between the government and the community to deal with local problems; in Artik, there was consensus on a series of actions to support youth involvement in public life; in Charentsevan, leaders agreed on organizing a “city day” in order to clean the city, excite citizens in improving local services, and instill a sense of public “ownership” in the city; while in Yerevan’s Arabkir district, the forum participants agreed to work on establishing community consultations for social services and offering free pscychological and social counseling; and in the Nor Nork district, forum participants agreed on establishing a priority for re-greening the district, which had seen a total deterioration of its public spaces. In each city or district, working groups were established to establish ongoing community-government cooperation and to follow through on the priorities established at the Citizens’ Forums. (The remaining five forums will be held in late spring.)
A study tour will bring eight of the civic and municipal leaders to the U.S. in order to explore different examples of municipal-civic cooperation and citizens’ involvement in public issues. The study tour builds on the Citizens’ Forums, providing these leaders more information and concrete experiences drawing upon America’s rich local communities, and to show successful examples of cooperation between civic organizations, media, and government.
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