Part of EWMI ACCESS’s ongoing mission to develop Georgia’s civil society is to increase interactions between CSOs and Georgian citizens across the country. Given that average citizens are often unfamiliar with the CSO work this task can be difficult at times. Without proper engagement or information, rural residents often see CSO work as political or signs of foreign interference in their affairs.
In order to bridge the gap between communities and CSOs, in May, 2015 EWMI ACCESS’s partner CSO CiDA together with the Regional Civil Society Network member organizations organized “Civic Week” in 10 regions across Georgia to give ordinary people across the country a chance to interact with CSO representatives in a fun and open way, engaging with them through various activities. These events did much to increase the literacy of the population on ongoing development and engagement projects accessible to them, catalyzing public dialogue and debunking myths about larger CSO operations. Most importantly Civic Week was primarily organized by CSOs themselves and done at almost no cost to EWMI ACCESS, showing a strong commitment by the project’s partners to increasing awareness of their activities.
The week was full of stunning examples of open communication. Leading national CSOs – Transparency International Georgia and the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy, and Development presented innovative tools for increasing civic political literacy and engagement in decision-making – web platforms, Fix My Street, My Parliament, and Shenmartav.ge were shared with locals in Kutaisi, Zugdidi, Rustavi, Marneuli, Akhaltsikhe, Gori, and Mskheta. These websites are examples as to how common Georgian citizens can use CSO projects to productively interact with their government and enact positive change in their communities.
Most of the Civic Week fairs garnered immediate and positive results: volunteer drives involved up to 200 volunteers in tree-planting, public cleanup events, blood donation and helping elderly in retirement homes in Rustavi, Chiatura, Kharagauli, Zugdidi, Batumi and Ozurgeti. Civic Week also featured highly successful regional CSO fairs – large outdoor fair in Kutaisi where citizens had the opportunity to meet the organizations and get information they needed; and Open houses in Telavi and Akhaltsikhe.
Additionally, more than ten Kakheti-based CSOs held an information meeting with locals centered on the question: “What is the mission of Non- Governmental Organizations and why ordinary citizens could trust them?” CSO Participants spoke about tangible impacts of their work, about the advantages of engaging in civic initiatives, as well as their personal experiences.
In total, more than 60 public discussions, volunteer drives, project presentations, town-hall meetings, free service provision initiatives, and experience-sharing discussions took place in 24 cities throughout Georgia during the period of May 17-27, engaging over 1,000 participants.
Events like Civic Week show citizens that these projects, mostly led by fellow Georgians, exist to catalyze their involvement with the political process, and make the Georgian public policy more wholly democratic. With this, the stigma surrounding the work of CSOs is slowly eroding away.