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Burning issues and active citizens in Ukraine: using technology to strengthen community engagement

In 2016, the GFCF launched the Burning Issues grants and learning programme. From supporting environmental activists in Mexico who face a climate of violence and insecurity, to exploring the use of shared spaces in Northern Ireland to address disadvantage and division, to equipping and encouraging youth groups in Kosovo to become more active and positive contributors to their communities, the small grants serve as investments for community philanthropy organizations to strengthen their response to critical local issues. These grants are intended to begin the process of tackling complex and deep rooted societal ills.

This blog focuses on the work being done in the Ukraine to strengthen community solidarity through ICT. Moloda Gromada, a GFCF partner based in Odesa, received 2016 and 2017 Burning Issues grants for their work around the prototype of the “Civil Society App.” In 2016 the “SOS” pilot was realized with the help of this app, and demonstrated the positive results of citizens’ cooperation during natural disasters, for example, helping a pregnant woman at risk in a rural area during a massive 2016 snowstorm. In 2017 the British Council in Ukraine tried the app for its programme “Active Citizens”, which aims for intercultural dialogue and sustainable social development. The app has already been acknowledged internationally after meeting in Belfast, and there are plans to organize an e-learning for any interested GFCF partners until the end of 2017.

Below, Vitaliy Tykhonovych of the British Council Ukraine - a lead partner in the app’s implementation - explains its origins and purpose further.  

During the last two years “Active Citizens”, a programme to grow civil knowledge, promote active citizenship and strengthen community development, has been rolling out in local communities across the Ukraine with the help of 68 regional NGOs-partners. After reviewing the situation, it was clear that there were challenges that need to be tackled to help the programme succeed, including: fragmentation amongst community groups; the lack of cohesion between local community partners and other actors including business and local government; the disconnect between real need and often perceived problems; the sustainability of projects after funding comes to an end; as well as a real way to better visualize and map the results.

So a group of us came together to explore a number of IT-solutions to help with these challenge, the result being the prototype of the Civil Society app, initially created by Ukrainian IT-volunteers with support of the Internet Society Organization. The app provides a virtual space for citizens to voice issues around existing and potential problems, to propose own projects of solutions “chained” with the fixed issues, and to link up with civil society organizations and local authorities with similar concerns. It has since been through several upgrades, made possible with the participation of Moloda Gromada, and their funding from the GFCF.

Active Citizens participants

During the testing phase, it became clear that the app was useful to visualize the project activity of the participants and, moreover, to demonstrate the link between real problems in local communities and projects from local citizens at the stage of their consideration by the British Council for financing. The platform encourages local individuals to better relate to, and engage with, burning issues affecting them, and to see themselves as having a stake in these issues, as well as to begin unlocking philanthropic resources, assets and public support for identified issues within and across different parts of the community. The app is available on the web and on mobile phones, and during the pilot period approximately $80,000 USD was allocated for local projects focused on social action through the app.

These impressive results inspired us at the British Council to take an even more active part in a new ICT-based initiative - “Smart Interoperability” - aimed at improving the cooperation of local actors and citizens in their communities with the help of ICT, and the app. First, we included beacons (pins) of local issues and linked projects as an obligatory part of the application process for our financing. Next, we provided co-financing of the local initiatives with local budgets, if local authorities implement similar procedure with pinning issues and solutions for the necessary transparency and cooperation.

Ludmila Levykh, Chairperson of the Youth Corporation NGO, took the lead with “Smart Interoperability.” The idea to transform communities into effective online co-working places using technology has already received great interest. Currently there are 1,671 local communities in communication with Lyudmila about learning and implementation of this idea. While it has been a challenge to provide offline training for all interested communities, the Youth Corporation NGO has started to develop an online course around “Smart Interoperability.”

“Smart Interoperability” has great benefits. It allows for more effective cooperation between us and all interested stakeholders; it builds transparency around local burning issues and linked projects; it provides an opportunity for joint financing of projects involving local authorities and the community; it avoids duplication of financing of public projects and initiatives, and, allows for transparent monitoring of our activities. Moloda Gromada and the Burning Issues grant from the GFCF will also support the creation of the website for the course, and more than 500 registered people from local authorities, NGOs and active citizens are already waiting for the beginning of the e-learning.

I believe that the next step should be to have a concerted effort to attract other potential donors to join the “Smart Interoperability” initiative. We have great potential: our programme “Active Citizens” was implemented in a number of countries, the Internet Society Organization has a global vision of the Internet for everyone, while the #ShiftThePower movement aligns well with encouraging more transparent and equal playing fields amongst donors and communities.

Why don’t you see for yourself what “Smart Interoperability” is all about? It is free of charge, and you may apply for the course here. In my view, technology will be key as we all work in our various ways to strengthen our communities.

By: Vitaliy Tykhonovych, Business Development Manager Ukraine, Education and Society, British Council Ukraine

To see how it works, watch the information video here 

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