The reality in which civil society in Europe operates, especially in Central and Eastern Europe, is complicated. The dynamics that contribute to the so-called shrinking civil society space don’t help either. They often include targeted propaganda against civil society, legislation that marks organizations as foreign agents, barriers to funding, intimidation campaigns, etc. Besides shrinking civil society space, there is also a phenomenon we refer to as disappearing civic space.
This is what we focus on in our Capacity Building program. We work in regions that literature refers to as ‘civic deserts.’* Civic deserts are places with little to no opportunities for participation and are often in rural areas, outside the big cities, in peripheral regions. In such areas, citizens do not perceive themselves as active members of their community, they lack the belief that anything depends on them. There are also hardly any civic spaces like community centers or libraries, actual places where people could come together. There are fewer civil society organizations and they are faced by different challenges compared to their colleagues in big cities. On the positive side, the local level offers a greater proximity – to institutions, to politicians, or simply people to people.
This is where we see our impact: working to strengthen local organizations, informal groups, community organizers, or simply active individuals who want to nurture the belief of citizens that instead of nothing, almost everything depends on them. Our team has designed a multi-level support program that works in 4 regions in Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, and Romania and develops the capacities through tailored programs focused on the local needs and assets.
*‘Civic deserts’ is a term originally coined by a team of TUFTS researchers and is not framed in order to judge, but rather to flag a problem that is not on the radar of philanthropies, researchers, or journalists.