Civic Europe’s Idea Challenge is a program that focuses on supporting civil society organizations with the incubation and implementation of their local initiatives and projects in 12 different European countries. But the Idea Challenge is a more comprehensive funding program that goes beyond only funding the winning ideas. At the core of the program is cross-European networking and exchange of civil society organizations working in so-called “civic deserts” or regions characterized by a lack of civic participation. Our main aim is to bring civil society actors and organizations together to exchange, learn from each other and cooperate on the topics of civic engagement and participation in different formats, one of them being our Community Meetings.
On October 21-25, 2021, we finally managed to bring our Idea Challenge winners together during the 2021 Community Meeting organized in the city of Eger, Hungary. Eger is a city in the heart of Central Europe, easily accessible from all participating countries, and home to the winning idea the HumanBodyText who also were our local hosts for this meeting. We decided to hold our first Community Meeting in Hungary and Eger for several reasons. The first is that Hungary is known for its unstable political situation, characterized by a decrease in democratic values, making the work of civil society organizations difficult. The second is that the Idea Challenge mainly focuses on projects that work in so-called “civic deserts.” However, in the case of Eger, our local hosts, with their winning project, set an example on how to successfully revive civic participation. Thus, Eger provided an interesting national and regional context to host 36 small-scale local initiatives and civil society organizations.
What were the outcomes of our meeting? We collected and reflected on some voices of our participants.
“What I liked the most about this meeting is the possibility to exchange best practices and experiences from different regions and activities." - Idea Challenge winner 2020
by Olga Zarko
The winning ideas of the Idea Challenge are active in 12 different countries in Europe, working in different national and regional contexts. All projects tackle specific local challenges, using different approaches to reach their goals for improving their communities. The fields they work in – working locally and in places with low civic participation – often lack international exchange and visibility. Thus, it is crucial to enable meeting spaces such as the Community Meeting where local organizations can exchange and learn from each other about their challenges, successes, and methods.
“What is the most inspiring thing for me about Civic Europe is a possibility to meet a lot of very enthusiastic people working on good causes. I realize that challenges are similar and there is a lot to learn from each other." - Idea Challenge winner 2020
by Olga Zarko
Next to the natural exchange and learning from each other, the community meeting revealed something very powerful – how similar our goals are. All winning projects want to bring about a positive change in their communities and increase civic participation. This had great psychological value for the participants. It made them realize that what one is doing is not only one’s own struggle, but that there are many others out there sharing the same aspirations.
“You often have the feeling you work in a vacuum, but now meeting each other I have access to civil society organizations because it’s next to me, I can touch it." - Idea Challenge winner 2021
Civic Europe and its systematic approach strive to create and enhance ecosystems of civil society organizations in order to leverage their impact. By developing a collaborative environment and offering safe spaces for an exchange, we created the preconditions for cooperation, partnerships, and joint action. Many of the winning ideas that met in Hungary already arranged mutual site visits and are approaching opportunities for cooperation.
by Olga Zarko
The meeting showed the importance of building a network as well as a community among the many different local initiatives and civil society organizations. These organizations, which often function in a vacuum far from big urban areas, are empowered to be part of a bigger network of similar organizations like their own. Many participants left the meeting feeling they are part of something bigger and with a shared understanding of the importance of their work. Even if change is often dictated from above, we strongly believe that change starts locally.