In Georgia, Democracy Starts in the Community

Thursday, January 16, 2020
Youth volunteers collecting survey responses in Marneuli Municipality
NDI

USAID supports Georgia’s democracy by helping citizens participate in political processes. In 2019, USAID/Georgia partnered with the National Democratic Institute to get residents of Marneuli involved in the municipal budgeting process.  This year, we’re expanding that model to other communities around Georgia. 

With support from the American people, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) found an innovative way to help residents of Marneuli engage with their elected officials. During the summer and fall of 2019, NDI partnered with the Caucasus Research Resource Center (CRRC) to train 150 local youth volunteers to conduct a public survey of budget priorities. These volunteers asked more than 2,400 local residents for their opinions on how to spend the municipal budget.

The survey covered 86 communities across Marneuli Municipality, providing a clear window into the needs of local residents. Respondents listed better roads, improved access to drinking water, and waste management as their top three priorities. In parallel, the local council (Sakrebulo) members conducted large-scale meetings with their constituents. The data generated from those meetings as well as from the survey were later incorporated into the 2020 draft budget. The budget addresses many of the issues raised, including the renovation of the municipal road in Shulaveri and the construction of a new well to supply water to the village of Tserakvi.

In November, Marneuli Mayor Zaur Dargali presented the survey results to the public and pledged to use the new data when making policy decisions:  “This survey provided the opportunity for citizens to be directly involved in the budgetary process. It means that the everyday activities of the Mayor's office will be in line with citizens’ feedback.” The Mayor also recognized the hard work of the youth volunteers and encouraged them to remain engaged in community activism.

This is a prime example of civil society helping citizens change their community for the better. CRRC polling experts trained the volunteers to effectively collect data from the local community. The volunteers then conducted the survey using ethnic minority languages (Armenian and Azeri), especially important in an area where fewer than one-in-ten residents are ethnically Georgian. Conducting the survey with local volunteers speaking the preferred language of local residents – and using the results to design more responsive public policies – is significant in a place that has largely been excluded from national politics.

Marneuli is one of the first municipalities in Georgia to conduct this type of participatory budgeting activity, and it could serve as a model for other communities. NDI, an independent institution funded by the U.S. Government, is leveraging USAID support to promote participatory budgeting in five municipalities: Marneuli, Gori, Telavi, Ozurgeti, and Zugdidi. USAID supports these initiatives through its Elections and Political Processes program, a series of projects designed to strengthen electoral institutions and foster greater civic engagement at the local and national levels.

Under the program, USAID partners with NGOs and local civil society to give citizens a greater voice. By building connections between elected officials and the communities they represent, initiatives like participatory budgeting help translate popular priorities into public policies. More responsive politics strengthens the transparency and effectiveness of governance, helping Georgia build the capacity to solve its own development challenges.

In 2020, we look forward to working in more communities across the country, helping Georgians build a more responsive, citizen-centered political system.

 

 

Last updated: February 19, 2020

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