USAID and NDI Helping Communities Find Their Voice

Thursday, August 6, 2020
Maia Mamulashvili, a member of the women's initiative group in Telavi

USAID support for elections and political processes in Georgia starts from a simple principle - Georgia’s democratic development depends on civic participation by citizens around the country.  Since 2019, USAID and the National Democratic Institute have partnered with local civil society organizations around the country, helping citizens speak up for the needs of their communities.

Under USAID’s Elections and Political Processes program, USAID and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) are partnering to help citizens across Georgia get involved in local political processes.  This includes working closely with local civil society organizations (CSOs) to help them build capacity to identify and advocate for the needs of their communities. 

Since 2019, USAID and NDI have partnered to support six citizen-driven campaigns in the municipalities of Gori, Telavi, Marneuli, Zugdidi, and Ozurgeti.  Each of these local campaigns has achieved tangible results by putting citizens at the center of advocacy efforts and fostering collaboration between local and national CSOs.

Ozurgeti: Standing up for Clean Water

In Guria, NDI helped activists from three CSOs launch a joint campaign to raise awareness and advocate for government action to stop illegal mining activities. The activities were damaging local rivers and water sources, polluting drinking water and eroding farmland.  This created economic hardship for local families.

        “This river is ours and we will not let anyone destroy it."
              -
Activist in Ozurgeti

Launched in collaboration between three local CSOs — the Environmental Community Organization (ECO), the Guria Youth Resource Center (GYRC), and the Democratic Development Union of Georgia — the campaign started by engaging members of the public to call on local authorities to address the problem. Among other things, they called for the establishment of mechanisms to monitor commercial mining activities and address gaps in mining and environmental regulations.

The campaign was a success.  The municipal government allocated funds to establish weigh stations to monitor the volume of mined materials in collaboration with the national patrol police. The CSOs secured buy-in among local leaders and the national ministry overseeing police mandates, and members of the public will continue to closely monitor that the government fulfills its commitments.

As a result of the project, NDI’s partner CSOs gained the attention of national media and civil society. Specifically, the CSOs launched a partnership with the Green Advocacy Platform, a nationwide coalition of CSOs devoted to environmental issues. More information about the Ozurgeti-based advocacy group can be found here.

Marneuli: Youth for Citizen-Centered Budgeting

In Marneuli, USAID and NDI engaged the Civic Engagement and Activism Center (CEAC), a local CSO, to collect data and assess the issues most affecting local youth. The CEAC organized group discussions and interviews with local citizens, finding that youth participation in civic activities was inhibited by limited access to public gathering spaces and public transportation. As these issues fall under the mandate of the local government, the project set out to organize interested Marneuli youth in helping draft the local budget.

       “Activists should closely study a community’s existing challenges and work to resolve them together
        with community members."
            
- Youth activist in Marneuli

Young people participated in public meetings in both Georgian and Azeri languages, voicing their concerns and recommending solutions to local government leaders. The project is also engaging youth activists to monitor the government’s fulfillment of commitments made in response to their advocacy efforts, ensuring greater accountability.

Telavi: Women Entrepreneurs Advocate for Better Policies

The partnership between USAID and NDI focuses on fostering connections between citizens and community-based organizations. These connections ensure that the results of community advocacy initiatives are sustainable and resilient, even when responding to global challenges like COVID-19.

In Telavi, NDI partnered with Media Center Kakheti (MCK) to help women entrepreneurs push for better economic policies.  With guidance from the MCK, a group of women business owners formed a group to articulate and advocate their common interests to the local government. The group has already achieved positive results: securing support from the local government to establish a permanent marketplace in Telavi, which will provide additional opportunities for the growth of their businesses and local tourism.

       “It is important for me to strengthen my business and contribute to my country’s economic growth …
        That’s why we cooperate with the Mayor’s Office and jointly try to resolve problems faced by enterpreneurs."

                  - Member of the Women Entrepreneurs’ Initiative Group in Telavi

MCK and the women’s initiative group are also active in responding to COVID-19, organizing online discussions to identify challenges facing local business owners, share information on government programs, and highlight local initiatives that can offer support. They also created a social media platform to promote the products of Telavi-based producers and continue their advocacy efforts virtually. More information about the project and its achievements can be found here.

By empowering citizens to engage with local leaders, CSOs help citizens solve problems and contribute to greater community cohesion and resilience. When successful, this kind of advocacy builds trust that local institutions can be responsive, encouraging greater civic engagement and ultimately building a more citizen-centered democracy.

USAID and NDI partner with CSOs to help local communities find their voice. When citizens speak effectively, governments respond.

Last updated: September 16, 2020

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