Local Development in the Hands of Civic Initiatives
The NGO “Saunje” works with municipalities and local property owners in the Samegrelo region to create community cooperatives in major towns Poti and Zugdidi. This new effort enables local residents to have legal representation in their communities, thereby improving communication with municipalities and increasing quality of services such as building maintenance.
Saunje was one of thirteen local non-governmental organizations from four regions of Georgia to receive a grant of up to 50,000 GEL to implement regional development strategies. The initiative was backed by the Georgian Government with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Swiss Cooperation Office for South Caucasus (SCO) and Austrian Development Cooperation (ADC).
As part of this effort, local NGOs from Kvemo Kartli, Racha-Leckhumi, Kvemo Svaneti, Guria and Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti submitted ideas for the improvement of municipal services and road safety, promotion of small projects to boost local economies, and enhancement of citizens’ participation in decision-making, including for representatives of ethnic minorities and vulnerable groups.
“To make self-governance a reality in Georgia, civic activists need to be involved in the implementation of municipal and regional strategies.”
- Tengiz Shergelashvili, Deputy Minister of Regional Development and Infrastructure of Georgia
“This are a huge step forward in turning self-governance into a reality in Georgia. Civic activists need to be involved not only at the planning stage, but also in the implementation of their municipal and regional strategies and come up with ideas that correspond with the priorities in their communities,” explains Tengiz Shergelashvili, Deputy Minister of Regional Development and Infrastructure of Georgia
Regional Development Strategies, Action Plans, and Municipal Priority Documents for all nine regions of Georgia were developed based on consultations with local communities. These strategic documents include long and short-term goals and priorities for these regions and municipalities.
UNDP assisted the development of strategy documents in the six regions and now continues to aid their implementation. The initiative is part of a wider programme supported by the governments of Switzerland and Austria to advance decentralization and promote regional and local governance reform in Georgia.
“Linking local community needs with strategic documents and involving citizens in the decision-making process are two critical factors for successful decentralization of governance and funds. Local civic organisations play a key role in this process – they intermediate between communities and local government and implement specific projects,” says Natia Natsvlishvili, Assistant Resident Representative of UNDP in Georgia.
In Racha-Leckhumi and Kvemo Svaneti, pre-school education was named a major priority by local citizens and thus included as a focus of the region’s development strategy. Local NGO “Zekari” is using UNDP grant funds to create a center for development of preschool learning in Ambrolauri, the administrative center of Racha.
“Linking strategic documents with the needs of local community, and involving citizens in decision-making are two critical factors for successful decentralization of governance and funds."
- Natia Natsvlishvili, UNDP in Georgia
“So far we have developed a pre-school education training programme and started training the teachers. We bought cognitive toys for children and delivered them to kindergartens,” explains Manana Bochorishvili, Chairperson of the Board of Zekari.
“We chose to focus our preschool education because it is one of the regional priorities and we wanted to assist the Ministry of Education in this effort,” Bochorishvili said.
UNDP’s project manager, Marika Shioshvili, points out that this kind of “positive chain reaction” in local governance is only just being introduced in Georgia. She hopes that the grant programme will help to reinforce such interplay.
“I would like to encourage every NGO in these regions to look at their municipal and regional development documents and see what priorities have been set there. We are launching the second call for proposals and hope to see lots of great local organisations with great ideas to improve life in their communities,” Shioshvili says.
The second round of a grant competition for civil society organizations will be announced in April 2016. Innovative and practical initiatives closely linked with the needs of the local residents will make people the agents of change in the challenging process of regional and local governance reform.