The Citizen OS Foundation celebrated the conclusion of the ten-month development programme for civic society activists across the world. 44 participants were selected to join the ambitious Democracy Defenders Accelerator and 30 young people completed the programme. Read more to learn about the programme and the projects developed by the participants!
From left: Mar Marín, Marijana Sundic and Onyx (Dimitrios Karagiannidis) in the Bootcamp of the Democracy Defenders Accelerator. Photo: Meelika Hirmo
In this hands-on programme, participants learned how to design and deliver civic engagement projects and practise participatory leadership skills — through both the running of real-life projects and working on project ideas. The entire ten-month learning process was supported by mentors and facilitators.
The topics of the projects concerned women’s rights, accessibility to public transportation for disabled people, climate change and media education, among other topics.
“We had 88 people from 27 countries applying when we announced the Democracy Defenders Accelerator, and we eventually chose 44 participants from 20 countries. This was a very demanding training programme as it required participants to attend 20 online sessions. Additionally, we organised a Bootcamp in March in Estonia which brought together 22 participants from 12 countries,” explained Sara Sinha, the Coordinator of the Democracy Defenders Accelerator. The completion certificate was given to those participants who completed at least 80% of the programme.
Often, the impact of a project is not visible for years and sometimes not even in the participants’ lifetimes. This can be very demotivating for the project team, who are often balancing advocacy efforts with work, studies or caring for family members. Therefore, the programme helped the participants to set achievable milestones that still allowed them to work creatively towards the impact, by using tools such as the Theory of Change.
Eleven democracy projects piloted
In addition to training and mentoring, which aimed to develop leadership skills and awareness about democratic engagement, the participants also worked on developing project ideas and projects. As a result, participants worked on developing 17 project ideas out of which 11 projects were piloted. Let’s have a look at six of those! We will publish the rest in the project page of the Democracy Defenders Accelerator soon.
- Syscraft – an international team based in Canada, Montenegro, Argentina and the Netherlands developed a concept and prototype for making complex systems easier to understand. The main aim is to empower the participation of marginalised groups and find errors and fixing points in systemic problems such as racism, poverty, etc.
Team members: Andee Pittman, Guillermo Croppi, Marijana Sundic and Mathieu Muus.
- Harvesting Hope: Europe’s Fight for Food Security – a European peer-to-peer initiative to raise awareness about the use of chemicals in agriculture and demand that decision makers in Europe put a stop to the use of harmful chemicals. The project utilises social media and direct networks, and it gives ideas and resources to individuals about how they can be actively involved. Team lead: Onyx / Dimitrios Karagiannidis
- Nature and the Woman Marginalised: A Case Study from Cameroon – organised gatherings and a workshop to engage women in Cameroon to discuss the problems of climate change. The project is funded on the principle that there can be no climate justice without gender justice. The initiative tries to tackle the problem of women’s equality in Cameroon, as they are currently not equally represented in decision making regarding climate change.
Team lead: Ngangjoh Riyuh
- E-Ranger – is an Indonesian programme that raises awareness of the importance of internet privacy among school students. The team members work as teachers and have developed tools, led workshops and are planning to develop a curriculum to address these important topics in the school setting.
Team lead: Sam Situmorang
- Accessibility for Pwds – is an Indonesian project to improve access to public transportation in Indonesian cities for people with disabilities. This initiative aims, based on research and data, to raise awareness among decision-makers and the wider public in order to make public transportation-related decisions in an inclusive and engaging way. Access to public institutions and freedom to move is seen as a democratic right. Decisions regarding such important issues must be made inclusively.
Team: Luthfy Ramiz, Syifa Annisa and Gio Pradipta
- Enhancing Women’s Civic and Political Engagement Via Digital Technology – a project initiated in Mexico to increase the role of women as community leaders and make their voices heard more. The challenge identified was that women in local communities are active and initiate change all the time, without realising that they are leaders and without being given the necessary recognition. During the project, workshops and discussions were held to exchange practices and experiences and learn about digital tools to improve civic participation.
Team: Mar Marín and her local team
Empowered critical thinking not afraid of “wicked problems”
Based on the feedback and analysis, the participants admitted that they now feel more empowered to tackle complex problems, maintain a clear focus and approach the project in a way that avoids a loss of motivation and burnout. Here are the four key learning outcomes expressed by the participants.
Key learning 1: Imagination towards what democracy could be
“We can say that the programme changed the participants’ perception of democracy. They indicated that their imagination was piqued in terms of what democracy can become. This change occurred during the programme when participants were encouraged to question facts and norms. For example, people not being born equal is not a fact but a norm. Democratic systems being vulnerable to misinformation is not a fact but a norm. Norms can be changed,” remarked Sinha.
Key learning 2: Breaking “wicked problems”
According to the survey, the participants expressed that complex and “wicked” problems became less daunting because the programme taught to break them into smaller problems in a systematic way.
“When you break big issues into smaller problems, they can be facilitated through deliberation and dialogue. Rather than becoming burnt out from trying to tackle the same corrupt systems, participants said they have a new goal and focus facilitated by the Democracy Defenders Accelerator. They said they now use various tools, such as critical thinking, argumentation skills and targeted problem-solving, to bring about changes in their communities,” Sinha said, in summarising the second key learning for the participants.
Key learning 3: Learning to tackle projects in phases and plan achievable steps
The participants emphasised that the Democracy Defenders Accelerator programme helped them to break down the project into phases, with milestones that were actually achievable.
“Often, the impact of a project is not visible for years and sometimes not even in the participants’ lifetimes. This can be very demotivating for the project team, who are often balancing advocacy efforts with work, studies or caring for family members. Therefore, the programme helped the participants to set achievable milestones that still allowed them to work creatively towards the impact, by using tools such as the Theory of Change,” explained Sinha.
Key learning 4: Using critical thinking
Another important learning outcome for the participants was the use of critical thinking when reaching out to stakeholders.
“The highly networked possibilities offer endless ways for collaborating with stakeholders from all around the world. However, the reality is that people have been highly politicised, and they also have very different expectations based on their background and experience. Through stakeholder mapping exercises, pitching and deliberation sessions, participants were able to reach the right stakeholders and they mentioned this as a valuable learning outcome,” says Sinha, in sharing the analysis of the feedback gathered.
The impact? Network of Democracy Defenders ready to take action
As a result of the ten-month programme, the participants together with Citizen OS initiated the Democracy Defenders Network – a participatory network for Citizen OS partners, alumni and like-minded activists to increase the capacity of civil society leaders and improve international cooperation.
The network is open for activists and organisations to exchange knowledge and coordinate initiatives together. The network applications are open and accepting new members is on a roll-up basis. The network is non-profit and there are no membership fees.