Monday, June 1, 2020

Inclusivity

How can we work for a society where all feel included and able to contribute?

 

Leonid Donos heads the campaign which has implemented programmes of participatory budgeting in 230 Ukrainian towns and cities, and is now reaching into neighbouring countries.

 

I worked in Poltava city council for 15 years. A lack of cooperation between NGOs and local authorities meant that projects were often implemented without adequate transparency, enabling corruption in their finances.

 

In 2015 I was invited by Kostya Ploskyi, Deputy head of the Polish Ukrainian Cooperation Foundation, to help bring participatory budgeting (PB) to Ukraine. He had seen this programme at work in Poland, and saw its potential for Ukraine. He introduced me to Initiatives of Change, and my meetings with this amazing team of people changed my life.

 

PB consists of simple steps. Residents propose projects to improve their town or city, the projects are verified by local authorities, the most popular projects are chosen by a vote of all residents who wish to participate, and local government implements these projects in the following year.

 

We have achieved excellent results in Ukraine. More than 230 Ukrainian cities and towns are now implementing PB. Residents have proposed more than 10,000 projects. More than 100,000 have taken part in the voting process. We now have a strong team of practitioner experts who cooperate with local authorities and other stakeholders.

 

In this way, PB has become a tool to achieve social inclusion. In eastern Ukraine there are many refugees who fled from the warzone on the Russian border. When we worked in towns and cities there, we focused on including these refugees, and they submitted more than 40 projects.

 

Now we also hold PB forums in schools, where students learn about the impact of PB on politics and the life of the city. This teaches them the value of democratic decision-making, and introduces them to their civic responsibilities.

 

Every year we hold a forum where those active in PB can share their successes and challenges. Several hundred people attend from across Ukraine, and from Poland, Georgia and Moldova. At this year’s conference people told how they had become involved in urban planning, local budget and similar civic concerns. We are now creating an association of participating cities to increase cooperation between our communities.

 

One reason for our success was our collaboration with Initiatives of Change. Many of those active in PB have participated in forums at Caux, the Swiss Initiatives of Change centre. The values at the heart of PB are honesty, trust and love. We believe that the way to a more humane and civil society is through care and love for people and cooperation.

 

We will be happy to help you if you decide to implement participatory budgeting in your country, city or school.

 

Amina Khalid, Head of Sustainable Communities Programme, Initiatives of Change UK, came to Britain from Somalia as a refugee, and is helping communities throughout the country to thrive.

 

My family was forced to flee Somalia during the civil war, and in 1992 we ended up in London. I was 13. In my London school I endured constant bullying. I was simply not accepted because I was a woman of colour, Muslim, wearing a hijab. Being a minority has never been easy.

 

But life throws things at you for a reason. It made me turn to my faith. The Koran states that God only changes the state of a nation when they themselves decide to change. I needed to make that change. I met IofC 11 years ago, and my life has never been the same.

 

Today I work in an IofC programme, Sustainable Communities, that supports teams, individuals, organisations and people who experience the challenges which I and many others have also faced, and who have made a change in their lives.

 

We are working to build trust between young people and the police. We train women in leadership and empowerment, particularly the ethnic minority communities who often don’t feel included in the society in which they live. We work with local government so that policies can be based on need rather than fear.

 

We use dialogue to close the gap in ethnic communities between the older, who often have the culture of their homeland and the younger, who have adopted British culture. We are working with the Mayor of London’s office to change the way they engage with the community around the issue of violent extremism.

 

It is an immense privilege to do this work.

 

 

Manohar Dube, Secretary to the Governor of Madya Pradesh, was previously the first CEO of the Rajya Anand Sansthan (State Institute for Happiness).

 

The central Indian state of Madya Pradesh – population 86 million – has enlisted thousands of its people in a programme aimed at increasing happiness. Manohar Dube, Secretary to the Governor of Madya Pradesh, told the conference of the creation of a Department of Happiness in the State.

 

This roused plenty of criticism, he said, because ‘happiness has never been recognised as the work of a government.’ But since he was appointed CEO of the Department’s Rajya Anand Sansthan (State Institution for Happiness), he had to try and make it work.

 

He went to Asia Plateau to discuss this with people active in Initiatives of Change. Together they designed a programme, Alpviraam (a pause) which encouraged people to take a break for quiet meditation.

 

They invited volunteers to join them, and 51,500 people signed up. In the past three years they have organised about 2,000 Alpviraam sessions in which 125,000 people have participated.

 

Since then they have developed a wide range of programmes, led by master trainers, many of whom received training at Asia Plateau. There are 180 Anandam (Joy of Giving) centres where people can exchange surplus goods. There are Anand clubs, whose purpose is social service. Teachers have been trained to give life skill modules in schools. The Anand calendar focuses on attributes such as forgiveness and gratitude.

 

Though Manohar Dube has moved on to other responsibilities, he is grateful that he served in the Department of Happiness. ‘We are constituents of society,’ he pointed out. ‘Each of us make society and society makes us. If there is greed, fear, jealousy in an individual, this is reflected in society as a disorder. Change in society must begin with individuals. There is no other way.’

 

 

Wimarshana Ranasinghe and her husband Shashika D’Silva are devoted to healing the wounds of war in Sri Lanka, and enabling the country’s divided communities to trust each other.

 

After 30 years of conflict in our country we are at a stage where there is no visible violence. But the root causes of conflict still exist. My husband Shashi and I belong to the majority community, and we feel that our community has made other communities feel smaller than us. It is our responsibility to build trust with them.

 

We have held story sharing circles, peace circles, interfaith dialogues. During some of those events my husband Shashi has apologized to Tamils for what Sinhalese government had done to them. It is not easy to take responsibility for what you haven't done, for things that happened even before you were born.


Then last year our country was shaken again with the Easter Sunday bomb attacks. 

We were disheartened. We had come out of a conflict against our fellow citizens, and now we were being divided again. So divided that if the Lord Buddha were to visit Sri Lanka today and speak his truth, he would be dismissed as another NGO worker who is trying to implement a European hidden agenda.


We were determined not to let this divide us. We needed to do more – to build a connection with others, so that they know we will be there for them whatever happens.


Whenever I go and interact with other communities, they are curious to know my ethnicity and my religion. After listening to what I say they feel able to share their pain and the wounds they carry. So deep friendship has grown. When Shashi and I married, it was a great joy to see some of our Tamils friends experiencing their first Sinhalese wedding.


The foundation of trust is accountability, integrity and vulnerability. How much are we
prepared to be vulnerable in front of each other’s communities, to talk about what can be
improved, what needs to be changed? Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims still don’t feel we are one
community as Sri Lankans.

 

We won’t lose hope, whatever we have done we will continue to do, until one day we can say not only Sri Lanka but the world stands as one family. Buddha said vissāsa paramā ñāti,  ‘Trust is the best relative’. We are all related who seek the same truth.

X