Warsaw, a city steeped in the past, with over 1,400 years of incessant flux; a city with a multi-layered cultural tapestry and a vibrant living history; a city that showcases the easy cohabitation of ancient architecture and post war imposing edifices; the city of Frederik Chopin, Robert Lewandowski and Marie Curie; and a city renowned as a centre of enlightenment. Warsaw, then was a popular choice for the hosting of the EEA & Norway Grants Regional Funds Annual Thematic Seminar, 2023 – ‘Celebrating the European Year of Skills: The Next Steps.’
The Polish capital’s streets bristled with the fever of impending elections and was bathed in unseasonal sunshine at the beginning of October. In the haven of the Mercure hotel’s Schertz conference room the Regional Funds Annual Thematic Seminar was kicking off proceedings. Over 100 people from almost 20 countries representing 52 projects from the YE and RC Funds, a league of Fund representatives and operators, as well as members from the academic world offered a multicoloured mosaic in the rather staid interior.
After the grim days of Covid captivity and isolation, participating in the seminar was a great privilege and relief. For this scribe it was akin to emerging from hibernation, and I was buoyed by the existence of energy in the room, that human pulsation of companionship and promise. And, now, after the dreaded Zoom days it was a pleasure to work ‘live’ with people again. It was an all-round rewarding experience. There were no filters; there were better dynamics; and there was enhanced camaraderie and creativity. It was hoped from the outset that the seminar could be a stepping stone, another important station along a crucial and shared journey
Over two days the chamber echoed with a constructive cacophony of ideas for the road ahead, the ‘next steps’ of the seminar’s sub-title. After four sessions in conclave, there was lots of white smoke emerging from the metaphorical chimneys. Habemos muchas ideas! After many hours of enthusiastic and energetic exchanges I was impressed by the group’s richness and intensity of ideas, the diversity of their exchanges and the eventual convergence of ideas around forward-looking tangible suggestions. They will be summarised in forthcoming reports of the proceedings, while this article offers some snapshots, and personal observations.
The overall confederacy of NGO’s under the EEA and Norway Fund’s banner has been fondly baptised as ‘Family.’ The DNA of this pan-European kin can be broken down into three elements:
- Practical: The crusade for finances, appeal to donors.
- Operational: Management and development of projects which is the bread and butter of their existence.
- Political: As witnesses, in primo loco, to many of the hardships and injustices of youth unemployment, their function as advocate, with ultimately a policy voice role, should not be understated or underrated.The philosophical and operational centre of gravity of the scheme is grounded in efforts to aid and abet youth employment – particularly the most vulnerable – but still continues to evolve, reflecting policy development and the wider geography of activities and variable geometry of their partners.
As the discussions and exchanges gathered momentum, provoked and guided by skilful moderators and industrious working groups, certain sketchy stratagems crystallised concerning the future of this group and their extended family. They discussed, and will continue, off piste, to exchange ideas about how relations can be better soldered and further developed under communal umbrellas; the reshaping of its corporate identity; the consolidation of the networks and a rethinking of their strategic focus. It became clear that they needed to build on the successes of their work, learn from some of the shortcomings and through the exchange of best practises build more close-knit partnerships.
In the whirlwind of activities and actions of their work, it is useful to recall the underlying motivation, the founding tenet, for the creation of the EEA and Norway Grants Fund; “…Contribute to sustainable and quality youth employment through transnational cooperation.”Any neutral observer at this seminar would be conscious of the considerable work done in this domain, the human and financial investments made, the yield/return of those investments, and the amount of unfinished work. And what is not needed now is a Limbo land between good ideas and their realisation, there is no place for a vacuum, for projects and ideas to hang suspended. What would have happened if the digging for the Channel Tunnel stopped in the middle of the North Sea?
The challenge now is to how to harness these forces, talents and energy and transform them into innovation and influence; how to mutate from influence to advocacy, to ensure project continuation through continuing communication and dissemination that will help in the trawl for income generation. Any boom/bust approach to information dissemination and sharing should be replaced by a more phased, consistent and strategic communication effort; and this to be done in coordination with other actors and agencies to ensure consistency and complementarity while also avoiding duplication of efforts and resources. There is a clear distinction between a communication strategy and a communication programme. A strategy guides and a programme follows; in Biblical terms the shepherds follow the star. It is not possible to build a communications strategy and programme in isolation. The wider political, societal and media contexts have to be taken into consideration.
In my summing up to the seminar I remarked that there had been many takeaways, of which the following are but a short subset:
- The importance of Influencing policy making;
- Ensuring the participation of policy makers in concept and articulation of projects;
- The crucial role of stakeholder engagement and the art of lobbying / advocacy;
- Development of outlines for a comprehensive civil society policy;
- Prolonging the life of the Family’s networks;
- Existential strategies after end of funding.
These are the participants words and ideas which allow me to now do some template testing, bearing in mind the underlying continuum of projects to programmes to policies.
Looking forward, the necessary structures and mechanisms for input to dialogue with, and participation in, decision making at government and institutional levels, need to be created. Access to, and alignment with, academic, business and media sectors would be an added membrane to the design.
The above structure might be supported and connected by an interactive communications gridthat allows for dialogue exchanges, ideas fertilisation, traditional stores of data, exchange of best practises, etc.
Structures and mechanisms require actors/agents, but that already exists with the Family,which can be broken down into thematic cells (digital, green, migration, rural, etc.)
Concerning the supporting information grid, I believe you are almost there with the Magazine, which could be further developed into a form of Magazine Plus.
This hub and spokes approach would allow for extended interconnections across virtual spaces as well as ad-hoc conferences, seminars, training sessions, etc.
This is a rather crude overview, but one that was culled from the ideas and needs of the participants, and, if thought helpful, would need lots of fine-tuning and…finances! Discussions and decisions on mandate, governance, management, financing, reporting and communication are waiting further down the line. Perhaps we should meet again in Warsaw soon.