In an emerging tradition, Democracy Schools alumni of various career backgrounds represent Georgian regions at a joint annual event to build partnerships and to work on a an important political issue of the year. Every year, with the aid of these events, NIMD focuses the attention of the public on particular issues, or puts important but sometimes less discussed themes on the agenda of policy-makers, civil society and of its Democracy Schools alumni.
The Democracy Boot-camp is essentially a conference with added team-building elements which makes it an intense networking and partnership building space. Most active Democracy School graduates from NGOs, political parties, media and self-government represent the bulk of democratic grassroots in their regions. They meet for two main reasons: to strengthen the fabric of emerging NIMD-supported grassroots network and to address a specific perennial issue in the realm of Georgian politics. The Democracy Camp, entirely tailored to the needs of Gori, Telavi, Kutaisi and Batumi Democracy School representatives, is a perfect place for meeting and working together with the people of different geographic and professional backgrounds. It is where contacts are shared, agreements on cooperation are made and joint plans are crafted.
This year, NIMD focused on the theme of the “Cities.” This was the guiding theme towards which seminar workshops, trainings, guest speaker events, debates and analytical exercises were steered. In particular, urban development / city planning / and other related issues will be covered. By selected this theme, NIMD intended to highlight the importance of focusing policy debates in the country and in its four cities, on the issues that have direct influence on the quality of life of Georgian citizens. NIMD intended to contribute to making Georgian public policy debates more substantial and citizen centered.
Urbanization is a complex process. On the one hand, it is intangible from growth and economic development. On the other hand, rising urbanization may set in motion negative implications for the environment we live in. When mismanaged, it results in distortion of city landscapes, pollution, disappearance of green spaces, noise, traffic jams, rising crime rates and social tension and etc. Examining and addressing the challenges of urban life is an emerging global issue of the time and is an important issue for Georgia as well.
Urban management remains a challenging task in Georgia. In the absence of strong economic growth, cities are faced with even greater challenges of maintaining economic appeal and managing to improve their urban infrastructure. There is too little knowledge and experience to do so and to manage the daunting tasks facing the cities: how to develop so that quality of life does not deteriorate? How to ensure that cities allow and encourage the construction of new businesses and households while maintaining valuable historical landscape and without sacrificing too much of the ever decreasing green spaces per capita? Are these issues mutually exclusive or can they be reconciled? How to manage chaotic and poorly planned constructions without putting prohibitive costs on fledgling real estate businesses? How to avoid communication gridlocks and adopt eco-friendly urban transportation? How to route traffic better? In a nutshell, how to make the cities more livable and smart? These are just the few questions confronting city administrators of Georgia as well as its citizens. In most cases, there are no development plans for the majority of Georgian cities, their administration and city councils suffer from enormous deficit of competent city planners and managers. Most importantly, there is lack of vision on how each city should develop and what paths they must take to this development.
Lectures and trainings in the first sessions of the event are designed to build knowledge and awareness on general issues of economic and urban development; on major tradeoffs and most common dilemmas and challenges in managing cities. The sessions explored the best international practices and tried to furnish a general knowledge and information to the mixed audience of city administrators, politicians, NGO leaders and democracy activists.
By involving experts, practitioners, city Mayors and active citizens in the discussion, a week long agenda of NIMD Democracy Boot-camp was dedicated to create the some basic development visions or at least some understanding of how such visions should have been constructed for the four cities of Telavi, Gori, Kutaisi and Batumi. The Democracy Camp hosted several city mayors from The Netherlands and Georgia and created a platform for sharing experience, discussions and exchanging of ideas and best practices on urban development models thus laid a good ground for a final session at which students of Kutaisi, Batumi, Telavi and Gori Democracy Schools worked in groups together with their city mayors and through the moderation by European mayors.
The two-day joint effort of city mayors and civil society representatives aimed at developing a broad vision, shared by city and civil society leaders on specific directions of city development, which will undoubtedly serve as a basis for subsequent development, budget and policy decisions by municipal authorities. It was intended this collaboration to ultimately grow into a long-term cooperation between the local government officials and civil society representatives, oriented on solving specific problems of these cities and remaining functional and active beyond the Democracy Camp as well.
Notably, most of the Camp goers are also implementers of NIMD-backed projects and advocacy campaigns on different city development issues. The advocacy campaigns are a product of a small grants program jointly carried out by NIMD and European Partnership for Democracy which enables the Democracy Schools alumni to create organizational coalitions and work on joint projects for a betterment of their city lives. Teams behind the currently running advocacy campaigns will use the Camp experience, new professional contacts and knowledge material to corroborate their efforts.
Analytical exercises, role plays, Q&A sessions, movie screenings, policy simulations and debates were slotted in throughout the program. Beyond the academic life of the boot-camp, to enliven the weeklong training experience and most importantly, to make boot-camp a boot-camp, the traditional rowing contest was pit the city teams against each other in a boat race on the nearby lake. A live classical music performance accompanied the closing ceremony when the participants were awarded with the certificates; winners of boat race and debate tournament were awarded with the special prizes and for the first time in its history, democracy activist Luiza Mutoshvili received a “Democracy Leader Award” which is intended to emerge as a new annual tradition of NIMD South Caucasus.