Active Communities for Development Alternatives

Support for Building Active Civic Communities through the Chitalishtes in Bulgaria

In January 2011, Platform AGORA again received a support for its institutional development by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. The project duration is two years and will continue till December 2013.

The new element is the opportunity to apply a relatively new approach to planning the development work at the settlements and measuring its results and it reflects the democratic politics called "outcome mapping" (OM). OM focuses on outcomes as the most useful signs of social change.

Outcomes are defined as changes in the behavior, relationships, activities, or actions of the people, groups, and organizations with whom the organization works directly and for whom changes in behavior are essential for achievement of the organization's vision. As a whole, OM provides the organization with a continuous system for thinking holistically and strategically about how it intends to achieve results. It also provides the tools for the organization to tell its performance story. It does so by monitoring in three key areas: changes in the behavior of partners; organization's program strategies and the way in which it functions as an organizational unit.

The main partners, Platform AGORA will continue working with by applying the new approach could be grouped generally as: - Chitalishta, local authorities, NGOs, local and national media, SMEs, popular public celebrities.

Chitalishta are part of Platform AGORA through their membership in the following four Chitalishte associations (AGORA members): - Pleven Community Fund "Chitalishtes", Innovative Community Centres Association, Chitalishte Development Association - South and United Chitalishtes Association. In our joint work, AGORA aims at involving them as active participants in developing AGORA's strategy for expanded outreach and increasing the number of Chitalishtes acting as active community centers. They are going to strengthen the new visible public image of active community centers, initiators and leaders of the local civic activity in addressing community issues. They would be active participants in the process of formulation and fine-tuning of the local development policies, capable to advocate for community interests on various levels (local and central).

The Local governments are another main partner with their potential for dissemination of their experience of work with the Chitalishte for community participation for local problem solving and development. This experience could be adopted and applied by other municipalities in Bulgaria. The local governments will be actively involved in the dialogue for the new civic role of the Chitalishtes for mobilization of local resources and initiative. The work on introducing and adopting of new mechanisms and procedures for interaction among local authorities and the Chitalishtes will continue. Also, the efforts will be directed towards increased number of Municipal Funds to support local community initiatives.

The not-for-profit organizations and networks will adopt a new understanding of Chitalishte's role for activating civic participation in communities and will participate together with Chitalishtes in the process of planning of the operational programs and structural funds in the next programming period (2014-2020).

The media on the other side are the channel for communicating "positive news" presenting the practical benefits of civic initiatives and activeness. The promotion of the active Chitalishte image will contribute to shaping of new attitude and policy to the Chitalishte sector. Attempts will be made to encourage local journalists to follow the development of the Chitalishte community work and help shape positive attitudes for civic involvement within the community. Last, but not least is the media involvement in civic campaigns and promotion of positive community solutions as well as the commitment of distinguished journalists to community causes.

Small and Medium Businesses (SMEs) have to be motivated and to provide support (volunteer work, in-kind or cash) to local civic initiatives. That could be done through the Chitalishte. Thus, the local business will recognize the Chitalishte as a socially responsible and community engaged local civic structure. The business could be a key partner of Chitalishte for participatory identification and solving of community problems and participate in local campaigns for raising resources for community causes. Also, could join resources with the Chitalishte and local governments for opening new development opportunities.

Popular public celebrities, including intellectuals, musicians, sportsmen and other who are interested and engage with Chitalishte community initiatives, they become faces of Chitalishte initiated local campaigns, promoting in national and local media the new image of Chitalishte and the importance of activation of communities, they use their public credibility and influence to promote value based active citizen behavior.