The first session of the “Leadership in local communities” program was launched in October by OEEC. The participants from all over Belarus gathered together to find out what a local community is and how to assess its needs, and to communicate with experts and practitioners who are working in and with communities.

This year the “Leadership in local communities” program united 30 participants from 26 communities that seek to improve the life of their communities. Future community leaders plan to work in cities, towns, and villages all over Belarus: they’ll operate in six oblasts and in Minsk. During the program they plan to identify the problems of their communities and to solve them. The key challenge the leaders face in the program is how to mobilize local citizens and involve them into the development of local territories.

Representatives of various organizations and initiative groups take part in the program. Representatives of state institutions, schools, and activists of civil society groups and organizations are going to spend 9 months together and attend four educational sessions. In between the sessions, local leaders will do their homework and get help from skilled mentors (tutors), who possess expertise in local community development and have positive experience in changing the territories they live on.

The first session “Local Community and Participatory Community Appraisal” began on October 30. The key notion discussed at the session was the “local community” — its features and strategies for engaging local community into the activities addressing local needs and issues.

 A local community is a location of living of a group of people that possess similar features or are united by a common interest. Communities are characterized by social relations based on close interpersonal contacts and lasting for a long period of time.

Patrushev V.I. Local community as a social and legal category.

 A local community is a community by location. It starts from a house; there are neighborhood communities, street, residential area, and district communities. Local communities are indicated only at the moment when more than 50% of people know each other, experience regular common self-organized activity, and have possibility to delegate.

Svyat Murunov, an unrbanist

The second day offered not only theory and practice but also made participants acquainted with the people experienced in working with communities. Galina Matyushenko, expert on local communities and needs assessment, opened the session with demonstrating how to identify the needs and problems of a community, how to assess them, and how to address them. Alina Gromyko told about the project “Alternative yard” and shared her experience of how to involve urban residents into dealing with problems of an individual yard.

 Participatory community appraisal (PCA) is the process where community members jointly identify local issues of common concern, analyze and prioritize them, and thus involve in the process of solving them. The participatory community appraisal empowers the community to define their priorities and take their own decisions for the future using the most accessible and easy to apply tools for that.

Counterpart Int

 In the evening the participants took part in a panel discussion. The alumni of the “Leadership in local communities” program Marina Alekseenko shared her experience, telling what her work in Bashni village had started with. Aleksey Demukh, a graduate of the “School of Superheroes”, by example of Osmolovka territory made a presentation of how one can transform a local community in Minsk with the participation of urban residents. Whereas Denis Kobrusev, a representative of “Genplan for Minskers!” campaign, explained what tools they usually use to engage citizens and solve their problems.

The final day was dedicated to summing-up, approbation, and evaluation of the tools presented at the session. To practice the acquired skills the future leaders got home tasks. The team of the “Office for European Expertise and Communications” presented additional opportunities for developing competences within the course and mobilizing support for addressing issues of concern in local communities.

translated by Aliaksandra Franskevich