Building Civil Society in Europe through Community Development – International Conference
Opening Address by
Dr. Kinga Göncz,
Secretary of State, Ministry of Health, Social and Family Affairs
Distinguished Guests, Dear Colleagues,
I am honoured to have been asked to address and open this international conference of community development.
This conference is especially of great significance in view of Hungary’s forthcoming accession to the European Union; therefore it offers an excellent opportunity for professionals from accession countries and from countries whose EU accession is due at a later date to think together
· on the role of community development in building civil society,
· on the current status of community development in Central and Eastern Europe and on exposing its opportunities,
· and last but certainly not least, on producing a Europe-wide manifesto for community development.
In Hungary, the appearance of community development and community work was preceded by almost three decades of joint thinking, learning and exchange of Hungarian and international experiences.
· Community initiatives started in the early seventies, but their legitimacy was first challenged. A lot of ground had to be covered until the establishment realised the real significance of community initiatives and civil society involvement.
· Since the change of the political system, fundamental changes have taken place not only in the various settings of political and economic life, but also in social structures: a network of democratic institutions has been established and civil society has grown in strength in terms of its social involvement.
· Today, however, the relations are even more complex and it is amongst them that we have to seek new roles, respond to new challenges, meet new expectations, develop new partnerships and build new networks both within and outside the borders of the country, and in a Europe without frontiers, in cooperation with our Eastern neighbours who will be acceding to the EU at a later date.
The opportunities of community development are determined by the cultural, political, social and economic situation of the country or community concerned. Priorities might be different by countries and by regions alike, which has an impact on the practice and theory of community development in the specific area.
In Hungary today, one of the greatest challenges faced is the country’s accession to the European Union, which entails changes both in the mechanisms of decision making and democratic culture.
The social dimension of the European Union, the development of security systems, enlargement of employment and the greater emphasis on social inclusion will accelerate the processes that may, in the long run, promote our integration into a Europe of social equity and solidarity.
Developing democratic conditions and democratic culture
Community development practitioners assume a major role in this social context: they have an important role to play not only in developing skills that are required to practice democracy, but also in strengthening participation in local community life, furthering civil society, as well as in renewing forms of cooperation and service networks.
Community development is geared towards creating a more cooperative and human-centred society, which is based on mutual assistance and relies on local resources, connections and knowledge.
Community development, with its peculiar approach, tools and methods, assists the development of local action and development plans, activities, and active involvement in the preparation of local decisions.
Civil society in Hungary
In Hungary, the relationship between the state and civil society changed, largely due to the active role that civil organisations undertook to play in dismantling existing structures. Their advocacy activities have gathered strength, and today, they are represented in the service sector in growing numbers.
With their numbers exceeding 60 thousand, civil organisations are active in several professional areas. Their role is all the more important as they call the attention of decision-makers to problems and needs which are emerging in the society and are not met or handled. However, monitoring and controlling the impact of the decisions taken are among the traditional civil roles.
Support to civil organisations – National Civil Grants Programme
In addition to partnership and ensuring civil society’s autonomy, the Government’s programme assigns appropriate importance to strengthening the safety of operation of civil organisations. This goal is served by the National Civil Grants Programme, which is to contribute to the stability of the civil sector by establishing a new system of funding via its grant applications that will be launched in the near future. These grants may enable civil organisations to undertake additional tasks, according to their resources and possibilities, to complement their involvement in the provision of state responsibilities.
Renewal of the social and civil dialogue
Active members of the civil society not only expect to be given information, but they also claim to be allowed to control decision-makers.
Although the Government programme does speak about the development of the institutional system from social dialogue, it is worth saying a few words about why the renewal of the system of civil dialogue is considered to be of utmost importance.
The previous practice was one of bogus conciliation of interests. In its stead, we are working on creating a system which is clear and transparent for all involved parties. Therefore, we make draft legislation public and provide an opportunity for consultation via different fora on the internet. Thus, renewing structures of social dialogue will provide an opportunity for civil organisations to become actively involved, by articulating their proposals, in both the planning and implementation stages.
Structure local societies – civil development
Due to its peculiar settlement structure, Hungary has a high rate of small village communities.
According to statistics, civil society tends to be more advanced in towns and cities, while less present and visible in smaller villages. Similarly, there are greater regional disparities in the service sector.
With a view to strengthening integrated local societies, the development of local societies, support to local community initiatives and the establishment of civil structures may offer an important field for cooperation between the state and civil organisations, especially in rural regions where various social problems tend to manifest in complex and multiple ways.
Possibilities of cooperation in handling social problems
Actors from the central and the local government sectors and from civil society are involved in, and contribute to, the development processes with different methods, means, responsibilities and professional identities.
It is a task of the near future to identify possibilities of interfacing which may strengthen the harmonisation of state, civil and community initiatives.
Therefore, all actors involved in developing society might find opportunities for cooperation in working towards the attainment of shared objectives such as
· promoting social cohesion and inclusion, or
· improving the quality of life.
Addressing and handling the structural problems of today’s Hungarian society, including poverty, unemployment and seclusion, must not be delegated exclusively to local communities and civil initiatives helping them. There is an unquestionable need for the state to assume a role, to provide funding and coordination in these areas.
This goal is served by government action plans and reforms, including
· the National Development Plan
· the General Development Plan
· the strategy and conceptual framework for Regional Development
· the Public Administration reform
· the Public Health Program and
· the SZOLID project.
The government projects mentioned in the foregoing will enable us to establish the framework for cooperation with civil organisations, furthermore, we will offer them possibilities to join into the reform processes by making it possible for them to participate in the planning and implementation stages.
Joint Inclusion Memorandum
From among the social programs, I would like to mention the Joint Inclusion Memorandum, or JIM, more specifically.
As one of the requirements related to this country’s accession to the European Union, Hungary will also put together its ‘National Action Plan’, by June 2004, in order to promote social inclusion. Our tasks within the Community Action Plan include the followings: make analyses to identify the features, reasons, processes and trends of social exclusion, promote cooperation and information flow in social policies, engage in activities to mutually learn best practices, do networking and involve all interested parties in order to eliminate poverty and social exclusion.
In the course of the past decade, poverty became more marked; therefore this activity must enjoy high priority. Research has shown that children are at an especially high risk of poverty, but population groups at risk include those living in small villages, elderly people living alone, the Roma, persons with disabilities and those with impaired health. JIM focuses primarily on improving the situation of these groups by setting as its goal the strengthening of protective systems through the involvement of all the line ministries. With a view to achieve social integration, it
· promotes access to services,
· facilitates participation in employment
· furthers the design of complex programs related to social and cultural integration
Further examples of cooperation
· Support to the processes of regional and micro-regional transformation and decentralisation, furthering the acquisition of techniques and skills that serve cooperation and consensus-seeking among those involved;
· Strengthening and furthering a community approach, and cooperation among corporate and individual participants in complex regional development programs,
· Developing social economy (level-out and catch-up programs)
Design complex employment and social policy programs based on partnerships. The successful implementation of such programs requires, as a prerequisite, that local governments, regional development and social professionals and institutions, as well as civil organisations collaborate in a coordinated manner.
· The SZOLID program, which is the project for amending the social welfare law.
In the professional concept of amendment, one of the objectives of development concerns the strengthening of community-based services, increasing sector neutrality and security of civil providers via regulation and funding.
· The Bill on Volunteer Service will be laid before Parliament, upon civil initiative, within this year. The Bill creates the frameworks and conditions for volunteers allowing them to get involved into providing services more extensively than before, thus the development of the network of volunteers may be a further area for cooperation.
Our partners in implementation – community development practitioners and community workers in Hungary
Credit for spreading the practice of community development in Hungary, organising and developing alternative learning opportunities at courses outside the formal educational system, training the trainers and preparing the fields over the past decades must go largely to the following organisations and agencies:
· Association for Community Development
· national organisations promoting social and civil cooperation and development
· the Civil College, and
· the network of community workers.
Community development organisations were instrumental in disseminating Hungarian and international ‘best practices’ and civil initiatives to various groups in society.
Community development and community work teaching is part of all types of social work education. Community workers play a pivotal role in developing innovative initiatives and projects, in furthering the flexibility and openness of closed institutional structures and in strengthening thinking and activity at the community level. Furthermore, they are involved in raising the awareness of people living in a community about their resources, in organising themselves and in complementing their internal capacities by adding external resources.
Networking, collaboration in Hungary and in Europe
Organisations working in the field of community development play an outstanding role and have substantial experience in developing networking. Networks form the fabric of society, mitigate isolation, therefore organisations that cooperate in a network may be more efficient in handling their advocacy responsibilities.
Further opportunities include the development of collaboration among the state, local government, civil and business sectors in various human fields, such as education, healthcare, culture, or social welfare. Collaboration in the process may be geared towards the identification of problems and the elaboration of their shared alternative solutions on the one hand, and on the other, it may contribute to the articulation of identical or differing interests and to the design of joint strategies.
Different professional and partnership networks offer greater chances for sharing and transferring experiences, and for disseminating best practices.
Work in networks may contribute to getting to know each other’s culture better, to jointly developing methods and to transferring professional experiences.
I am hopeful that this conference also will help collective learning and transborder cooperation. I wish that you may find the time necessary for exchanging your experiences, deepening your professional relations and strengthening the frameworks for long-term cooperation.
Thank you for your attention.