An article by Argyro Barata, FEAST Greece and CitizensLab member
When I attend a big international event, I always have in mind what the outcome of my participation will be. Will it inspire me? Will I be able to implement any new ideas back home? How could I spread the knowledge gained to my peers? And of course I had the same thoughts during the 14th International MitOst Festival in Tbilisi, Georgia, which I chose as one of my CitizensLab mobility grant hosts. The plethora of festival’s events drew my attention and my main focus was to explore successful examples of vibrant local communities, to understand the tactics around building them, and lastly to find new tools to empower them.
The festival gathered the MitOst community, consisting of 450 people from 33 countries, in Georgia to spend 4 days together and accommodated a vast array of discussion topics and workshops on participatory practices and capacity building. As FEAST Greece, our main challenge is to amplify the social engagement of local communities and in Tbilisi, in a short amount of time, I was able to learn about many different approaches to inspire active citizenship through performative criticism and digital storytelling. Furthermore, I was able to obtain concrete knowledge on fundraising management and learn about new tools to track down the follow up process. I also had the opportunity to present FEAST during a Pecha Kutcha session. Finally, it was very interesting to understand how to use human-centered design thinking on project management and I got familiar with very interesting projects and practices on social innovation, impact and entrepreneurship from the MitOst network.
The first two days, my programme was full, attending events in different venues around the Georgian capital. The rhythm was intense and there was no time to reflect on the experience. However, it was time to enjoy a little bit of local flair and discover the city and its people. So, on Saturday morning together with CitizensLab member Marlene from Lust auf besser Leben and Dani – a German girl I worked with at the first workshop I attended (Boosting your Project: Solutions through Collective Intelligence) who actually became my festival companion – we decided to explore the city centre of Tbilisi.
Surrounded by 1500 years of history and a distinctive architectural landscape of Medieval, Neoclassical, Art Nouveau, Stalinist and Modernist buildings, we headed to the old city. The time was almost 4 o’clock in the afternoon and we decided to check out the big clock outside the famous Café Gabriadge. Every hour, a puppet in the form of an angel comes out to ring the bell. All benches in the small square were full but we saw one with only one young man on it, so we joined him.
The area seemed peculiarly familiar to me, mainly because next to the café was a big Georgian Orthodox church, which is similar to the ones we have in Greece. While observing the area and thinking about the common history that Georgia and Greece share, I notice that Dani was having a conversation with the young man. She was asking him about his life, what he does for a living and what he thinks about his country. He told us that he mainly works in the hotel industry because he speaks many languages and explained to us how due to high unemployment young people leave their country to find opportunities for a better life abroad.
– Will you leave your country? Dani asked.
-No, I dream about opening a kindergarten for poor children. I love children. I want to have many children of my own. 4, 5, 6, 7!
-Then why don’t you do it? Set it up as a social enterprise. I am sure you could find the funds to do it.
-I don’t know how to do it. Here in Georgia, the government doesn’t help you.
And then… boom! All the experience from the MitOst Festival started to flow.
I explained to him the legal status of social enterprises in Georgia and the fact that a new law was about to pass, just before the elections. Information that I’d acquired from Eka Urushadze, Director of the Centre for Strategic Research and Development of Georgia during her presentation in the panel discussion on how to Build Ecosystems for Sustainable Social Change, a panel that took place the first day of the festival at Impact Hub Tbilisi.
During her talk she expressed her optimism that social entrepreneurship will soon be recognized by the state and that many local initiatives will find fertile ground to implement their ideas and plans. On the other hand, Marlene carried in her bag a brochure of the Europe Foundation in Georgia, which she’d taken from a stand while participating in the discussion Inclusive Cities: Urban Commons. The flyer gave comprehensive information and promoted social entrepreneurship in Georgia, and she gladly offered it to him. And finally, Dani suggested that he should pay a visit to Impact Hub Tbilisi and look for mentoring opportunities to put his idea into action.
As a couple of orthodox monks were passing by in front of the clock, I felt like one the three kings in Bethlehem, offering our “MitOst gifts”. Then the angel came, rang the bell four times and we all got ready to leave the square. He said goodbye and left with a generous smile on his face.
We bought a freshly squeezed pomegranate juice and continued our stroll in the old city also smiling generously, with the same type of smile we’d received a few minutes ago.