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Increasing Civic Participation in Moldova

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Increasing Civic Participation in Moldova

Since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Moldova's transition to democracy has been slow and, at times, painful.  At the local level, many citizens and local authorities were mired in the legacy of 51 years of centralized government, indifferent to political participation and largely missing the skills to set their democracy in motion.  Facing these challenges, USAID’s Citizen Participation Program (CPP), 2004-2008, expanded citizen engagement in community development and democratic reform throughout Moldova.  The program built the capacity of citizen initiative groups (CIGs), civil society organizations (CSOs), and local public administration officials in 190 villages and towns to mobilize citizens, organize for change, and push for greater local accountability.

CPP was implemented by the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX), with a staff training and technical assistance program designed by Partners for Democratic Change in collaboration with a number of Partners Centers in the region. CPP staff and participants learned basic and advanced skills in participatory training, collaborative methodologies, facilitation, mediation and cooperative advocacy.  Centers in Bulgaria and Poland hosted study tours inspiring Moldovan activists with successful examples of citizens mobilizing and organizing to improve their communities. Partners' trainers drew on their own personal experiences to mentor local trainers throughout the program.

An important ingredient of CPP's success was that it encouraged cross-sector collaboration by including local government officials as well as civil society leaders and interested citizens in training activities.  In the communities where CPP was implemented, participants created a new culture of democratic engagement and accountability. CIG Leader Victoria Osipov of Popeasca village noted, “It was important for us that we created new partners, acquired new abilities and more democratic ways to act because before we were in a way totalitarian; we learned to listen to others opinions.”

The program methodology guided community members step-by-step through a series of participatory meetings to vision, plan and implement a concrete community improvement project.  CPP's local staff trained over 10,000 participants in active citizenship skills, and then guided them to immediately apply and refine them in practice. In several villages, mayors and other government leaders adopted the participatory decision-making tools introduced by CPP. Gheorghe Popa, the mayor of Plopi, said “I, as the mayor, borrowed from CPP the method of problem selection by a consensus.  Now at meetings with citizens we always give priority to those problems which are important for the whole village.”

Currently, Partners is finalizing a retrospective guide based on the lessons learned during the program's implementation. The guide is intended as a practitioner’s toolkit for people working on similar programs in the future, in Moldova, other countries of the former Soviet Union, and beyond. It analyzes the three “most significant” changes of the project (as identified by program participants and staff) and how these changes were achieved. The guide also includes relevant best practices in citizen participation from comparable programs implemented in the Balkans, Latin America, and the Middle East.

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