“Now I have a Global Perspective”
Spread over 13 days, the IAF workshop on ‘Local politics and citizen participation’ focused on a wide range of topics from assessing the challenges and loopholes in local governance structures to learning best practices. The program exposed various experiments by German municipalities to formulate strategies to deal with the problems of local governance.
The workshop had a perfect combination of theoretical inputs, discussions with experts and on site inputs. The facilitators introduced concepts and each participant had the opportunity to reflect and discuss the issues in detail. All this was paired with inputs by experts some of whom suggested innovative liberal solutions to the problems they faced in their work. All the experts had a rich experience with local politics; they came from the academics, political parties, others were elected representatives. Interacting with them helped the participants reach a global perspective. As someone from a developing nation this course helped me better understand the challenges and solutions other countries and municipalities deal with. The workshop helped me to be more optimistic as I understood that other countries with similar (or even worse) conditions could manage to solve their problems.
The initial days posed vexed questions around problems and solutions; as the days passed, the discourses among group members produced solutions. During my days in Germany, I had ample opportunities to introspect; I came up with solutions I can use for my organisational improvement and suggest to the different government stakeholders I interact with.
Differing concepts of liberalism
We also pondered about liberalism: While advocating liberalism, we tend to ignore the basis of liberal values, the right of people to choose and decide for themselves. Similarly, liberalism has different connotations for every individual. If a group of 22 participants can give 22 different explanations of what liberalism means to them, it surely is something one needs a lifetime to understand. For some of us, liberalism means mere freedom from the autocratic rule in their country; others talked about free markets and smaller government role. The workshop provided multiple perspectives for me to look at freedom and also question my preowned conceptions of the same.
To understand these concepts on ground and how the German municipalities/cities run their administration despite huge financial deficits, the organizers took us to Cologne, Hamm and Munster. Once more, the presentations and interactions with the resource person there were very helpful. We looked around these three cities to explore their administrative structures. An interesting observation I made was that the city centres and the market areas shut down after office hours and on holidays. It is done so that the people spend adequate time with the family. Even those who run shops and stores have to close down after official working hours and on Sundays for the sake of “quality time” with their families. It is good to know that adequate attention and primacy is given to right to leisure and to family rights but looking at it from the other side it may adversely affect the economy of the country as the entire national market remains closed for a substantial duration of time.
The sessions on communication and strategy development were spread over two days and, for me, the most beneficial of the entire workshop. They helped me understand my shortfalls and taught me where I can improve my organisation’s practices. An effective strategy document articulates not only where an organization is going and the actions needed to make progress, but also its ultimate objectives.
As an Assistant Manager handling the outreach at Praja Foundation, I frequently deal with various stakeholders that include bureaucrats, politicians, police personnel and also my internal management team. This workshop has been instrumental in improving my skills, I had the chance to network with individuals from 20 countries and learn about the challenges in their local municipalities, and also the strategies they employ. Now I have a global perspective on governance issues. I am thankful for this wonderful opportunity.
Anjali works with Praja Foundation in New Delhi. She recently attended FNF-IAF's leadership program in Gummersbach, Germany on Local Politics and Citizen’s Participation. In this report, she is sharing her personal thoughts.