Community-based organizations play a fundamental role in strengthening democratic values in Europe: from fighting social inequalities, through defending civil liberties, to protecting the environment. They are natural allies of European institutions defending values such as human rights, dignity, solidarity, equality and the rule of law. At present, in times of multiple crises affecting both the climate and social integrity, they become more important than ever before. The involvement of civil society organizations begins and happens primarily at the local level. Unfortunately, in many countries, civic space has been shrinking and civil society is under pressure. We believe that to effectively defend democracy, civil society should become a protected European value and a resource in and of itself
Partnership Academy methodology
The Partnership Academy is addressed to local leaders and community organizers working for their communities – their little homelands – which encompass the environment, heritage, culture, the beauty of the landscapes.
Participants build up their knowledge, train hard and soft skills, improve their leadership skills by using unconventional tools and new techniques for initiating and running local activities, build local bonds, establish robust cooperation ties and share responsibility for the common good.
Important characteristics and features of the Partnership Academy are: interactivity, interdisciplinarity, exchange of experiences and good practices, organization of participants’ meetings in various places and contexts in Poland, as well as access to the knowledge and experience of organizations from other Central European countries. The task of the Academy is both to provide practical tools and knowledge about the mechanism and modus operandi of community-based activities, as well as to develop the competences of community organizers, which will allow them to effectively face and deal with the reality in which they operate and stimulate the development of grassroots initiatives.
Profile of participants of the Partnership Academy
The participants of the Academy are practitioners, that is, people who in their daily work and activity initiate important and current topics related to sustainable development and strengthening the potential of regions. These are:
- Leaders and organizers of community-based organizations, informal groups, leaders of the local community,
- Practitioners, people who, in their daily work/activity, initiate important and current topics related to sustainable development and strengthening the potential of regions,
- Community innovators who are interested in discovering new methods and tools of action for the benefit of the community, the environment and the region.
The concept of the Academy is based on the multidimensional meaning of the word PARTNERSHIP in the space of civic activities. We understand PARTNERSHIP as cooperating and building bonds between people and generations, showing empathy towards others, their views, priorities and dreams. PARTNERSHIP also means attentiveness to one’s surroundings and the local community in all its diversity. It is sensitivity toward and respect for humans and nature.
Partnership Academy 1.0
Between 2021 and 2023, the Partnership Fund ran a pilot edition of the Partnership Academy, which saw 17 representatives of CSOs from 10 Polish regions graduated from. Its goal was to build the potential of local organizations, as well as to support their leaders from more remote rural regions and from urban districts on the outskirts of large cities. The experience of cooperation with local leaders has shown that it is necessary not only to strengthen them and equip them with knowledge and competences, but also to combine their activities and network at the regional as well as cross-border and European levels.
The biggest challenge was to create a Partnership Academy program that would provide both hard and soft skills and propose an effective way to balance them. It was important to provide knowledge and know-how on very diverse topics related to working in and for the community, but also to show good practices and provide access to practical tools that rely on taking a positive attitude to facilitate solving problems and resolving conflict situations. Most training and education programs geared toward members of the CSO community in Poland and Central Europe focus on the transfer of knowledge and hard skills, on rather niche and highly specific topics. In terms of community leadership and sustainable development, the program had to be comprehensive and interdisciplinary.
We decided that each training and session of the Academy would take place in a specific place or region where the main topic could also be seen in practice and experienced based on matching local examples and the local context. It was important to collaborate and shape the training program with local CSOs and to present the problem and issues from the perspective of local experts and practitioners. Each training, apart from the theoretical part, included meetings and discussions with other local activists and study tours. For example, when the main topic of the training was nature conservation, we organized it in the heart of the Biebrza National Park to show in practice the struggles and challenges that local organizations and institutions face to protect landscape and nature, mitigate climate change and preserve biodiversity.
As part of the Partnership Academy 1.0, we held 6 thematic sessions on various topics resulting from the current challenges non-governmental organizations have to tackle and an analysis of the needs of the Academy participants. The Academy’s program has expanded to include additional workshops as well as thematic meetings online.