Democracy at the local level – Learning-by-Doing
The Armenian law provides a number of channels to participate in politics. At the same time, inactive and low participation of citizens in decision-making processes is a significant challenge both for local and national levels. For example, according to the Open Budget Survey 2021, Armenia ranks considerably well in transparency (with a score of 61 out of 100) but, in contrast, ranks very poorly in public participation (with a score of 6 out of 100).
A study commissioned by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation SDC similarly found that the channels and mechanisms in place to initiate citizen participation are greatly underutilized. On the one hand, citizens are not motivated to participate, thinking their voice will not be heard and will not make a difference. On the other hand, non-state actors (NSAs) lack capacity, and they are frustrated by the lack of response to their efforts. Finally, state institutions are not adequately pursuing or utilizing inputs from citizens and NSAs. This is observed to be an overarching issue that is compounded by the lack of appropriate coordination mechanisms between sub-national and national authorities, between municipalities and eventually between ministries.
The Swiss and German co-funded “Improvement of the Local Self-Governance System in Armenia” LSG project aims to address these issues at the local level. With its "Community Power" initiative, the LSG project set up a close cooperation between the residents and local self-governance bodies of Alaverdi, Akhtala, Charentsavan, Meghradzor, Shoghakat, Areni and Aparan municipalities.
More than 400 citizens involved in the "Community Power" initiative gained knowledge and made use of various channels, including via participation in council meetings and public discussions, the development and submission of project proposals, participation in the elaboration of community development plans and budgets, the use of the websites of their communities, and more.
Based on these newly acquired experiences, the participating citizens developed 15 project proposals for a grant competition announced in the context of the "Community Power" initiative. More than 30 events with more than 750 participants were organized to identify the best proposals to be funded. Six projects were eventually selected by the residents of the target municipalities through public voting.
A vibrant example of the success achieved by the initiative comes from the Shoghakat community of Gegharkunik region, where the grant-winning project established a Multi-functional Center in the secondary school of Jil settlement. The Center equipped with tech, library and necessary furniture now provides an opportunity for the young people of the settlement to organize alternative entertainment and to involve the residents in various educational and political processes.
"We have a problem in the community, which is indifference, and people think that they cannot change or influence anything. When the grant program was announced, it was with this problem in mind that we decided to apply for the tender. I realized that I can make a difference and influence decision-making by applying the knowledge and skills I received during the courses," says Davit Hakobyan, the head of the project implemented in Jil, who graduated from the local school in 2022 and is now a student. "Thanks to the courses, I learned to write project proposals. When my proposal got selected, the news spread quickly in the village. We also established a library with a small budget, and in a few days the apprentices took all the books at once."
The concluding event of the "Community Power" initiative was held on 1 March, 2023. Opening the event, Werner Thut, the Deputy Head of Mission of the Swiss Embassy in Armenia, equally responsible for the Swiss Cooperation Programme in Armenia, emphasized the importance of citizens' participation in local politics, notably the youth, and informed about concrete directions of continued Swiss support to democratic participation in Armenia.
Lika Mkrtchyan, the LSG project GIZ consultant and head of the "Community Power" initiative, stressed that the project gave citizens the opportunity to contribute to the community development issues. "Announcements regarding participation in the project were posted on community websites, as well as presented to residents of target communities during various events. Participation was open to everyone without any restrictions, because everyone's opinion and involvement is important for participatory democracy."
The "Community Power" initiative, was implemented by the "NGO Center" Civil Society Development NGO upon mandate by the LSG project’s implementing partner GIZ.