New perspective for a young democracy after visiting Falun

Four representatives from the Georgian city of Zugdidi spent two days learning about democracy in practice in a typical Swedish municipality. It was a coming together of a young democracy and an experienced one, each with their own experiences to share. Conditions are very different, which made for a stimulating meeting.
“My job is essentially about human rights – each individual’s right to have a say and from that to create a sustainable society,” says Jenny Antonsson.

Falun Municipality has enjoyed a long-standing cooperation with Namibia, together with ICLD. The field trip by the Georgian municipality came about on the initiative of ICLD and is part of an extended training project for Zugdidi. Topics on the agenda included practical examples, sharing experiences, face-to-face meetings and discussions about how to work politically to encourage participation.
“We share many common issues relating to democracy and community, but coming from slightly different angles. It’s always interesting to hear how others work. We tried to give them a sense of what we’re working with and how we approach things,” explains Jenny.
The Georgian visitors got to meet representatives from Falun Municipality who hold similar positions, but also Falun representatives whose duties are not as obviously linked to the democracy work that Zugdidi is embarking on.

Jenny Antonsson is keen to strengthen contact with the inhabitants of her municipality via a clear structure taken from policy documents – and since the 2015 election, a newly-established board with decision-making powers on issues relating to the municipality’s democratic development.
“I have a solid mandate. It’s quite unusual for a municipality to create a new board. Shifting responsibility from the municipal executive board will be a challenge – it will be a learning experience for our organisation, but on the whole it’s going well,” she says.

The Zugdidi delegation was made up of two politicians and two individuals working with democracy issues in non-governmental organisations. Essentially, the Zugdidi project is about identifying tools for working with openness in the democratic process. For example, how they can use online solutions or mobile apps to encourage citizens to share their views and suggestions.
“They genuinely want to broaden their support base, from being a group of individuals at the local authority working with these issues, to inviting other people and organisations to come on board. Their visit was part of their efforts to find out how things work in other countries.”

What do you think the main message was from their visit to Falun?
“We showed them an organisation that has achieved successes, but that also faces challenges. I think they took with them an example of an effective and efficient organisation. Our public relations team also offered them a few concrete tips on ways to use communication proactively.”

What did you learn from your guests?
“Not to be blind to your own faults. We’re doing great things, but we’re not the only ones, and we can learn from others. It’s good to have a bit of perspective, to listen to how other people are working and thinking. And I’ve acquired some personal contacts that I intend to keep in touch with. Inspiration, keeping track of global developments and networks are always good, whether it’s Zugdidi or Hedemora.”

The conclusion of the visit gave the delegation an entirely new perspective on Falun. During a trip to Lugnet Ski Stadium, the group was taken up one of the ski jump towers, which was a real eye-opener.
“They got to hear a bit about the World Championships and events that we organise at Lugnet. They looked very happy. It was a good way to end the visit!” says Jenny Antonsson.

The participants from Zugdidi take part in one of the ICLD International TrainingProgrammes, Local Governance with a Rights Based Approach, which runs for 18 months and aims to strengthen their competence in local democracy and human rights. The programme target service personnel and politicians at local level in Georgia, Serbia, Ukraine, Kosovo and Macedonia. Participants stay in Sweden for two weeks for studies and lectures.