Funky Citizens

funky citizens Funky Citizens is a meeting place for the citizens who understand their role in a democracy

Funky Citizens is a meeting place for the citizens who will not settle for the status quo, but understand the role they play in a democracy and often get involved in decision-making processes. The organisation's strongest weapons are the initiatives that use technology, data and communication-based advocacy, and civic education. The NGO already has notable experience in encouraging the citizens who dream of an urban space with a coherent idea of development, in which citizens get involved in defining their shared space and improving their life standards.

Elena Calistru, a member of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), and the president and co-founder of the organisation, tells us how it all started:

Elena Calistru: "Around 2011 - 2012 we realised that Romania lacked a movement or organisation that made citizen involvement desirable for people, especially in areas that are rather difficult to understand. We started with a project where we monitored the spending of public funds, we monitored the national budget actually, which we tried to make comprehensible for citizens. We worked on the assumption that people would like to get involved in public life, but that they often find this kind of information very difficult to understand, and that some effort is required to explain to them certain basic aspects, like how legislation works, how institutions work and so on. This is how Funky Citizens was born."

We asked Elena Calistru whether it was easy to find members:

Elena Calistru: "Obviously there were not a lot of citizens willing to get involved, and as an organisation we didn't imagine we will get millions of people checking on local budgets. But we do believe that, if we get involved, things will change, and judging by the response we have seen since our establishment in 2012, I would say there are more and more people interested in what happens at local and national level and more and more people are getting involved in our activities, are donating funds, are reading our surveys."

How can a citizen get involved in public life?

Elena Calistru: "Most often, the first step is to get informed. It sounds like a cliché, but it is true. Information is power, information is easier nowadays thanks to the internet and finding out how we can contact our MP or mayor is just a click away. But we tell people that citizen involvement is like sports: there are several levels. Ideally, we should all exercise for at least 30 minutes a day. In terms of citizenship, this means checking from time to time what the mayor has done, what parliament has done, what the government has done, and stay up to date on events. And obviously go vote. Then, just like in sports, there is the option of exercising weekly, maybe take up a sport, or go cycling. This would translate into signing a petition, for example, or writing to our MPs on a topic of interest. And the third level, the 'professional athlete' so to say, is running a marathon. This may mean joining a citizen intervention organisation, or challenging the local budget. We have these rights, as citizens."

The number of participants in Funky Citizens projects varies, our guest explained, and during election periods it may reach thousands of volunteers. Elena Calistru, the president and co-founder of the organisation, also spoke about some of its most recent initiatives:

Elena Calistru: "In the years to come we will have 2 major challenges: one of them is to expand our work at local level. This is something we are already doing, we started last year, we are trying to go to local communities and organise training sessions on how local budgets are made, on how citizens can get involved, and we work with partner journalists. The second challenge has to do with our presence in the European Economic and Social Committee and other bodies, our organisation has been working for a while now in international projects, especially in Central and Eastern Europe, I have been a member of the Committee since last year. We are trying to make the voice of several Romanian NGOs better heard in European institutions."

Whether we speak about European funds for national or local projects, when we look at the efficiency of spending in Romania the common element is a lack of impact. The main reasons for that are the absence of mechanisms to identify long-term development needs, prioritising financial needs based on political criteria rather than actual needs, and the waste of public money through corruption, fraud or poor management. (A.M.P.)
Publicat: 2022-01-25 13:50:00
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