Summary of a roundtable with projects implemented under the EEA and Norway Grants Fund for Regional Cooperation

The second meeting held on the first day of the Regional Funds Week was dedicated to inclusiveness, one of the core objectives and values promoted not only by the EEA and Norway Grants, but across the European Union. This event was hosted by Katarzyna Zabratańska, Manager for Equality and Inclusive Culture at Żabka Polska, the participants were welcomed and introduced to the topic by Nora Mehsen, Sector Officer at Funds and Horizontal Concerns Unit from the Financial Mechanism Office. Representatives of seven projects implemented under the Fund for Regional Cooperation participated as speakers in
the meeting, which attracted nearly 60 spectators joining online.

At the beginning of the roundtable we had the opportunity to learn more about the projects represented by the speakers – who they target, what their goals are and how they want to reach them. We also got to know the achievements to date of individual initiatives, who were willing to share their experience and knowledge. The representatives answered a question which dimensions of diversity are the most important and priority from the perspective of their actions, giving particular examples from their countries, organisations and projects. After a brief introduction, it was the turn of the individual presenters to speak. David S. Evangelista, President and Managing Director of Special Olympics Europe Eurasia, from “Inclusion through sports for children with developmental disabilities” project and András Nun, Executive Director at Autonomia Foundation, representing “New solutions to old problems” project, talked about the biggest barriers and stereotypes about specific groups they work with/for. Ágnes Puskás, Project Manager at SKC Consulting from “Wingate” project, focused on the identification of skills that, according to the women from different countries she previously interviewed, are perceived as obligatory to succeed in business. The topic of skills was also developed by David S. Evangelista, who furthermore addressed the issue of specific essential competences which his project tries to develop among children with intellectual disabilities, indicating how to achieve it.

How to describe the role of civil society and grassroots movements in creating and implementing inclusive solutions and what are their advantages comparing with top down approaches was then discussed by Veronika Móra, Director at Ökotárs Alapítvány – Hungarian Environmental Partnership Foundation, from “Reclaim our civil space!” project and Elisa Lironi, Senior Manager, European Democracy at ECAS – European Citizen Action Service, representing “Co-Deciding Europe: Civic Tech for Good Governance and Active Citizenship!” project. The topics such as how do they understand being active citizen and what are their definitions and benchmarks were addressed, too. Elisa also tried to answer the question on how we can deal with inclusiveness challenges using big data and AI.

Later in the meeting we were able to learn a little more about the specifics of the project “HOPE – HOlistic radicalisation Prevention initiative”, whose representatives – Pedro das Neves, Chief Executive Officer at IPS Innovative Prison Systems together with Ljiljana Palibr, Project Manager of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia – talked about the role of specific partners and stakeholders from the countries where they cooperate, taking into account that the project has ambition to craft holistic and systemic solutions. The questions that were answered were also how to use partners’ potential, who plays the strategic role and why. Shortly afterwards Pedro das Neves, Ágnes Puskás and András Nun shared some best practices from their projects, then all representatives have indicated their recommendations and foresights referring to building inclusive society and solutions in (post)pandemic context. “The most important reflections I have after our roundtable are that, firstly, we must work collectively, inclusiveness is team-work. Together we are powerful and impactful. We will struggle with different obstacles and we will grow,” Katarzyna Zabratańska, the moderator, said. “Secondly, we have to always keep in our minds that inclusiveness and equality mean working «with»instead of working «for» our communities. That’s the most respectful and efficient way of empowering people and expose their subjectivity. And the last thing, we cannot underestimate role of small steps and starting exactly from where we stand. We all have ambitions to deploy systemic changes, and there is no doubt they are needed, but it’s evolutionary approach which demands consistent and persistent work day after day”, she added, concluding the meeting.