Following a successful completion of the pilot project in Telavi – the capital of Kakheti region in East Georgia – NIMD embarked on its effort to further expand the Democracy Schools in Georgia. To deliver a closing lecture in Telavi Democracy School and to welcome a new group of students in Kutaisi – the second biggest town and a home to the next Parliament of Georgia – Jan Marinus Wiersma, NIMD Senior Political Advisor and a former MP, visited the country.
The first cohort of Telavi Democracy School students completed the programme. The distribution of certificates was preceded by a closing lecture and discussion with Mr. Wiersma. At the end of the presentation on key characteristics and challenges of a modern democracy the speaker told an inspiring story of leadership of Nelson Mandela – a man linked to the origins of NIMD and its efforts in South Africa and with whom Mr. Wiersma had worked in person. Mr. Mandela had then called the Dutch government for support in building up democratic institutions in South Africa. ‘He was effectively asking us to help his opponents, people who had held him in prison for more than twenty-five years’, recalled Mr. Wiersma. ‘That spirit of tolerance, inclusiveness and respect for pluralism guides NIMD’s vision for Democracy Schools in Georgia and other countries.’ Democracy Schools in Georgia bring together people of different political ideology, as well as ethnic and religious minorities. As is usual for guest speaker events at the School, the lecture culminated with a lengthy and heated Q & A.
High attendance and active participation of leading NGO, political and media activists, as well as local government representatives and students, throughout 150 hour, 5 months long training program in Telavi, attest to the relevance of comprehensive informal education platforms in Georgia.
Democracy Schools in Georgia benefit from NIMD’s continuous practice of running similar programs in Indonesia and South Africa but are primarily tailored to the needs on the ground. The School curriculum with balanced mix of practical skills components and theory employs different modes of interaction allowing participants to be part of a learning experience where picking up new competences, reflecting on past experiences and shaping future considerations are an everyday process.
Program graduates in Telavi are now working on the final project proposals for the NIMD’s Small Grants Programme, designed for and aimed at the School alumni to help them transfer the learning experience into practical work through local community projects. The School graduates are also encouraged to join the growing ranks of an Alumni network – an emerging grassroots organization with the objective of providing space and resources for collaboration to active citizens, and a commitment to the cause of democracy.
On the same week as the first horde of graduates celebrated their graduation in Telavi, the new School was launched in Kutaisi. With more than seven applicants on every place available Democracy Schools had gained a new momentum. Kutaisi Democracy School, just like its counterpart in Telavi, brings together a broad spectrum of activists from a crosscut of the society. Encouraged with the program’s success, NIMD is now planning to take the School to new regions and towns.
The emphasis on maintaining a comprehensive education project for Georgian citizens derives from NIMD's vision to focus its resources at three levels:
First is the work on a political level where NIMD assists seven political parties - the ruling party, parliamentary opposition parties and those successful at the local self-government elections - to build their strategic planning capacities, knowledge-based policy planning and institutional sustainability, with a particular focus on internal democracy.
Second is the contribution towards the democratic institution-building by aiding legislative reforms in the areas of political party regulation, electoral reform, local self-government and equal participation. In this regard, NIMD works to help create competent policy options, disseminates them to feed a wider issue-based debate, and facilitates best case sharing from abroad.
Third is the effort to contribute to the emergence of a growing pool of active citizens - the underpinning of any consolidated democracy - by building and maintaining Democracy Schools in different regions of Georgia. The core objective of the Democracy Education Program is to deepen the bottom-up demand for democracy as well as the quality of democratic discourse by both: attracting greater number of people into it and elevating their levels competence.
Democracy Schools are fully equipped technically and the participants have access to an electronic learning software platform with a growing collection of relevant literature. The reading material, which also includes the NIMD commissioned translations of various seminal pieces, is wired to electronic readers handed out to participants by NIMD.
Placed at the University building in Telavi and at the Public Defender's premises in Kutaisi, Democracy Schools are well positioned to contribute and engage in different civil society efforts. By effectively training many of the vocal activists and being open to other players for debate and exchange, Democracy Schools are becoming visible and influential stakeholders locally and nationally.
NIMD further plans to aid building of a vibrant network of democracy activists by linking different Schools through national conferences and joined projects, as well as establishing an alumni association in which successful graduates will continue receiving support and space for the further exchange and collaboration. In this regard, the high enthusiasm of people in the different regions of Georgia is only encouraging.