News and Comment

To ‘pressing citizenship and democratisation’ – the most memorable toast

Monday 8 July 2013

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This was the topic of a toasting competition during a fundraising event organised last week by the Ratiu Family Charitable Foundation at the Romanian Cultural Centre in London. The toasting competition was intended to let participants to share their thoughts on Romanian democracy in an informal setting. Two dedicated Romanian civic organisations – the Ratiu Centre for Democracy and the Resource Centre for Public Participation – spoke about their recent community projects aimed at promoting active citizenship and public participation in Romania.

Young representatives of the two organisations expressed a clear commitment to strengthen public participation and stakeholder engagement in a country where, less than 25 years ago, democracy itself was only a utopia. Both organisations are actively engaged in supporting Romania’s advancement towards a vibrant, fully-fledged democratic society, and empowering local communities to play an active role in the decision-making process is a crucial part of this.

More and more Romanian grassroots organisations are emerging, each beginning to contribute to debates on the quality of public management and policies. Civil society partnerships are also being built, in an endeavour to make stakeholders aware of the urgency of governmental accountability and transparency. The practice of public consultation and stakeholder engagement in the decision-making process in Romania is still at an incipient stage and therefore civil society organisations need much support so that they can develop a stronger voice and influence public decision-making.

To this aim, the participation of Dialogue by Design in the event was instrumental in sharing examples of good practice and offering participants a valuable insight into how public engagement and participation can contribute to the consolidation of democracy and bring about social change. Diane Beddoes, Chief Executive of Dialogue by Design, and myself participated in the toasting competition dedicated to the theme of ‘democracy’ and civic engagement. Much to my surprise, I was voted the winner of the competition. My motivation and inspiration for the speech came from a genuine desire to thank those people who had been working persistently to engage hard-to-reach or marginalised groups in Romania, such as victims of human trafficking, young people or ethnic minorities.

Giving a voice to issue-affected communities and encouraging them to take an active role in the local and national decision-making process is key to building a thriving democracy. Raising awareness and challenging deeply entrenched perceptions or stereotypes is definitely not an easy process, especially in a country where civic activism and fundamental human rights, such as the freedom of expression, were denied for decades. That being said, the reality is that more and more people in Romania– including young people – are becoming aware of the importance of community engagement and are gaining confidence to speak out on issues that concern or affect them. That is why my final toast is to a future shaped by communities working together towards positive social change through active participation and ‘pressing citizenship’.

Maria Stanescu is Office Coordinator at Dialogue by Design, OPM’s sister company and part of the OPM Group.