We are living in what feels to me like a time of tectonic shifts. Systems that have been the backbones of our societies for decades are being profoundly questioned. Brexit, Trump and Co.; climate change, growing inequality and overwhelming stress in our working lives ask all of us — families, civic initiatives and policymakers alike — to respond in new ways.
When I look at the English word “responsibility,” I feel it can be read as a connection between “response” and “ability” — the capacity to answer to something. By asking who is taking responsibility for Europe, we also ask, “Who is able to respond today?” and “What resources and approaches do we need in order to respond?” and “What could suitable responses look like?”
In post-Brexit Europe, perhaps the best way we, Europe’s civil society, can respond is not by focusing inside borders, but by creating and strengthening connections across them.
In our Advocate Europe idea challenge we firmly believe that civil society is essential for bringing about positive social change in Europe and that it contributes strongly to the processes of social transformation that we face every day.
There are manifold ideas “out there”; ideas that can transform Europe and show that a different future is possible, ideas about a Europe defined by possibilities, not by limits. Usually they are not in the spotlight — maybe we are still too mesmerised by the tectonic shifts.
Change-makers from civil society meeting in Warsaw. Photo: Panos Georgiou
The Kitchen on the run initiative is dismantling cultural prejudices around a mobile kitchen table. A travelling container kitchen brings together residents and refugees for evenings filled with storytelling and good food. It can take just two hours to practise empathy and connect to hear the story of a refugee or get to know a little about how a resident European lives. In 2016, 2400 people connected this way when the container stopped in Bari (Italy), Marseille (France), Deventer (the Netherlands), Duisburg (Germany) and Gothenburg (Sweden). In summer 2017, it is travelling through small German cities (Lörrach, Wismar and Brackwede).
Hate-free Cities envisions a public discourse free of hate speech. Putting young people at its core, the project, which is being implemented in Brno (Czech Republic), Herceg Novi (Montenegro), Tbilisi (Georgia) and Lodz (Poland), will serve as a prototype for dealing with the crucial issue of public discourse in Europe today.
While Europe struggles with the so-called refugee crisis, ROC21 tells a different story. An open innovation process and toolkit co-produced by refugees, refugee organisations and innovators will gather experiences, knowledge and tools and, in doing so, showcase the vast potentials of newcomers and welcoming locals alike.
The RISE initiative amplifies the voices of refugee and migrant organisations in national and EU-level policy discussions and highlights their potential as knowledgeable and experienced partners in our societies.
Mapping connections at our community meeting. Photo: Shooresh Fezoni
The people behind these initiatives bear a special kind of responsibility for Europe. They were never elected and do not hold a mandate. Instead they are doing their work out of dedication — because they care. They care about Europe and are committed to creating another future. They are our pragmatic visionaries, piloting what did not exist before. They are our catalysts for new answers.
While new answers can begin with such experiments and prototypes, our challenges require bigger responses. They require that we act together, in ways that are more connected and committed than before. Building authentic relationships between diverse practitioners and allies can become a powerful force for creating momentum. In times of tectonic shifts, building such unlikely alliances and truly regarding ourselves as equal partners might sustain us.
Ultimately, Europe belongs to us: residents, citizens, newcomers, migrants, families, policymakers and many others. Together we can determine its direction.
Julia Hoffmann is programme manager of Advocate Europe. The article was published amongst other contributions from civil society, politics and the arts at the "Wir sind Europa!" Online Debate leading up to the A Soul for Europe Conference in November 2017.