Medical Aid for Kosovo
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The New Initiative
CBD Develops Innovative New Approach
to Community Empowerment
receives World Bank funding to implement The New Initiative in Tuzla
beginning in September 2002.
Click here for press release.
By Christopher Bragdon
|Christopher Bragdon (back row,
center) with the Tuzla Association for the Hearing Impaired
at their auto repair workshop.
Living on charity is a humiliating and
debilitating experience. Unfortunately, it is an experience that
many Bosnians know too well. A very common refrain one hears from
Bosnians is that they do not want to live on charity. They want
jobs. They want to earn a living. Bosnians deeply appreciate the
good will of Americans who have devoted their own funds to help
them. Yet their need for help in recovering from a horrible genocidal
war is accompanied by a profound need for a sense of accomplishment,
for self-respect, for dignity. Often humanitarian aid has had the
unintended effect of ruining the optimism and sense of self-reliance
so needed in Bosnia. And, mirroring the Bosnians' concerns, donors
would like to know that their good will is being used to help people
become self-reliant, not become stuck in an endless cycle of dependency.
In response to this need for an innovative
and truly empowering way of delivering aid, the Center for Balkan Development has
developed a model for revitalizing communities that is fueled by
goodwill funds but has none of the common pitfalls of humanitarian
aid. This model for community-business empowerment, called "The
New Initiative" embodies no outright charity, no sense of entitlement,
and no dependency. Our pilot project involved bringing together
the business, government, and community organizations of Tuzla to
restore the city�s central park, with each organization making a
Anatomy of a Project
||Roma children were
among the dozens of volunteers during The New Intitiative pilot
project in July 2001.
Despite its ultimate great success, our
pilot project got off to a very precarious start. In late June 2001,
Tuzla was inundated with the worst floods in decades. All major
roads into Tuzla were cut off, and homes in surrounding villages
were being swept away. The situation was so bad that for some it
brought back the disturbing feeling that Tuzla was once again surrounded
by a hostile force. Consequently, our project, which required significant
contributions from the local government and the business community,
was not a top priority. And although Tuzla Mayor Imamovic had promised
in April to provide us with what we needed for our July project,
because of the floods there was some question as to whether we could
even have a meeting with him. With our window of opportunity closing
and our time for adequate preparations running short, things were
not looking good.
Luckily, the president of our partner
organization, Vehid Sehic of the Forum of Tuzla Citizens, repeatedly
went to bat for us, and we finally met with Mayor Imamovic about
five days before the work was to begin. To our delight, despite
the civil emergency, Mayor Imamovic came through with all he had
promised and more. For our two work weekends at the central park,
we could look forward to an entire array of support from the municipality,
including trucks, tools, equipment, and workers.
With so little time, the challenge then
became working through the bureaucracies to line up all our resources
by the starting date. As part of the park restoration, the Tuzla
Association for the Hearing Impaired (TAHI) had offered its metal
fabricating and painting workshop for restoring damaged trash containers.
But we needed the paint, metal, and damaged containers from the
municipality delivered immediately to TAHI, as volunteers had only
four days to prepare over 20 containers. Apparently through some
form of divine intervention, we were able to shave the promised
three-day delivery time to just five hours. It required searching
through the municipal maze of bureaucrats, but we found that one
person who could make the magic phone call. From then on, all was
well with the contributions from the municipality.
The challenge then became mobilizing
Tuzla�s business community. We needed to demonstrate that businesses
would be willing to contribute to the park restoration either as
a marketing opportunity or as a matter of civic pride. Student volunteers
from the Tuzla Center for Information Technology fanned out into
the city to look for contributions from local businesses. Soon pledges
were coming in. The most popular radio station in Tuzla, Radio Kameleon,
pledged music at the park during the work weekends and offered free
airtime to promote the event. Restaurants offered free food for
the volunteers. And the national landscaping and floral firm Strelicija
made a very significant and lasting donation: it pledged six workers
and about 50 plants for the park, and agreed to maintain an area
of the park indefinitely.
A Win-Win Situation
The New Initiative works by appealing
to each organization�s self-interest, as well as its desire to help
the entire community. The municipality offers material and in return
gets free laborers for restoring public land. Businesses provide
funding and in return receive marketing opportunities. And community
organizations provide volunteers in return for funding. For each
hour a volunteer works, the contributing community organization
receives $10 in credit toward material aid. Thus TAHI, in return
for repairing the trash cans and contributing volunteers to the
park restoration, earned funding for new equipment at its workshop.
With the new equipment, TAHI can create more jobs and generate more
revenue. The student volunteers from the Tuzla Center for Information
Technology earned funding for new computer equipment. And each volunteer
had the satisfaction of helping both his or her own organization
and the entire Tuzla community.
|Volunteers from a landscaping
firm plant a garden during The New Initiative pilot project.
Our pilot project demonstrated the potential
for The New Initiative to make a significant difference in rebuilding
Bosnia. During our restoration of Tuzla�s central park, all sectors
of Tuzla�s society contributed without any of the debilitating side
effects of charity�cynicism, resentment, and a sapping of self-reliance
and self-respect. Tuzlans of all stripes�including people with hearing
disabilities, college students, and Roma (Gypsy) families�all worked
together and shared a sense of accomplishment.
This experience was unlike any other
the Bosnians had had with international aid efforts. Bosnians assumed
leadership of the project and enjoyed the limelight and the well-deserved
credit, and no international organization was promoting itself�rather,
the one American who indeed had the power of the purse was in the
dirt with the Bosnians, sweating along with everyone else. In fact,
our July 2001 New Initiative pilot project was so successful that
the World Bank is paying the Center for Balkan Development to travel to Washington,
D.C., in 2002 to present the New Initiative to potential donors.
Cornell University is joining CBD and our partner organization The
Forum of Tuzla Citizens in implementing The New Initiative, to further
develop this model for reducing poverty.
With the completion of our 2001 pilot
project, CBD took a major step toward an annual community-supported
work festival that gives Bosnians the opportunity to earn a better