At the end of 2018, Espoo became one of six European cities participating in the Active NGOs project. The aim of the two-year project is to learn from the good practice of the Riga NGO House and to support NGO participation in local affairs by sharing knowledge between participating cities.
Resident and client-oriented service provision is one of the values of the City of Espoo. The client’s experience and feedback hold great weight in the service development work. Encouraging citizens to become civically engaged is an important aspect concerning the city.
The rationale behind Active NGOs project and especially the URBACT Local Groups working within the project in each participating city is to improve networking and cooperation between the city and members of the third sector i.e NGOs. More specifically, the focus is on bringing together those parties that work on integration and multiculturalism and building genuine partnerships between them.
Experts bridging the gap between the city and NGOs
The city organization has for many years been well aware of the presence of many small NGOs in Espoo, with valuable resources to offer along with a keen interest to cooperate with the city. Today, there are about 3000 NGOs in Espoo that provide many services to residents. Unfortunately, guidance or encouragement for these organizations to collaborate with the city was lacking.
City of Espoo Immigration Specialist Said Aden together with his colleague Maria Tiilikkala had a shared awareness of the need to take steps towards bridging this gap, especially considering the rapid increase in non-Finnish/Swedish-speaking population and the city’s duty to take the demographics into account while designing infrastructure and service provisions. Active NGOs project became one step towards this direction.
‘’More than the funding received for the project, the development of an ease of access between cities, mutual learning and shared understanding are what makes Active NGOs a great platform for both the NGOs and the City of Espoo.’’, Said Aden says.
With the URBACT Local Group platform, NGO’s are connected to relevant members from the city organization and vice versa. A lot of work is carried out behind the scenes to facilitate these collaborations. Many NGOs have participated in the project with the hope to create awareness and understanding about the roles of NGOs and municipalities in mutually beneficial cooperation.
‘’It is of utmost importance to establish trust between NGOs and city organization through action, which has potential to bear fruit even after the project has ended’’ Aden continues.
Coronavirus pandemic brought on new ways of cooperation to support residents
The COVID-19 pandemic brought the NGOs in Espoo together as protagonists united with the same aim – helping the vulnerable.
The existing partnerships between the city and NGOs participating in the Active NGOs project were extremely helpful in activating and allocating resources during the first stages of the pandemic. For example, in spring 2020, an online helpdesk was launched where 25 people were answering the phone in 15 languages, in a joint service by City of Espoo’s employees and volunteers of Active NGOs - such as Nicehearts ry, Trapesa, Kylämaja, Esma ry, Suomi Syyria Ystävyysseura, MPNY ry, Nuorten polku ry, Irakin naisten yhdistys - handling over 340 calls in the first four weeks of its operation.
Similarly, the NGO EJY Ry joined forces with Nestori, an organization offering counselling to the senior citizens, to launch a helpline and a grocery delivery service with the help of around 100 volunteers.
“Our coordination group is very active, and I am personally very satisfied to see that people were very proactive, proving to adapt very quickly to the shift. It was clear for everyone that we would be doing this together. A very positive sign and an interesting side of the crisis.” says Maria Tiilikkala, Project Manager of Active NGOs project.
Active NGOs collaboration continues, even amid challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic with new digital forums for sharing up-to-date information and new practices. Even though colleagues from across Europe have not been able to meet in person, digital tools have been adopted to share practices and organize dialogues between experts in the six participating cities to co-create city services and initiatives for common solutions.
Active NGOs project is co-financed from the European Regional Development Fund within the framework of the URBACT III Operational Project. Espoo is joined in the project by Syracuse (Italy), Santa Pola (Spain), Dubrovnik (Croatia), Brighton (United Kingdom), and Riga (Latvia).
This article is part of the International Espoo series, through which the City of Espoo aims to share information about ongoing activities and initiatives that are developed for the benefit and active involvement of Espoo residents.
More information on Active NGOs: Project Coordinator Maria Tiilikkala, firstname.lastname@example.org, +358 438273457