Looking back on the European Year for Development, we highlight some of the projects which strived to increase EU citizens’ awareness of and engagement in development issues. From sustainable consumption and tax justice to living wages for garment workers, the projects help attain the goals of the first ever European Year dedicated to external affairs.
“We need public engagement to shape the future of Europe’s relationship with the rest of the world,” said Commissioner Mimica Neven, speaking at the Development, Education and Awareness Raising (DEAR) Fair in Brussels. “Finance alone is not the answer. We need the support, involvement and active participation of all parties, and all citizens.”
There is still some way to go. Just one-third of EU citizens surveyed by Eurobarometer in 2014 were personally involved in supporting development issues. DEAR contributes to increasing active engagement and critical understanding in the 28 EU member states through a variety of projects, eighty of which came together to exhibit their work and share ideas at the DEAR Fair.
A powerful way to raise awareness of development issues, create empathy and inspire action is through video. “With film, you can come very close, get to know the other, and broaden your horizons,” says Felicie Crijns, from the Millenium Documentary Film Festival, part of the SEMA (Sensibilisation – Expression - Motivation - Action) project.
SEMA showcases documentaries touching on the Millennium and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in a variety of settings, including school and university film clubs in 13 European countries. Screenings are often followed by a discussion with the film maker or subject of the documentary. “The impact is in the opportunity to share knowledge, share ideas, learn from each other and understand each other,” says Crijns. “You come to realise that people have the same problems everywhere.”
SEMA’s aim is to bring audiences from this point of empathy towards participation in the SDGs. The subjects of the documentaries can become role models, making viewers aware of the role they can play as active citizens. “They are stories about inspiring individuals, dealing with challenging issues. The subjects could come from anywhere - they could be your neighbour or someone living in the most northern part of Russia,” says Crijns.
SEMA has reached over 100,000 people through the annual Millenium Documentary Film Festival, workshops, film clubs and competitions. “We always try to reach different groups in our society, which is difficult sometimes. What’s important is to find out the needs of the people you’re trying to reach, hear what they say, and actively try to engage them in what you’re doing.”
Alia Al Zougbi, Head of the HEC Global Learning Centre, is working towards the same goal of creating empathy and awareness of the SDGs through global citizenship lessons in junior schools. DEAR funds the ‘Quality or Quantity’ project, implemented in the UK, Ireland, Ethiopia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, to assess the impact of these classes.
It begins by measuring students’ attitudes to subjects such as sustainability, human rights or diversity through a classroom activity. After two years of the global learning programme, the activity is conducted again. “The change in how the children respond is phenomenal,” says Al Zougbi.
“For example, we have presented pupils with images of children from different ethnic backgrounds and levels of ability, and asked them who they think will be a doctor, a scientist, a nurse, a teacher.” At the beginning of the programme, preconceptions were rife; by the end, pupils were no longer certain. “They developed a critical attitude; they learnt to question the question,” says Al Zougbi.
She believes that this toolkit, and others in the series, can help to achieve SDGs. “The first step is raising awareness, and then the confidence and self-esteem to articulate thoughts and feelings, and then as a result of that, to act.”
Outside the classroom, NaZemi is incorporating development education into the European scouts and guides system. With 11 partners in 7 countries, the project aims to make children more aware of the impact of their actions on people and places they will never see, and foster a sense of responsibility.
Focusing on human rights, dignity and equal opportunities, the project ties in with the Scouts’ goal of “leaving this world a little better than you found it”. Scouts are trained to become trainers themselves in Global Citizenship, empowering them to spread sustainable and responsible attitudes to their peers and families.
“Just wanting to do good doesn’t always work,” says Pavla Vyhnáková, project manager at NaZemi. “We believe that with this programme, they will know how to do it.”
Besides re-tuning attitudes, parallel DEAR projects are working to tackle the financial underpinnings of inequality. ‘Financing Development and Developing Finance’ campaigns to align the investments of Europe’s public financial institutions with EU policies on sustainable development.
They are often out of sync, according to David Hoffman, Media Coordinator at Bankwatch. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the European Investment Bank, and the European export credit agencies often finance projects “in direct contradiction with the directives Europe has elsewhere, whether in field of environment, climate, energy,” says Hoffman. One example is gas from Azerbaijan and the Caspian region (see video below).
Bankwatch is trying to build up pressure for more transparency and oversight of these institutions’ activities through a number of strategies, including raising public awareness and building the capacity of other civil society organisations to advocate for change. “They’re not just financial institutions, they’re endowed with public capital to achieve public ends, so we believe they should operate in the public interest,” says Hoffman.
Meanwhile, ‘Stop Tax Dodging’ is campaigning to change the tax behaviour of multinational corporations. “Developing countries, incredibly, lose more in tax dodging by multinational corporations than they receive in aid,” says Julia Ravenscroft, Communications Manager at Eurodad.
Profits are often channelled to tax havens in Europe. “There were already lots of organisations working on tax justice, but a project like this, bringing together organisations across 15 countries in Europe with joint campaigning, hadn’t existed before,” said Ravenscroft. “It’s gone from strength to strength.”
After much campaigning, the European Parliament passed an anti money-laundering directive in 2014, creating a register of the beneficial owners of companies. It is only open to members of the public and journalists with a demonstrable reason to see it, and does not include trusts.
“Many tax dodging companies are based in Europe, in the US, in the rich nations of this world,” says Ravenscroft. “The eyes of the world are on Europe, and we have a responsibility to lead on this.”
Social Solidarity Economy
The interconnectedness of the global economy is at the heart of ‘Challenging the Crisis’, a project founded in 2011 by young people from Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain and Slovenia.
“When we talked about global problems, people said – our children are hungry too, we have high unemployment,” says Ana Teresa Santos, Project Officer at IMVF. “So we realised we needed to show people that the crisis is global, and we needed to keep people involved in development even when they are facing austerity at home.”
As well as being the group most affected by austerity, “Young people are the motors for change,” says Santos. “So we thought, let’s engage them, show them the global dimension, and that we all have a role to play at a local level.”
The project was awarded DEAR funding in 2013, and has since linked up with national partners, NGOs and fair trade organisations. “Our message is, Change the Economy: Think Social! It’s a campaign to reach decision makers at a national and European level.”
You can see other DEAR-funded projects on Storify.
Hopes for the EYD from representatives of more DEAR projects - Vox Pops