Zugdidi LAG learns the ropes of community-led development
From the 31st May to 5th June 2021, more than 60 members of the Zugdidi Local Action Group (LAG) took part in a two-day training on the LEADER/CLLD (Community-Led Local Development) approach under the project “Improving local governance through inclusive development approaches”, implemented by Action Against Hunger and funded by the Austrian Development Agency (ADA) with funds from Austrian Development Cooperation (ADC).
The training aimed at providing attendees with a thorough introduction on the concept and principles of the approach and how they might adapt this methodology to their own unique context. International and national LEADER/CLLD experts, Lina Gumbreviciene (Lithuania) and Tengiz Sultanishvili (Georgia) explained the LAG concept, its structure and decision-making mechanisms, processes for conducting grant competitions, performing monitoring and evaluation of projects they support, and some of the challenges in LAG development. The sessions were kindly hosted by the Zugdidi Techno Park and the Botanical Garden Administrative building where participants of varying ages and backgrounds, representing the private, public, and civil sectors, came together to learn and share their ideas and experiences through interactive workshop sessions and group activities. Seeing the success of similar projects in communities from as far afield as Ireland, Lithuania and several homegrown examples from Georgia itself, opened LAG members eyes to the possibilities of what can be achieved through community-led cooperation, a little imagination, hard work, some financial investment.
Local businessperson and entrepreneur Zaza Prokopenko, 49, heard about the LAG from a village meeting and liking what he heard, felt he might be able to contribute in some way – “Perhaps with my experience in business, politics, I can be of help. I am here to help others if I can, not for personal gain … it is important that the funds are used wisely and spent in the proper manner.” Also impressed with the LEADER methodology was LAG member Giorgi Patsatsia, 28, a probation officer who works with recently released prisoners to find employment and reintegrate into the community: “I hope to be able to help the LAG achieve its goals and to bring positive change.”The project aims to promote the voices of community members in local development planning and decision-making to improve the quality of life and economic conditions in rural communities in the Zugdidi municipality. Like many rural municipalities in Georgia, a lot of young people are leaving to seek work and opportunities in Tbilisi or abroad so there is an acute need to support socio-economic development to encourage the younger generations to stay. Having heard of some of the achievements of the Mestia LAG, Salome Gugushvili, 30, who works as a UNDP national consultant on regional and local development issues in west Georgia, saw the need for something similar in Zugdidi - “I have been waiting for this opportunity to address the poverty, the economic and social difficulties in the villages …the real strength of the LAG/LEADER approach is its focus on rural communities and the people themselves taking control of the decision-making process.”
Eduard Partsvania, 34, co-founded the local non-governmental organisation Youth for Samegrelo Development (YSD) in 2016 using as their base a youth centre/cafe which serves as an informal meeting/working space for young people. Eduard feels that his and “other youth organisations can contribute to the LAG by sharing knowledge and experience and finding new solutions” and that with the “good mixture of people who have attended the training, people with different backgrounds, interests, we can make new contacts and build networks. There are many challenges ahead but simply, it will work if we, together, make it work, make it happen!”