Interview Jens Engeli: “Act proved to be a very dynamic project in a quite challenging environment”

In your opinion, is the basic idea of the ACT project fulfilled?

Act proved to be a very dynamic project in a quite challenging environment. And to our surprise, we got more results than we had first planned. And I will tell a little bit more afterwards in terms of figures and examples. But let me just perhaps tell you a little bit what was the key objective of act, which is in fact supporting the supreme civil society in influencing local decision making through advocacy. So this we can show as many examples and I will give you two afterwards.

But to our big surprise, we realized that we were creating a kind of an act community, a vivid community which is now coordinating cooperating, fostering exchanges with decision makers. This for us is really huge. We didn’t expect this somehow. And let me put this into figures a little bit. With our grants we were supporting 200, exactly 208 grantees in the first three years and around more than 100,000 citizens indirectly, directly benefited from it.

So these are figures that I told you we were quite successful. So I like to give you two examples. The first example I like to give is from our network at wastewaters grant. So one CSO network managed that women over 45 age were recognized as hard to employ people in the national strategy of gender equity 20, 21, 23. So currently around out of 1 million women, more than half are unemployed or cannot access jobs.

So thanks to the efforts and the democracy done now, the precondition the measures are made that hopefully in future this specific age group of women can easily more easy access work. So this is huge. So that shows how an effort can influence a national strategy document. Second example, let’s go a little bit lower on a local level municipality voted there, a CSO was lobbying towards the local self government for gender based budgeting. Thanks to their efforts, the municipality understood that it’s not just having budget lines for men or having budget line for women.

They understood that their services have to be equally accessible for the whole society. Is it more rural, more urban? Is it young? Is it old? Men?

Women? So this shows how innovations through advocacy can really bring new things as examples of gender duchessing. So this is really two noise examples, concrete examples from our grantees. What I’m most proud of for me, the people, the people who made these changes, these results, these achievements possible implementing a project during a pandemic, it’s not an easy task. It needs a lot of flexibility, agility and innovation.

What are you the most proud of?

So they have proven to do that. Second, I’m extremely thankful and I’m also very proud of my team consisting of Helvetas and Civic initiative and of course our partners, thanks to their professionalism, thanks to their dedication, we managed to achieve our results. And he has to say also a thank you to our donor, the Swiss Embassy as SDC for their trust and their flexibility. Jointly we managed not only to react to the pandemic, but really proactively contribute to some of innovation solutions. As example, opening a new grand line on carved rapid response.

That’s what is initially not forcing. So to close my circle for me it has proven once again people make the differences and in this sense I’m really thankful to everybody who has contributed to it challenging. I told you the first one was the pandemic. Nobody was expecting it. So this was really the first challenge.

What was challenging?

Then, from a project point of view, I will mention two other challenges. The second challenge was the partnership between civil society organizations and local selfgovernment. We knew that’s existing, we knew it’s a little bit in isolation. However, we have been convinced that this has to be strengthened, this has to be forced it. We put a lot of emphasis into it and finally managed to have 16 successful partnership grants.

From a Swiss perspective, this interaction is key and it’s necessary that citizens civil society engage with local governments and can also respond from them. So that’s why we were really persisting on it. And then the third challenge I take a little example of our network trends. Imagine one network 15 organization. What does it mean to cooperate, to coordinate, to get one coherent voice for their advocacy objective?

What would you say to those grantees who have used or still using funds?

So you can imagine that was quite a task. I like to do it with a try to do it with a quote. And I do quote Margaret Mead. So never doubt that a small group of individuals, thoughtful and dedicated individuals can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.

I like this quote because it puts people in the center. And for me you have proven the grantees have proven this right once again. So I’m really thankful for their dedication, for acting together and then making this happen. These results happen and I really hope never give up pursuing your course because you can change. You did change and you can change the world also.

What is the strongest impression that you carry from Serbia?

Here I have again to start with the people how we were received, the friendliness, the support was simply really touching for us and we had the chance of the lock or the present to became a family here. A small family. We have never seen a country where kids and families are treated on such a special level. And that’s really something unique for us. First.

Second, I will try to take this with me because I have seen many countries, but I’ve rarely seen this one. So it’s the art of being and living. Here in Serbia people are hardworking and professional, but at the same time they know how to enjoy life. And I really like this. This is something in Switzerland we do not know very well.