Ms Wulff, the MitOst Association has been a founding member of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum. Throughout those five years, your Association and the Department you are running – “Active Citizenship” – have developed significantly. This direction started off with the Theodor Heuss Kolleg in 2001, which has grown much in its turn in last years. What are the current developments and the state of the art of the Active Citizenship Programme?
First of all, I would like to shortly remind what we are doing at the Active Citizenship Department of the MitOst Association: We are trying to motivate young people to become citizens and to start to see how they can take responsibility for the things, which really concern them. It is about participation. It is about how they can change the community they live in. It is about project management. It is about implementing their first initiatives. It is about building a network with other like-minded people. As you mentioned, we started fifteen years ago, with an international German-speaking programme in Berlin. As of now, we have been working in almost twenty different cooperation programmes in Central and Eastern Europe, Germany, Russia, Ukraine, the Caucasus Region, and Northern Africa. We are very happy about the approach we developed, as it is a very specific, community-based one with a lot of work in different surroundings. This is what we are happy about and what we understand as a big success.
How sustainable are those programmes you have been implementing in the mentioned regions? Is it only about organising seminars and other educational activities? Or have been some sustainable structures evolving?
The question of sustainability is a very important point. What we are trying to do is to work hand in hand with our partners, who are not only NGOs but also other civil society actors. We have been also cooperating with public administrations, universities, business structures to create a sustainable surrounding and to implement our programmes in the sense of active citizenship. As sustainable results, we have such things as seminar houses and further programmes emerging or having been implemented.
Today, the Active Citizenship Department does not only include the Theodor Heuss Kolleg but counts many other programmes – such as CitizensLab, Advocate Europe, etc. What are these initiatives about?
Firstly, what connects all those programmes together, is that they are aimed at bringing people into action. It is not only about talking on civil society, the role of a citizen or society. It is a lot about doing. Actually, we call ourselves a do-tank. Secondly, in all the programmes we have been running we put an emphasis on networking – not only within civil society but also with other societal actors. We have a cross-sectorial approach by having worked with public administrations, state structures, businesses, media and academia, as we believe that there are pretty many challenges, which are the same in the EU, Russia or Northern Africa. Besides, they are so appealing that they might not be countered by one sector only. We need to learn to collaborate and to communicate in order to find new solutions to solve the problems we face in our societies.
Which major topics have you been working on right now? I know that social entrepreneurship is high on your agenda. Anything else?
Social entrepreneurship is a part of our understanding of social innovation, of our thinking how new things, new approaches come into society. It is a very important topic to us. In this field, we have been collaborating with the Robert Bosch Stiftung and the BMW Foundation. This cooperation led us to founding a platform for social innovation. It is very interesting for us and for our partners to analyse, what kind of new models will face challenges in the society, and to see, what kind of creative solutions we can find together.
A couple of questions regarding the MitOst participation in the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum. As mentioned above, MitOst was one of the founding members of the Forum. Which challenges do you see in the current EU-Russia relations?
The most important challenge for us is to sustain that international collaboration. We see that it becomes more and more difficult to work on an international level with our Russian partners. That is something we want to improve, as we believe in international ties and in bringing different perspectives.
Why is it important for you to be part of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum?
I think that the Forum is a very important and even unique platform for bringing together civil society actors from Russia and the European Union. There haven’t been such platforms before, while it is utterly important to have a multilateral approach – not just a German-Russian or Polish-Russian one but a real focus on EU-Russia relations. For MitOst in particular, it is crucial to have a platform to meet like-minded people from different countries.
What would you like to wish to the forum members – also based on your experiences within the Active Citizenship Programme?
We would like to have the Forum even bigger. It is a big entity already – and this is a proof for its success. But what I mean is to involve more actors from other sectors as well. Civil societies in Russia and in the European Union go beyond NGOs: There are non-registered initiatives in this field, this is also very important to open up perspectives and ourselves to more topics. What I wish to the Forum members is to continue our work. We all face hard times in our activities, but we should not lose our energy, our enthusiasm.
The interview was shot on 31 October 2016 in Berlin, Germany by the Secretariat of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum.