Emerging Communities: from inspiration to social change

This article was written by Clara Florensa.

Over the last two years, Open Cultural Center has had the chance to take part in Emerging Communities, a project that aims to empower community-led initiatives to address social, political, economic, and environmental issues. Throughout the project, participants have shared their expertise in very diverse fields of work, all with the common goal of exploring the concept of community as a powerful vector for positive change. Now that the project is ending, we take the opportunity to look back and reflect on the lessons OCC takes from the project. 

Emerging Communities has taken the OCC team on a journey to discover the inspiring projects of our partners in Greece, Serbia, Germany, Italy, and Denmark. Along the way, we got to explore a communal living project with Projekthaus (Inwole) in Potsdam (Germany), an artistic and cultural community project with Communitism in Athens (Greece), the idea of constructive journalism with Italia Che Cambia in Mantova (Italy), movements of anti-corruption and participative democracy activists with the Group for Conceptual Politics (GPK) in Novi Sad (Serbia), and a project fighting against food waste and for social inclusion at the same time with Pervolarides (Ethos) in Thessaloniki (Greece). We also welcomed all participants last November to talk about our projects and address the topics of migration and integration in Barcelona. 

An especially enriching part of this project was the fact that we got to visit other projects and initiatives in our partners’ cities, which multiplied the sharing of experiences and perspectives. Conversations, debates, and exchanges were a central part of the project. Every visit and workshop allowed us to dig deeper into social issues such as gentrification, corruption, xenophobia, climate change, social exclusion, and inequalities.

What struck us the most in this project was the generosity of all the participants, who shared their knowledge, experiences, and resources with each other. Charlotte, who took part in the trip to Serbia explains “For OCC, as a small organisation, it is always beneficial to collaborate with other organisations, to share ideas, to brainstorm and to learn from each other, and that was a real strong point in Emerging Communities”. 

When asked about their experience taking part in an Emerging Communities project, OCC members all agreed on the same adjective: inspiring. 

The fact that the project was not solely focused on migration made us discover areas of expertise, ways of living, and working which have highly contributed to the improvement of our programs. Joana, who was part of the kick-off meeting in Potsdam and the visit in Athens says she is very grateful for taking part in these visits, as she “was able to learn about different ways to use art, culture and design as tools for social transformation and of community creation”. Marta traveled to Mantova and agrees with the fact that OCC has benefited a lot from the sharing of expertise from different fields: “Italia Che Cambia introduced us to the concept of solution-based journalism, which aims at putting the spotlight on solutions to social problems. It is the idea of promoting more constructive journalism and trying to bring about change by making important initiatives visible. It inspired me a lot. When I came back from this exchange, I started researching the topic and came to know about hope-based communications, and it led us to get involved in this movement, and develop our communication strategy with this approach.”

Throughout the project, the concept of community was key. What makes the identity of a community? What constitutes a successful community? What challenges do we find in communal living/projects? How to keep engaging members of a community? How to transfer communities to the online world? These are some of the questions that we debated for hours, during our visits, in public transport, at lunch, and late at night with a coffee. For us, these conversations were enlightening, getting to know the experience of people who had 10, or 20 years of experience in community projects. It helped us reflect on our community-based approach, and how to strengthen the feeling of community and belonging, as crucial aspects of our programs. Emma participated in the visits to Potsdam and Copenhagen and says “Everything we learned from this project had a very direct impact on our projects because the concept of community is very linked to integration. It gave us the space to reflect on things that we would have missed, or not know how to approach otherwise”. 

The connections we made during the project are invaluable, both professionally and personally. We can already see that this project has generated very tangible collaborations between our projects, and we do not hesitate to contact each other for support. We have managed to create a small and strong European community of our own. As Charlotte concludes, we feel “honoured to have participated in the project and there was something very special about the drive and motivation of the people taking part, to live in a different re-imagined, more just, fair and open world. I felt so inspired while taking part in this project.”

Thank you Emerging Communities for this inspiring opportunity! 

This project was funded by the European Union.