Bridges – A European project

Kisses left, kisses right in Spain, sincere hugs in Brussels, MenschBank is welcomed in Europe. And we feel quite home and happy – especially because of FutureLab Europe.

When I (Martin Schneider) came to Brussels in January 2017 with 17 young people from 12 countries in Europe I didn’t expect to leave marks on the European stage. We are united by the passion to serve Europe with our ideas and projects – together. We are initiating improvement in civil society at the age of 18 to 29.

But first things put first. Before we met in Brussels again a couple of days ago my team of our project ‚Bridges – Puentes – Brücken‘ and me got together in Ronda, Spain to accomplish our second workshop on how people participate locally to shape civil society by their own. Our project targeted to identify local issues and solve them with people locally instead of dealing with complicated political procedures. With that we didn’t just want to compare issues and solutions in Spain and Germany but also find out how we can solve challenges in one country with the solutions of another one and wise versa to create value for both countries. So we aimed to build bridges. We designed surveys, invited people to complain and unburden their hearts to motivate them building own solutions. At the end we would provide contacts to people, companies, NGOs and other institutions who are practically able to support people solving those local issues.

But things turned out to be very different. Even though of our big networks our survey got less participants than expected. Based on the answers of the survey you could get the impression people don’t identify with local issues and especially not solutions. If they have identified a problem they would blame politics and local administration. The agreed not being able to really make a difference. This kind of disengagement we didn’t expect.

During our first workshop in Berlin the picture turned around. As soon as we got into conversations with participants they not just started to feel interested in how to get streets cleaner and improve parking lots issues they also started to feel reliable. They realized they are the ones who can contribute more than they have done by now. On the other hand they claimed lack of resources and contacts.  So it seemed what we guessed initially with our project was true and we could start from here creating solutions. But there was something else. People still believed their personal contribution would just be too small to let real impact occur.

Ronda was just mirroring this. Even though people really liked to complain they were not willing to really get engaged. It seems the effort for solutions is bigger than the pain to bear issues. By talking to Spanish people we even got the impression they are way more happy and satisfied with their situation than we expected them to be. This might explain the low participants-rate both in Ronda and Berlin. But there should have been a difference between Spain and Germany when it comes to happiness after the last decade of financial crisis. But there wasn’t.

Are people just happy or just overwhelmed and powerless? This result was completely different from what we expected in the first place concerning the impact we aimed for. But just after we had a closer look into the other 4 projects we realized the dimension of our success.

What we have found might be a crunch question of civil society and engagement: Might people are already there where we want to get them – to happiness and satisfaction? If that is true our effort is not necessary at this place. If instead people feel just not able to really make an impact than we should just increase our effort to approach and support them. Wow, I assume it just started to get really exciting…

How is our project ‘Bridges’ to be continued? We are thinking about to introduce a third workshop in another city to listen to the people what they need in particular to solve certain challenges locally together and to create plans to provide them with what they wish for.

In addition to that I will travel around the world to talk with people all over societies directly and especially listen whether they are already happy and if so how we can maintain their satisfaction sustainably.

The most important lesson we learned is this. People don’t like to attend to workshops to talk about issues which are not approaching there. So we are going to approach the people where they are confronted with those issues and just listen.

Just listen to the people and take them serious by the way is something European politicians and policy makers could take even more often by heart.

Last but not least I sincerely want to thank my colleagues Héloise Le Masne, Alba Marin Guerrero und Zuzana Novakova for their successful and always entertaining contribution and for your persistence to go ahead especially with big challenges.

We have been really excited about the results of the other 4 projects when returning to Brussels.

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