After the Umbrella project’s success (Boosting cross-border cooperation capacities of local actors in the South Baltic Sea), Euroregion Baltic decided to propose a package of activities based on already tested actions to involve newcomers in the Baltic Sea Region. The excellent relationship of Euroregion Baltic with the Umbrella 2.0’s partners (Union of the Baltic Cities and BSSSC) will ensure perfect coverage in the Baltic Sea Region regarding stakeholders’ involvement and boost bottom-up actions.
Bottom-up actors are those closer to the citizens and their needs; they know their territory and are aware of how to apply policies in the best way.
Euroregion Baltic works as a mediator between the local municipalities and other NGOs and the upper strategic levels, meaning the regional, national, international levels besides the EU’s bound thanks to the INTERREG South Baltic Programme and close cooperation with the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. Our project partners have a similar role, being close to their stakeholders and raising awareness on the value of transnational cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region.
The new EU programming period 2021-2027 is underlying the importance of sustainability, which is strongly perceived as fundamental, especially in this pandemic.
That’s why Umbrella 2.0 and its partners want to be ambassadors of the EUSBSR, EU Green Deal and UN SDGs, bringing more newcomers and bottom-up actors onboard.
To do so, we asked ourselves whether the EU is known and well communicated, whether it is close to those who work at the local level, close to citizens. And we asked ourselves whether those things that we take for granted because we work with them daily are clear for others. Often possibilities and opportunities are often not known. EU strategic choices, long-term goals and action plans are simply not known. Therefore our mission is:
– To raise awareness of opportunities and benefits of transnational and cross-border cooperation and increase regional stakeholders’ interest in it;
– To empower stakeholders to build strategic and long term-partnerships, support networking, and straighten community of practitioners in different sectors;
– To improve knowledge of the EU, its financial instruments and relevant strategies, with particular focus on the EUSBSR;
– To explore the opportunities and benefits of being part of EUSBSR and offer practical guidelines on how to engage in long-term;
We are project managers and strategists, but we want to pass the concept that the process is more important than the result. First of all, we need to involve local actors in networking, building trust, exchanging knowledge, and setting the basis for actions.
– to raise awareness through networking events or conferences about EUSBSR Action Plan and communication, UN SDGs, EU Green Deal. These are the major topics that need to be investigated by the beneficiaries to make them create a connection between the upper strategic level and the bottom operative level. The latter is the one that actually can have a relevant impact on a local level, especially in terms of sustainable development.
– to make EUSBSR and local actors meet together, know each other, communicate in 3 two-day “meet-your-flagship” events. Why “meet-your-flagship”?
We believe that the flagships have proved their consolidative role. They offer processes that enable multiple actors from different levels to work together on challenges and opportunities in the chosen area. The most experienced and usually engaged actors represent regional or national authorities and academia. They are aware of the opportunities posed by the flagship processes and often engage in them. Yet, we still rarely see local and rural local entities like municipalities, local socio-economic actors and institutions, and NGOs. Therefore, the aim is to ensure they are as adequately informed as to the others and foresee the same possibilities for their cross-border and transnational cooperation within the EUSBSR and other relevant EU agendas.
– to train stakeholders on project management. In fact, once actors are involved in processes and networks, projects are often the most used tool to cooperate across borders.
– to communicate the EU policies (EU Green Deal, EUSBSR) and UN SDGs through stakeholders’ thematic training.
Who is our target group? Why it’s important to reach out to so-called “newcomers”?
Our project proposal addresses the need to build capacities of small and local actors, mostly “newcomers”, to widen their participation in the Baltic Sea regional cooperation. The need was identified in the “Needs analysis”, conducted in the frame of the Umbrella project in which Euroregion Baltic has been the lead partner of “Umbrella Boosting cross-border cooperation capacities of local actors in the South Baltic Sea” project (www.umbrellaproject.eu). The analysis was based on quantitative and qualitative questionnaires made among the small and medium-sized municipalities, NGOs, local action groups from the 5 South Baltic Sea states. The assessment report “Mapping stakeholders and analysing barriers in the South Baltic Sea” provided information about specific gaps that the SBP should address in future. Recommendations were also provided, including the need to focus on newcomers, small organisations also, for instance, sports associations, associations dealing with social affairs, and schools. Today, these are almost absent as project partners in the current programming period, for several various reasons but most commonly for their lack of capacity. The report points out that “micro-scale” is a relative concept and can vary between regions and sectors of activity. Our definition of newcomers includes actors related to the governance layer that is closer to citizens (local authorities) and horizontal subsidiarity (civil society’s initiatives).
The Umbrella project was launched at the beginning of 2018. It resulted from the realisation that the South Baltic Programme (SBP) was hard to access for small organisations, mainly because of their insufficient institutional and financial capacities. SBP stakeholders in general and small local actors specifically still experience communication barriers, limited English language skills, and lack of competencies and capabilities in project development and implementation. To address these challenges, the Umbrella project committed to developing know-how capacities for small local and regional actors and civil society organisations in the South Baltic Programme area to improve their participation in cross-border cooperation. To achieve this goal, Umbrella implemented a significantly more comprehensive approach, determined by a strategic decision of the partnership to address different levels of capacity building processes – from a single institutional capacity of potential project partner, via micro-activities addressed to the micro organisations till strategic capacity building on the programme macro level where we cooperated with EUSBSR HA Capacity coordinators (our Associated Partner).
The Umbrella project has offered a tailor-made set of solutions and reached the following objectives:
It mapped stakeholders in the South Baltic Region and delivered a report with an assessment of needs and potential project themes, as well as project barriers to addressing in the South Baltic Programme and its future programming period (2021-2027). It invited mapped stakeholders to 2 awareness-raising events on EU financial possibilities, programmes, cross-border cooperation networks;
– It organised 3 Cross-border conferences with EUSBSR Policy Area panels on: Bioeconomy, Energy and electromobility and sustainable tourism;
– It held micro-activities to “meet-your-neighbours”: networking thematic meetings to initiate cooperation;
– It delivered 12 national trainings in national languages on project management in Sweden, Denmark, Poland and Lithuania;
– It invited mapped stakeholders to Umbrella’s “Rent-an-Expert” service to help them learn how to write meaningful project applications;
– It delivered a training and coaching pack on project management: from ideation to implementation of EU financed projects, including and 1 “train-the-trainers” session;
– All the training materials and stakeholders are collected in the Moodle platform http://umbrellaproject.eu/moodle/ ;
– The project helped writing more than 5 new projects in SBP, Swedish Institute and Erasmus +;
– Umbrella will be finalised in December 2020, and it is going to organise 4 Cross-border workshops in the form of focus groups to discuss the upcoming SBP programming period. It will deliver a “Meet-your-neighbours success stories” book, and it will end with a final conference;
– No. of local actors involved in cross-border activities: 240 organisations of which:
✔ 90 were involved in cross-border micro-activities and raising awareness events developing knowledge capacity about the South Baltic Programme.
✔ 100 were involved in CBC conference with EUSBSR PA panels and training
✔ 150 were involved in basic cross-border cooperation level (scouting actions). These are organisations (newcomers) with a lack of capacity to participate in regular projects, and relevant bodies involved in SBP implementation (directly and indirectly) were also collected and presented in the form of on-line platforms.
Umbrella proved to be an optimal mediator among different stakeholders. Therefore, starting from the presumption that the EUSBSR and the local actors are entirely detached from the other, the project objective would be to develop know-how capacities for local organisations in cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region, harmonising local needs and actions and upper strategic lines.
While the local actors are focused on objectives in their local sphere of influence, the strategy provides guidelines that are not known at the local level. A bridge between local actors and the strategy needs to be set to enhance the interaction among all the governance levels to start a process that can facilitate the implementation of EUSBSR and other sustainable policies matching with the EU Green Deal and SDGs.
Umbrella 2.0 would act to mediate the communication between the strategies and the local level, raising awareness and providing practical knowledge and tools for implementation.
More on the NEWCOMERS – Who are they?
Representatives of small NGOs and municipalities, practitioners, working in those institutions from all sectors who need to build their knowledge, understanding, and skills to work effectively in EUSBSR partnership. Also, they are EUSBSR actors with some experience who wish to complement and formalise their learning with the latest EU/EUSBSR frameworks, innovative and practical tools etc.
In Interreg Baltic Sea Region Orientation Paper for 2021-27, they are called the “first-timers” in opposition to the “Usual suspects club”, so those who are well-known project partners, consortium leaders and strategic processes developers.
Newcomers constitute a very heterogeneous group of different kinds of organisations (regarding size, strategic orientation, business model, funding streams, target groups, etc.), making it challenging to distinguish, characterise and identify them among EUSBSR cooperation actors. We need them on board in the EUSBSR cooperation, as they neither follow the logic of academia (characterised by excellence in scientific disciplines) nor the logic of typical business actors (shaped by competitiveness and profit). Their modus operandi focuses on solving societal problems (usually, they are mission-driven). They aim to influence the policymaking process, or they are more service-oriented and try to improve the situation of their primary target group.