By Anton Tykhomyrov

At the start of November, the first WECHANGE conference for representatives of civil society from Eastern Partnership countries, Germany and Russia took place in Berlin. In the opening speech, one of the founders of WECHANGE, Michael Mischke, highlighted that it is essential to unify the ecosystem of digital economy with civil society. Such an ambitious goal set the tone for the conference.

Participants were pleased to have the opportunity to discuss new challenges. Elena Belokurova (German-Russian Exchange, Saint Petersburg): “It seems to me that hear you can really get a feel for the times and understand what is happening in the world. We don’t always thoroughly know what is bothering people in other countries. Indeed, more often than not, we communicate with foreign NGOs who deal with Russia and have long since deeply familiar with the topics connected to our space. And here it was about that which concerns us all in a digital society, which problems and possibilities are connected with this new reality.”

During the conference, it was possible not only to find out about the Federal Foreign Office’s funding programme, but to also receive practical recommendations from their staff. As Lyubov Rakovitsa (Donetsk Institute of Information) says, “it often happens that we write grant applications in line with our own ideas, and not entirely in line with the expectations of the donors and foreign partners. Certain difficulties arise in communication with them. I am happy that sufficient attention was paid to this aspect of work.”

At workshops dedicated to the topics of international media, historical memory, youth exchange and human rights, participants tried to develop project ideas together. Lyubov Rakovitsa: “We managed to find several areas of common interest. Each country, of course, has its own experience, its own myths and expectations. But it is easier to come together than to break apart.”

Even at the conference itself, acquaintances grew into collaborations.

As Clemens Schöll explains, “even in the digital age, nothing can replace a face-to-face meeting. I have already found partners here, with whom I will submit a joint application for a journalist exchange project. This happened quite spontaneously, but it is just an ideal situation. It turns out, you can find much more than inspiration at a conference.”

Some of the projects want to embrace practically all the countries. Ramiz Aliyev (Youth Express Network): “We will do a youth exchange on the topic of youth social rights, so that young people will work together, discuss how to protect social rights, how to promote them in society. We want to attract participants from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, Germany, and potentially from Russia.

The Wechange platform was also not ignored. Baia Pataraia (Women’s Rights NGO ‘Sapari’) said, “I found a lot out about the platform and hope I will be able to put all the functions offered by this service to work.”

The Wechange team was pleased to welcome the participants in Berlin and thanks them all for their active participation and looks forward to further cooperation.