Georgian NGO Demlab conducted training sessions with doctors and health professionals about LGBTIQ+ sensitive communication.
Georgian NGO Demlab conducted training sessions with doctors and health professionals about LGBTIQ+ sensitive communication.

Building Resilience Across the Eastern Neighbourhood

BREN aims to strengthen civil society and enhance the inclusion of women and marginalised groups.

Tuesday, 3 October, 2023


Institute for War & Peace Reporting

When Armen (not his real name) agreed to attend a series of meetings aimed at raising awareness on gender equality, he had his own agenda. 

A self-described sceptic regarding anything related to feminism, Armen - a man in his forties living in Armenia’s northeastern municipality of Vardenis - said that had intended to challenge and disrupt the seminar, organised by Armenia’s civic engagement group Armavir Development Center.

“I got into the programme to fight against it, but it turned out to be something else [to what I expected],” he said, adding that his experience proved to be transformative. 

As the sessions continued, his interest gradually grew and he went on to join a local group that works to promote the key role women play in peace and security.  

“It's not like I've changed my position completely, but I think that a woman should always be informed in order to guide a man in certain matters,” Armen said. 

In February 2023 a capacity-building activity was held in Yerevan for BREN's six Armenian partner organisations. Training seminar aimed at enhancing the subgrantees' strategic and crisis communication skills and it was followed by ad-hoc individual mentorship.

The Armavir Development Centre is one of the  grantees of the IWPR-led project Building Resilience in the Eastern Neighbourhood (BREN). Since its launch in October 2021, BREN has supported 50 national and local civil society organisations (CSOs) across Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova. It provides small grants for activities aimed at increasing human security, peace and stability at local, national, and regional levels. 

“As its name indicates, BREN focuses on building resilience, focusing on two specific actions,” said Ana Dabrundashvili, the project coordinator in Georgia. “One is strengthening civil society organisations, including those focusing on women’s rights, to counter the drivers of conflict, instability, and insecurity and enhancing the inclusion of women and marginalised groups in decision-making processes and community efforts.”

The project has reached over 11,000 direct beneficiaries, not only building their resilience but increasing cooperation among national and local authorities, NGOs and the wider public. 

Working at the community level has delivered significant impact, be it changing attitudes as in Armen’s case, or supporting local associations to organise themselves more effectively.  

“We established a good connection and collaboration with the Marneuli municipality [in south-eastern Georgia], which is home to sizable ethnic and religious minorities,” Anton Kelbakiani, chairman of the Tbilisi-based NGO Prevention for Progress, explained. “We gained the trust of a local youth organisation, engaged in dialogue [with them] … that allowed us to set the basis for joint planning among local actors, which is crucial to overcoming duplication and competition for resources. Today, our local partner is organisationally stronger, it has funds to continue working, and is connected and involved with local CSOs.”

BREN's partner organisations Rights Georgia and Laliani Adult Education Centre held a seminar for young people from ethnic minorities in Lagodekhi, in south-eastern Georgia.

Similarly, in Georgia’s eastern region of Lagodekhi close to the border with Azerbaijan, BREN supported the Rights Georgia NGO to work with young people with the aim of increasing their awareness and activism. The youth of Lagodekhi Municipality have been motivated to become agents of change in their communities and have been actively involved in various projects even after the project ended.

“As part of the project, young people organised themselves in the Youth Initiative Group for the Protection of the Rights of Ethnic Minorities in Lagodekhi Municipality and carried out a series of activities,” said Ani Mukhigulashvili, Rights Georgia projects coordinator. “These included, for example, an informational campaign in Kabali Bazaar, the region’s largest market, with flyers in both Azerbaijani and Georgian languages and the development of social media content about the importance of knowing the state language for ethnic minorities living in Lagodekhi Municipality.

“In addition we engaged with representatives of the local government in a series of training on how to improve standards for inclusive policies,” she concluded.

Elsewhere, organisations like Gender Hub Azerbaijan improved their advocacy and increased awareness-raising activities on peace and security issues, specifically among conflict-affected women and girls. 

Gender Hub organised seminars on human rights for educators to provide them with practical knowledge on how to combat discriminatory stereotypes and social norms, as well as gender-based violence, early marriage and bullying.

“The [three-day training] programme opened my eyes on the negative impact that bullying and gender stereotypes can have on a student’s education and personal life,” explained a school director in a village in Azerbaijan’s south-eastern district of Lankaran. “I also learned practical strategies and techniques to create a more inclusive and supportive classroom environment. One of the biggest changes was to become more aware of my own biases and to make my classroom more welcoming for all students. I started using more inclusive language and being more proactive in identifying and addressing instances of bullying.”

She took her training experience further, using role playing in class to address cases of violence and bullying and working with a school psychologist to build students’ resilience to discrimination.

As well as dialogue, partnership and network building, BREN stimulates CSOs’ organisational change. 

“This is not always clearly visible in a short timeframe but it has a long-term impact,” noted Dabrundashvili. “Most CSOs said that the development of policies, strategic communication documents or practices are key to increase their structure and public visibility. They also indicated their increased fundraising efforts as significant changes for their organisations, which enables their sustainability.” 

Resilience also means being able to adapt to a changed environment or react to unexpected events. In Moldova, the Chisinau-based Human Rights Embassy (HRE) was able to expand its work to include assistance to Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russia’s full-scale invasion.

“It initially posed some challenges as we were used to interacting with professionals in the legal sector, civil society and media. However, we adapted and engaged with this diverse group, which was experiencing socio-economic and mental stress,”  said HRE director Leila Metreveli,  adding that the organisation subsequently partnered with other NGOs, kickstarting a deeper locally based intervention.

The Building Resilience in the Eastern Neighbourhood (BREN) project is supported by the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund of the United Kingdom and is implemented in partnership with the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP).

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