Could you please describe your role in The Polis? What do you do exactly?
I am the “General Coordinator” of The Polis Project, which means that it is my role to ensure that the rest of the team has the necessary conditions and right focus to be able to do their job. This means that my day to day work consists of giving support and feedback to my colleagues’ activities, and providing overall guidance and leadership with respect to the team’s objectives and agendas.
What does the Polis team look like?
We currently have four departments within the project: Polis Development- i.e. the strengthening of our model and its applications-, Research and Publications, Communications, and Fundraising, each with a full time person in charge. We then have dedicated subteams working on practical issues. These range from things such as model implementation and networking to analysis and publications. And, of course, the Polis team is supported by the wider ReSeT organisation.
And what about partner organisations or experts?
ReSeT has a wide range of existing partner organisations and external experts, some of which have already been involved in aspects of The Polis. Then again, it is early days and we are currently mostly focusing on further developing our local networks (The Polis is all about local connections, after all) in selected countries, and engaging potential “global resources” for the Polis, i.e. organisations and experts that can deliver services to meet local demands.
Where does the original idea for the Polis come from?
ReSeT itself is a relatively young organisation, founded in 2011, but it employs people with decades of experience in international cooperation and relations. One of the major issues that we encounter time and time again in development projects is that energy, time, effort and money tend to flow towards activities designed by international actors, typically headquartered in Western capitals, rather than towards ideas and solutions provided by local individuals or communities. Sure they are occasionally consulted, and may have some influence over outcomes, but the basis of international cooperation remains firmly seated in INGO boardrooms, government offices and transnational dynamics. Local populations simply do not have the systemic clout necessary to set agendas. This is a perverse problem and a fundamental flaw in the sector. It leads to sector dynamics that are on paper focused on so-called “beneficiaries”, but are in actuality serving the sector itself, rather than local communities. Administrative necessity trumps idealism any day of the week, unfortunately.
These observations made us go back to basic questions: what is needed for local and global actors to cooperate effectively to achieve common goals? What are the necessary decision mechanisms for that to happen? How do the various involved actors communicate, and what do they need to operate successfully?
The rather obvious answer is that projects designed and led by those who reap the benefits tend to work. On the other hand, projects that are designed and led by those who do not directly benefit from its outcomes do not tend to work. That observation then leads to the challenge of making sure that local people are in charge of projects, even if they typically require more powerful international dynamics and actors to be involved. These are often still needed to provide necessary capital or political cover. The Polis is our answer to that challenge.
Could you describe The Polis in your own words?
The Polis connects those with ideas to those with the tools to turn those ideas into reality. It does so by collecting ideas locally, collecting tools globally, and then matching them. Crucially, it does so in a way which always puts those with the idea- and who benefit directly from its implementation- in charge. They are the ones who make the decisions, while the Polis simply provides a matchmaking service.
On the website and elsewhere, the Polis team uses quite a few concepts that readers may be unfamiliar with. Is the model complex?
On the contrary, it is simple and very easy to understand. The three concepts to know are:
1. Local-Led Connections: This is the basic pillar of The Polis. It is the connection between local people and organisations and experts that support their projects.
2. Local Connectors: They maintain the Local-Led Connection, i.e. they bring local information to the Polis network and vice versa.
3. Global Connectors: People who have knowledge or networks to bring organisations and experts into The Polis.
That’s all really. Everything else about our model is just details on how local and global connectors operate. Those details would require more time to list and explain, of course, but they are not necessary to understand the essence of what we do.
What impact do you think the Polis will eventually have?
It is difficult to answer this with numbers or other concrete specifics, but given the simple and highly replicable nature of the model, in general terms I would expect at least two important outcomes: the implementation of a significant number of ideas and initiatives which otherwise would not have been able to come to fruition, as well as a strengthened understanding of, and approach to, international cooperation in the 21st century.
The former is obviously important because it directly, and positively, affects people’s lives in the here and now. The latter is important if you, like us at ReSeT, believe that one of the main challenges facing our world today is how to effectively connect the world’s abundant resources to human creativity and endeavour. We live in a globalised world with virtually endless technological and financial possibilities anywhere. The issue is how to harness such incredible opportunities. This question makes international cooperation more relevant than ever, and will require new and practical solutions. We believe that The Polis is one of those.
What makes The Polis different from other initiatives that tackle similar issues?
The Polis team continuously learns from many amazing projects that are being developed at the moment. 2014 is a very exciting time to work on these issues; new technologies and globalisation spur on creativity and activity never before seen in our field of work. In that sense, there are many aspects of The Polis that are not unique to our model. A lot of good work in similar vein is already being done, especially at a relatively small scale. These range from the Siriolli Institute to more technology-based initiatives related to fundraising (crowdfunding, such as Kiva) and, for example, initiatives such as Elva. However, what is unique about The Polis is the effectively simple method in which local people are in charge throughout the process, and decide over their own future, covering the entire process from basic idea to eventual outcome. Then again, I’d be delighted to find out we weren’t unique, of course.
How do you envision the Polis ten years from now?
A vibrant community of local and global people and organisations being connected to bountiful resources, allowing local ideas and initiatives to flourish like never before. If this- together with similar initiatives elsewhere- pushes the wider international cooperation sector towards being true and effective service providers, all the better.
From our own think-tank perspective, we expect The Polis to be a source of information and knowledge on the realities of local-global relationships. Such knowledge will become ever more important in international affairs and in facing the great challenges of our time. We at ReSeT, like any think tank, are very excited to be able to play a role in that.