14 European countries
2 key note speakers
20 open space discussions
46 inflated balloons
3 visited community initiatives
1 stuffed animal (a sheep)
An endless number of interesting people, contacts, new friends…
On the last Thursday in April, large bubbles floated into the air above the streets of Holešovice-Prague. They came out of the DOX Contemporary Art Center, where the first day of Via Foundation’s Community Forum: Breaking Out of Bubbles was just getting underway. The event took place on April 27-29, 2017 and focused on the theme of polarized communities, using bubbles as a symbol to point out how each of us lives in our own bubble of opinions, attitudes and habits. When we fail to see beyond our own bubble, we run the risk of becoming isolated and not understanding other people – and this can lead to divisions in local communities, as we often see in Central and Eastern Europe.
The Forum was a large meeting of people who are working in communities in the Czech Republic, other parts of Europe – and thanks to a number of overseas guests – the world. The event brought together people working on various levels in local communities to help them glean inspiration from different countries, share their best practices and approaches and support one another’s efforts. Over three days almost one hundred participants enjoyed inspiring presentations, workshops, creative activities and conversations over coffee, all with the aim of expanding their horizons, going beyond their own ‘bubbles’ and applying the experience in their own community work.
Stewart Sarkozy-Banoczy, the keynote speaker on the first date, introduced the concept of resilient communities and shared his experience working in Columbia and North America. During the afternoon, Dominika Belanska led participants on an exploration of the Holešovice neighborhood through an unconventional Silent Walk while Esther Witt shared her story of a referendum about the reinvention of Berlin’s Tempelhof airport.
On Friday morning, Richard Smith gave an inspiring talk about his work in South Africa and about building trust. Richard’s suggestions for building trust include valuing others, finding commonalities, listening carefully, involving others into the dialogue in the early phases and working toward a shared vision.
In the afternoon, our Open Space session led to dozens of discussions about how to work in polarized communities.
Saturday greeted us with sunshine that brightened our three site visits in the Prague 8 and 7 districts. At Přístav 180 00 we learned how the organization revitalizing this brownfield site in Karlin is engaging homeless people in its work. At Paralel Polis, we learned about the notion of crytoanarchy. We were amazed to see that the organization’s 3D printer is capable of printing a Christmas chocolate figurine – who knew? At the Prazelenina community garden located close to the Barikádníků Bridge, local gardener Robert entertained us with his stories about the garden.
During the Community Forum we popped bubbles and we stepped beyond our own bubbles – language bubbles, as we shifted to the event’s common language (English) and comfort zone bubbles, as we considered different points of view. Paradoxically, yet positively, we managed to create one great big bubble together that was full of enthusiasm, inspiration and the energy to forge ahead in our community work with our bubbles and the bubbles of others.
The Community Forum is an initiative that we designed in 2016 as part of our efforts to build a community of people supported through our various programs and in various regions. The idea emerged because the community leaders with whom we work repeatedly expressed the need to meet, inspire and support one another in their community work and development of democracy and civil society in the Czech Republic and the entire CEE region. In response, we organized the first Community Forum as part of ViabilityNet 2.0, our international program for community leaders from across the entire CEE region. The event, called Community Forum: Come On, Community!, took place in the Impact HUB in Prague in May 2016 and was open to all those interested in exploring community development. We continued in April 2017 with the second annual Community Forum, titled Breaking Out of Bubbles. Stay tuned to see what form the Forum takes on in 2018!