We have opened a call for another round of ViabilityNet 3.0, through which we support people who are engaged in communities in Central and Eastern Europe – and their ideas. If you are considering filling out an application but you’re still unsure whether ViabilityNet is a good fit for you, these thoughts from Zuzana Šrůmová, a participant of this year’s program, may help you decide.

A year ago a friend of mine said to me: “Zuzko, I really think that you should apply to this program. What you are doing and what you want to do in the future are exactly what this program is all about. I was one of the participants in the last round and it was really great.”

Zuzana Šrůmová (right) on the ViabilityNet 3.0 meeting

I took a look at it – and it looked like I fit all of the conditions. In my town of 10,000, where I live and plan to continue living, I organize a huge flea market with a group of friends. The market has begun serving as a sort of platform for other projects. I work in a local NGO that tries to help people develop a bond to their community through art and traditions. And I plan on continuing with my community engagement…at first glance it looked like you could use the program funding pretty flexibly for any community project that you are leading. But there’s a high price tag attached: almost 4 weeks of training.

I’m a teacher. I have a lot of experience in education. I also have experience with training through grant programs. And my experience has shown me that the training tends to be very low quality, typically led by someone who has no practical experience with the topic and doesn’t know anything about it and is just doing it to fulfil some criteria. I have young children, I work, I volunteer, we’re building a house – I don’t have the luxury of flying somewhere for a bunch of days to talk (four times in fact) just for a grant. I decided to not apply. But a few weeks later I met the same friend and he got me thinking again.

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photo: Rado Tomeček

Two days before the application deadline I finally decided that I would apply. I wrote my proposal but I was totally horrified about making a video so I asked a friend who is a filmmaker for help. In exchange for a cut of lamb he made a video for me where I talked in my very rusty English, forgotten for the past ten years (later I found out that some of the participants had just recorded their videos on their phones and that was totally okay:-)). I sent it in about half an hour before the deadline and to make a long story short, I was selected.

I guess it doesn’t make sense to write about everything here, so I’m just sharing a few points that summarize my experience (and feel free to write me an email if you want to know more, I’m happy to talk about it, or write directly to Via staff, they’re really easy to talk to):

It’s not about the money. Yes, there is a budget that you can draw on. But the real benefit from this program is not the money. It’s a combination of experience, skills, knowledge and most of all a huge amount of inspiration about different things you can do, how to do them and how to perceive your work. Really a huge amount – seriously.
You are more important than your project. You are the most important piece (and your team, which benefits from the program through you and in the later phase personally too). Your project serves to show you what your goal is, how to think about your community and about why you do what you do. It forces you to try out and apply the things you learn. It’s not set in stone. Many of us changed our projects along the way (and some people, like me for instance, changed it completely – because the original direction didn’t make sense anymore).
It’s not about learning a bunch of facts. Naturally there is some theory. But you try things out and then you ask yourself what they mean. There is a lot of reflection involved, which can be new and difficult.
You will meet great people. We think our group is the best ever – despite the differences between us. It really brought us together. We help each other. All of the lecturers were excellent and we love them to death. The two main lecturers refused to tell us that we’re their best group ever, so I’m not sure if I want to praise them, but I have to admit we couldn’t do it without them.
– (I’m kidding, they are great. The program is based largely on their personal qualities, so it would be strange if they weren’t great.)
You get a ton of inspiration. From people, places, site visits, stories…
– It is demanding, no doubt about that. I come home from every meeting completely drained but also full of ideas, energy and excited to make them happen.
I see results. Yes, I changed my project entirely and I’m starting over from scratch halfway through. But I’ve been applying what I got out of it to my work the entire time. My perception of my community and the people, activities and relationships in it has changed a lot. And I’m taking action based on that. And things are happening – already.

 

Photo: Rado Tomeček

Photo: Rado Tomeček

Yes, this is pretty much a plug or an ad for the program. Why am I writing it?
Commission? No, you don’t have to put my name down in the application so that I get a commission – don’t worry, that’s not how it works.
It is really hard to figure out what the program is about from the description in the call. Five minutes ago I talked to someone who I think should definitely apply, either he or someone in his group. He had looked at the website – and had the impression that he didn’t fit at all. The description says everything – and nothing. So maybe this will help you. Even though I was “only” a participant, I’ve been part of the program for a while now and it’s important to me that the program keeps going and that it succeeds. And so that the right people find it.

– And I admit that I am also procrastinating. I should pick up the phone and call someone whom I don’t know very well and realy start working on my project. So I’ve been writing this because of course it’s more important. And maybe it really is.

You can apply for the ViabilityNet program until 10 April, 2018. The program coordinators Petra and Monika will be happy to answer questions or Zuzka Šrůmová herself, We thank Zuzka for her feedback and wish her luck with her project.