Coming from all parts of the world, our alumni share the same goal: trying to make life a bit better for all citizens. With our newly launched alumni network, we offer them an opportunity to share experiences, identify new learning opportunities and develop partnerships. Their stories help us better understand the situation in their countries. At our first alumni network event, we learned from experiences with COVID-19 in Georgia, Colombia and Iraq.

Salomé  Mekvabishvili is head of strategic development at the Ministry of Economy in Georgia. When the lockdown was announced in Georgia on the 31st of March 2020, civil servants suddenly had to deal with many new issues and new tasks. “I needed to become a superwoman in one day”. This made civil servants much more aware of why they do things. “Why is it important to invest in science? Why do we need to communicate? Why are data and technology important?”

According to Salomé, one important lesson to be drawn is that leaders should be agile. They should have the flexibility to respond to the changing needs caused by a crisis situation. This also implies less bureaucracy, because decisions have to be taken in a short period of time and involve many different people. The covid crisis also showed leaders that they need to think more about how to make basic services accessible for all citizens in the future.

Wilmar Giraldo, director of the civil society organisation for local democracy ‘Corlide’ in Colombia, expressed his concern about the lack of information and the decreasing participation by citizens due to lockdowns. This partly has to do with the digital gap: many people do not have access to digital tools and depend on social gatherings or in-person meetings for communication, with each other and with the government. Corlide, like many other civil society organisations in Colombia, supports citizens by keeping them informed and demanding accountability from the government.

“We trained community leaders to be able to read and understand complex government data and communicate it to citizens, who can then hold the government accountable

On a positive note, Wilmar says the crisis has increased awareness of the essential role of public institutions and how close they are to citizens. This, in the long term, may strengthen participatory processes and transparency. He hopes that the digital transformation of institutions, sparked by the pandemic, will contribute positively to democratisation and access to information for everyone.

Kamaran Palani, researcher and lecturer based in Kurdistan, Iraq, observed that the way the government managed the pandemic, increased mistrust between the government and the population. The lack of information and transparency from the government has also had, for example, an impact on the vaccination process. Kamaran also questions the representativity of the current data used for research and policymaking, gathered only from people with access to digital communication tools. In order to build trust amongst citizens, Kamaran, like Wilmar, argues that CSOs need to call on the government to be more transparent and give access to information.

Finally, Kamaran mentions the need to protect and support the youth. He observed that during the pandemic, polarisation among youth has immensely increased on social media. To prevent further polarisation and work on social cohesion, it is crucial to include the voices of youth in policy and advocacy activities.

Our network event closed on a positive note with an inspiring musical performance by alumnus Greg Sindana from Indonesia.

Did you attend one of our training courses? Then stay connected by joining The Hague Academy Alumni Network