Saferworld is working with the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development (CIPDD) and the Gori Information Centre on a community security project in Shida Kartli which helps communities to articulate their safety concerns, plan solutions to their problems, and develop more constructive relationships with their security providers. Natia Nadiradze, Project Coordinator with Saferworld, explains why a community security group was established, how it was set up, and how it has developed over the past 18 months.
Why was the community security group established?
"People along the border line continue to face security threats and safety concerns. Local communities were relying on rumours for their information which increased feelings of insecurity. The community security group was established to act as representatives for their communities on security concerns and therefore enable communities along the divide to communicate with each other and with relevant security actors about security threats or incidents and work towards effective local solutions."
How did the project team go about setting up a community security group?
“When we were deciding which communities to include within the project, we looked at the local area and selected 18 clusters of communities with security concerns. We grouped them together into clusters of two to four villages, based on their shared history and similarities within the communities. The community reference group is made up of a community representative from each of these clusters.”
“In selecting the group’s membership it was clear that they needed to be well respected within the local communities and have a good reputation, to ensure that the local communities felt members were approachable and that the member represented them and their concerns well. It was therefore also crucial that the local community could identify with the security group member. So a conscious decision was made to select members whose employment generally reflected that of the local economy – this meant mainly farming, with a few exceptions.
“We have also tried to diversify from picking those members of the community who would usually be seen as the traditional ‘community leader’ and public servants. Working with local organisations, partners, and based on our knowledge of the area, we approached individuals to ask if they would sit on the group.”
How has the group developed?
“After establishing the group’s membership in 2010, we worked with members, building up confidence and understanding of the project’s aims within the group. In September 2012 the group were given two days facilitation training to develop the skills to conduct focus groups, carry out analysis of security concerns, and learn problem solving techniques. The idea was that these skills would enable group members to be able to react to local issues. As a whole the group meets regularly to share security issues within their communities.
“We have found that although members were initially reserved, as the project has continued members have become increasingly enthusiastic about their voluntary work on the group. They are proud to be able to raise concerns on behalf of their local communities at group level meetings and take initiative to act as the ambassadors between their communities and the community reference group.
“A strong element of the programme has been the success of information sharing between members of the group at meetings, identifying when they are facing similar problems and then formulating a way forward.”
How sustainable is the group?
“There is no tradition of volunteering in Georgia, but despite this there have been minimal changes to the group’s membership, reflecting its strength as a unit. One member started a full time job and had to leave due to time commitment issues. Although members don’t get any money, they feel their role on the CRG gives them respect in their communities, and enables them to get involved in other projects.”
“To give the group members maximum ownership of their work, and increase sustainability, the project staff have participated less in meetings as the group has become more established. We have given the group leaders the skills and equipment to conduct community meetings, record them and listen to communities’ concerns themselves. We gave them the materials and then left them to it – with impressive results.”
How did you adapt the way the groups worked to local culture and context?
“Georgia is a conservative society, with a gender divide around social interaction between men and women, and a culture where volunteerism is not traditionally present. We respected and used our knowledge of the local social context encouraging members to use existing meeting structures within their communities and also supporting group members to organise meetings within their village clusters.”
“Community reference group members (currently 12 men and 8 women) interact with communities by attending traditional local meetings. For men this has been through informal ‘birzhas’ – traditional gatherings where men discuss politics and current affairs. For women, who tend to meet in the evenings, this has been by attending these local gatherings. Initially people were very shy, particularly around security providers, because they were not used to raising their concerns. However, within the group meetings and in discussions between group members and their communities, people have become more confident at analysing their own problems.”
How would you like to see the initiative develop in the future?
“We’d like to establish a practice of regular meetings between group members and other key stakeholders including state and non-state actors, for example the local authorities. We would also like to develop the links between the community reference group and the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) which was created as a result of the Geneva Process to convene representatives from the Georgian government, Russian military forces and the Abkhaz and South Ossetian de facto governments to discuss recent security incidents, potential problems and develop practical solutions.
This could involve setting up pre-meetings between community reference group members and the Georgian government representatives attending the IPRM meetings so they can hear the concerns of the communities the group represents. We want to give people more confidence to speak up in front of security providers, and make security providers see the value of listening to local communities before taking decisions. The ultimate aim is to try and institutionalise these ways of working.”
Take a look at our documentary about the community security work in Shida Kartli.