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A global village – assessing progress to date in the Allgäu-Lebanon project partnerships

The workshop of municipalities in the Allgäu region in November 2019 – looking ahead

When 2017 drew to a close, no one in the municipalities of Amtzell, Gestratz, Heimenkich, Hergatz and Opfenbach in the Allgäu region could yet imagine what a fact-finding mission to Lebanon was supposed to set in motion. Today, a good two years later, everyone involved has gained a wealth of experience and made numerous new contacts. And Lebanon, the destination of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the civil war in Syria, is no longer a blank on the map. In November 2017 fourteen municipal delegates travelled to Lebanon to explore opportunities for project partnerships with the municipalities close to the Syrian border that were struggling with the refugee crisis. This first mission led to the emergence of numerous links and projects, both with municipalities in Lebanon and among the German municipalities themselves. Six projects with Lebanese municipalities are now under way. There were many highlights and success stories along the way, as well as obstacles to overcome.

On 4 November 2019 the actors from the Allgäu region met with the programme managers from the Service Agency Communities in One World at a workshop to review cooperation in the projects to date, and share ideas on opportunities for future development. The participants began by drawing up a survey of cooperation so far. What were the original objectives, and what has since been achieved? What went well, what did not go so well? What can be improved?

Participants went on to explain that the German municipalities' engagement was based on a desire to support the municipalities in Lebanon in coping with the effects of the civil war in Lebanon. To this end, those driving the process began by sharing information in their own municipalities, consulting with each other and generating enthusiasm. It was then necessary to identify suitable Lebanese municipalities and jointly develop projects.
The project actors attending the workshop described the close cooperation between the Allgäu municipalities as a major success story. These municipalities regularly share lessons learned and discuss project progress in their newly-established inter-municipal Lebanon committee (ILAA). They have succeeded in raising citizens' awareness of the issue and in mobilising them to get involved. Participants also saw in a very positive light the effect this engagement has had on the municipality's public image, and the favourable reports this entailed. A sixth municipality – Kisslegg – has since joined the programme. Others are interested. Participants said how much they appreciated as reliable partners both the Service Agency – the organisation implementing the programme – and Democracy Reporting International (DRI) – the local organisation supporting it in Lebanon.
Initially, work in the partnerships with the Lebanese municipalities involved relationship-building and reciprocal visits. These face-to-face meetings and the personal links created are an important foundation for the project work, and inject vitality into the projects. Communication problems arose when mutual expectations diverged too widely, when different understandings of hierarchy arose and where structures were unclear. Key to positive development in the project partnerships was the appointment of liaison officers with the right intercultural skills, and the joint clarification and definition of objectives.
Participants noted that for some steps in the projects they had to overcome major bureaucratic hurdles. Submitting the project proposal to the programme was seen as time-consuming and laborious, particularly as most of the participants from the Allgäu region are taking part in an honorary capacity. As well as a simplification of the forms, they would also like to see greater scope for cooperation with NGOs. Nonetheless, all are convinced by the project approach, which they see as credible and realistic. The Lebanon project has created a 'global village' and boosted intercultural understanding in the municipalities.
To find out more about the joint project work of the municipalities, click on the links below:
Video: 'Mission to Lebanon to explore possible municipal project partnerships'
Report on the return visit to Western Allgäu by municipal delegates from Lebanon