[EXP] Village movement in Estonia : focusing on local governance to maintain rural villages alive
The experience of Kodukant, the main Estonian organisation of local groups and communities working for the rural countryside
Type: Success story
Date of writing: May 15, 2009
Author(s) of this page: Marina GUEDON
Organization(s): Kodukant (the Estonian Village Movement)
Margus Vain, a board member for the Estonian Village Association Kodukant explains how the movement organises its members to make rural voices heard by national decision makers. He explains how the arrangement helps build better policies for those in rural areas, helping them live sustainable lives, to build networks and to look after the countryside.
Regional background and project objectives
Decades of occupation had left Estonian villages and rural people devastated. Structural changes in the transition from a central planning system to market economy had huge consequences for the structure of Estonia’s rural settlements with increased poverty, unemployment, limited growth of services and depopulation of rural areas The movement Kodukant started in late 1991, when some enthusiasts of country life from Estonia established contact with the national village initiatives in Sweden, called « All Sweden Shall Live ». The motivation was to improve the conditions in the countryside.
Initiators of the project, organisational form
Two counties, Viljandi and Rapla county, were selected as pilot counties, supported by their twin counties in Sweden as the pilot of “moving villages”, with the The Swedish Village Movement.
The success of the pilot projects soon became known among other villages in Estonia and several county organizations of village movement were registered as legal NGOs. The idea was taken to the government and parliament, making them realise that Estonian needed its own Estonian village development programme.
In 1996 a programme to support local village projects could be started and several County organisations were launched. This same year, the first Rural Parliament of Estonian villages assembled. Workgroup discussions ended with the decision to found an organisation called Kodukant, which was officially formed on 9 October 1997.
Kodukant is in 2009, an association of non-governmental organisations, structured at 3 levels:
1 National Association made up of the County Associations and 8 other NGOs,
15 independent County Associations, one in each Estonian county
and Village Associations. It now has about 5000 members.
The organisation’s aim is to support rural communities in their local initiatives, to support small entrepreneurship, to create and maintain networks on different geographical and administrative levels (from local to international) and to influence policy, opening up the views and needs of small rural communities to the distant policy-makers.Issues are raised by the members of the organization.
Project activities with respect to sustainable development.
a. Participation, a core element of the organisation:
Kodukant has a local office in 14 counties of Estonia. Each one corresponds with NGO’s and organizations in its own county for arranging eligible events in different fields (education, discussions, study tours etc.). The county organizations also act as councillors to the Ministry of Agriculture in specific questions by collecting proposals and ideas, which the Board of Kodukant delivers to the Ministry.
The main brainstorming takes place at the Rural Parliament of Estonian Villages, organized every 2 years. 400 participants from all sectors all over Estonia are brought together to discuss the problems in the countryside, based on materials received previously and which can be used as further resources in their communities. This format also allows local and national leaders to share experiences and network even after the conclusion of the event. The outcome of the workshops are presented to local and national authorities, other organizations and to general public.
b. Supporting capacity building
The movement undertakes a wide range of activities in support of rural communities. These focus on building the capacity of the villages to become organised, to plan their priorities, to raise and manage funds, to undertake projects, and to link with other villages and organisations. Training and courses for organizations and individuals are proposed in areas of grant writing, strategic planning, leadership, small enterprise development and community building, study trips to other counties and countries to give opportunity to observe successful projects.
c. Supporting local development
But also technical advice is given: consultation in the areas of rural development, rural youth, small enterprise project design and maintenance, woman and gender development.Some specific projects have been driven in the last years
Empowering Youth in Rural countryside and Kodukant activities:
Since 2005, special attention has been dedicated to rural youth.Through training session (about community development, project management and communication with media) all over the year or in summer camps, but also with study trips to successful village associations involving young rural. Thanks to these activities, young people from could share experiences and develop capacity building for organising local activities in their own village. This not only helped in involving rural youth in local village associations but also in Kodukant youth projects and organisation, as, since 2008 the Board of Kodukant has a representative of young people.
Village association and Economy
From the year 2005 in the centre of Kodukant activities has been village association and its economy. Village associations manage about 250 community houses in Estonia nowadays. Some of them are financially supported by local authorities, other have to find their own resources. That’s why several project were launched to work out services to raise money for managing the community houses and supporting the associations. This services might also guarantee liveable conditions for country people; contribute to create and maintain jobs in the countryside; support development of village associations and small entrepreneurs and improve quality of life in remote areas.
Through cooperation with rural companies and NGO, several kind of services – adapted to the needs and wishes of the community - were offered by the association around the community houses.
Community houses as multifunctional service centres: infocentres, cafes, training centres can be found..
Cultural services: based on their experience in cultural events’ organisation (Midsummer nights, village reunions, Christmas parties etc.), the villages associations now organise various activities – children’s summer camps, village theatres, dance parties etc, offering also this services to local authorities.
Social services: quite new, children’s day care centre is an example of service offered to the community.
Personal services are also needed in remote areas and village organisations offer sauna and laundry, gardening services or community-based tourism service.
Supporting sustainable tourism and Rural Entrepreneurship
In February 2005, a new tourism product was worked out in cooperation with Estonian Rural Tourism, “Village Tourism, a possibility for Community development”. Village community is involved in offering the service, which activates the process of creating small enterprises. Developing small enterprises gives the chance to sustainable tourism to spread in the countryside. Village tourism product enables to organise practical study trips to the country during different seminars on rural topics. In 2007 the project “Learning village” was started.
The main idea of the project is to create centres of lifelong learning and start study enterprises in the community houses of remote villages. “Study enterprise” aims at promoting rural entrepreneurship. Through training but also feed-back from existing entrepreneurs, rural entrepreneurs acquire entrepreneur knowledge in order to start their own companies.
Main results, lessons learned
Village movement and Kodukant means: a lot of people who are really interested in the welfare of their home place. “Moving villages” has been and still is swimming against the tide – living in towns is more popular than in the countryside. One of the most appreciated thing is the involvement of people who have spent their energy, time and money on the sustainability and maintenance of rural life. Since its foundation Kodukant has always been ready for a partner ’s role to the public sector in the development of the rural and Kodukant has become a mediator between villages and the government through education, advocacy and lobbying. A representative of Kodukant now takes part in the Round Table meetings with the President of Estonia, aiming to make proposals for the development of civil society.Transnational links have always been important for KODUKANT which is member of NGO Forum Synergies, the Nordic network Hela Norden Ska Leva, ERA, ERCA, and PREPARE network . KODUKANT is in close cooperation with other village movements and has helped many countries in Europe to establish their organisations. Besides international travelling workshops, the organisation also has several international co-projects running
Future challenges and perspectives
As to the future, we have 2 main directions just ahead of us: teach villages to manage their organisations economically. Small enterprises in the countryside are not our strongest side. So we hope to see a lot of good examples and hear success-stories about that from other European partners. Secondly, we have started « dragging » young people into our activities. That far they have been really interested and willing to participate. As I know, many regions have to face the problem of young people leaving the countryside, so we hope we can do several joint projects with our other members in the future.
Kodukant is a successful example of 10 years of activities taking care of rural people. The link to the roots is one of the pillar of the organisation and participation and empowerment have been encouraged since its foundation, together with collaboration with the public sector. Kodukant has become the largest organisation in Estonia working for Sustainable Rural Development.
Kodukant presentation document for Forum Synergies ;
Sirje Vinni Interview ;
Scale of intervention : National
Keywords: sustainable tourism, rural entrepreneurship, collective approach, youth empowerment, local community initiative, rural parliament, empowerment of rural communities, Community Led Local Development (CLLD), local food systems