The Cross-Border Cooperation Congress Lublin 2020 (formerly known as Eastern Europe Initiatives Congress) will be held on October 6-9, 2020 and will focus on COVID-19 and the challenges faced by local communities across Europe during the pandemic. Due to the current situation, the event will be held online, with simultaneous translation into Polish, English, and Russian.
Today brings about a wave of changes with new dynamics propelled by the COVID-19 pandemic. Reality is now commonly described using terms such as volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity.
We are now imagining possible options to build and develop the economy without exploitation. Without exploitation of people, excessive utilization of dwindling resources, without degradation of the environment.
A community of cross-border cooperation practitioners
But how to build interpersonal relations and local communities in so polarized societies, when the imperative of social distancing does not favour the idea of community life and deepens isolation? What legal and organizational solutions could provide for the elimination of the existing inequalities? What about social solidarity and sensitivity; what kind of citizens have we turned out to be in the face of hardships? How will local governments, schools, cultural institutions, businesses and non-governmental organizations cope with new challenges?
These are the questions we are now asking ourselves. We will discuss these and other challenges of our time, as we have done for 10 years now, in Lublin, in a community of cross-border cooperation practitioners. Our meeting this year will have a different formula. There will be no personal encounters, no shaking hands, no evening walks around the Old Town. What is certain, however, is that we are going to venture into the in-depth intellectual debates the Congress has always been known for.
The nine previous editions of the Congress saw hundreds of discussion panels in multiple program lines, innumerable project, business and social meetings, new relationships made and networks tied, transnational partnerships and friendships established and maintained.
Situated on the historical border of the European Union and the Eastern Partnership, the city of Lublin, with its genius loci, has always been an obvious host of the Congress. We want it to continue to play this role in the current circumstances. The world as we have known it will never return. We need to reframe and redefine the ways of thinking about the reality around us. This is why this year we decided to adapt the formula of the Congress to the new situation.
When making the decision to go online, the safety of participants was first on our mind. But we also wanted to talk about the future challenges the world will face, and the new ones it has to cope with today. Zero air travel, no hotels, but instead with an opportunity to reflect on matters stress-free and without worrying about face masks and disinfectants.
Four key areas
We chose four key areas for panel discussions and workshops: local government, culture, economy and society. We want to consider the time of the pandemic and the challenges ahead through three perspectives, as seen by the public, business and civil social sectors.
First of all, we will focus on the perspectives of a person, their worries, fears and uncertainties. We want to show how civil society takes action to provide assistance and support, pursuing the ideas of solidarity, community ties and empathy with the needy. We will talk about how to tap into the huge potential of grassroots civil initiatives and have it involved in the mainstream public activities.
Then, we will analyze the future drivers of development and growth from the point of view of businesses, with a focus on whether and where it is to be measured, and on the limits, if any, it may have. The question of new business models in an increasingly digital economy is intriguing. Can we expect innovation in this area, with disruptive entrepreneurship flourishing?
The local government is facing a challenge to find a model that combines empathy with effective action. Therefore, in-depth consideration should be given to social innovation in the context of the search for a new management paradigm, embedding both the ideas of solidarity and performance.
The answer to the question about crisis management and lessons learned for the future will be interesting. What is the position of the local government, given the inevitable need to economize (limited revenues), to pursue public tasks when the aspirations of the citizens are constantly growing?
Perhaps an option is to reorient the processes and, drawing on the experience of the business sector, build competency models, calculate and track costs more closely, and be bolder in switching to remote work. The organizational and mental reconstruction of public institutions is of key importance. With a view to using the existing potential in the best possible way, human resources should be assigned tasks based on competencies understood as knowledge, skills and attitudes, combined with talents and professional experience. In the new model, accountability will rely not on the time spent, readiness to perform activities, but on delivery and outcomes.
Last but not least, there is the debate about culture, an inseparable part of our Congresses. Noteworthy, it was the Eastern Partnership Culture Congress in 2011 that inaugurated the practice of Lublin congress meetings “between the East and the West”.
Challenges and problems in this area are plenty. How to perform and deliver in a time when funds earmarked for culture are bound to be limited? Which strategies should be pursued by cities which have bet on cultural tourism as one of the drivers of growth? Culture feeds on personal encounters, openness and spontaneity. How to create a unique artistic proposition or a compelling experience in the virtual world?
We will see it ourselves during the Congress through participation in cultural events, featuring a formula of streaming music and visual projects, contemporary art exhibitions via the Steam platform or literary meetings, all to feed inspiring discussions about the pandemic but also the political circumstances and developments of today. Renowned cultural institutions of Lublin have undertaken to organize innovative projects, including the Centre for Culture, the Workshops of Culture and the Labirynt Gallery.
The key questions of today
At the Congress, we want to discuss the key questions of today – how to reconcile openness to people, change and new technologies and responsibility for safety? It is a question about a new understanding of participation, both externally, from citizens, and internally, one that would maximize the use of resources within organizations, while empowering employees in decision-making and strategy-building processes.
In extremely difficult times, it is tempting to arbitrarily organize the decision-making process, behind the curtain, on behalf of citizens but without their actual participation. In the era of disruption and uncertainty, it is key that citizens clearly understand the complexities, the imperative to economize, the grounds of prioritization (why we choose that investment and delay another, which institutions are considered “inferior” in funds allocation, etc.).
In view of these questions, this year we are organizing a meeting of Councillors from various European cities. It is important to learn their perspectives on the current priorities and what problems their citizens are raising. The input from the two sides, the executive power (presidents/mayors) and local lawmakers (councillors) will provide a valuable outlook on the present situation and future challenges.
The Best Practice Contest initiative
Although we will find ourselves in a different, virtual online space, we want to keep those components of the Congress that have always testified to its values, i.e. the Grant’ Fair, the Partners’ Forum and the Best Practice Contest. The Fair offers opportunities to learn about the options to source funds from selected support programs. The Partners’ Forum is a networking platform for organizations looking for partners in international projects. Networking in the remote formula is a big challenge, but with prior recruitment, it makes unique encounters possible.
An essential component of the Congress is the Best Practice Contest initiative, which will promote the most outstanding solutions for dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in five categories: local government, culture and tourism, education, social assistance, and entrepreneurship. We want to broadly showcase a landscape of original practices and innovative solutions. The invitation to take part in the Contest is extended to local governments, civil and community organizations, informal groups, schools, universities and businesses.
The prize will be the CROSS-BORDER COOPERATION CONGRESS LUBLIN 2020 BEST PRACTICE TITLE, with a broad-reach promotion of the winners.