Investing in Roma-Led Change

It will take decades until the Romani community in Europe feels the effects of our everyday work. To change the status quo sooner rather than later, we Roma need to stubbornly maintain pressure on political decision makers over the long term.

As discussed in the video above, the voice of Roma communities will become less dependent on external supporters only when organizations led by Roma become strong enough to make the case on behalf of their constituencies, to have their own voice heard and their own power felt by governments, the EU, and others.

The European Commission, Norway Grants, and private donors such as the Open Society Foundations need to increase funding for Roma organizations’ independent work. Many NGOs who rely on governmental funding to exist—largely by managing European Union (EU) Structural Funds and Norway Grants—have been transformed into contracted providers of services: for example, trying to provide education or health assistance to Roma children that schools, health, and social centers normally provide for other children.

This affects power relationships: if an NGO relies on the government for most or all of its funding, it loses crucial independence. This restricts the ability of Roma organizations to voice real priorities and analyze the difference EU and Norwegian funding makes, or not, in the lives of people. If we are serious about service-provision projects making an impact, funding to strengthen the independent voice of Roma organizations needs to be increased and reformulated.

Likewise, a Roma NGO should be more than a legal entity, there to execute a project, produce short-term gains, represent the good intentions of their donors, and publish photos of abject misery to legitimize the whole process. Funders should help organizations not only to survive from project to project but also to attract and nurture a team and peers, improve leadership, gain the trust of Roma and other people, and increase their contribution to public decision-making.

Organizations need to rethink the way their voice is heard and power is felt. For many, the standard approach is not working: poorly timed meetings, repetitive reporting, unheard recommendations, and low-level conference participation have proven almost irrelevant for real decision-making processes. To make any serious impact, organizations must improve their understanding of the decision-making process and power relations of key players, employ media-savvy strategies that influence public opinion, and build coalitions with mainstream organizations.

The question of leadership in Roma organizations is particularly critical. This relates not only to people in positions of authority but also to the practice of enabling others to take responsibility. Up to now, decision-making in most Roma organizations has been highly centralized, conservative, and often discriminatory toward Roma women and youth.

Roma organizations generally lack democratic practices of participation, transparency, and accountability, both internally and in relation to Roma communities. The leaders of Roma organizations need to realize the damage this does to their credibility: how can you challenge politicians on their accountability or transparency when you do not uphold these principles either?

The Open Society Foundations and others have held the belief that nurturing a “Roma elite” through university scholarships will strengthen the voices of Roma organizations and help make them more effective. There have been positive developments here. Roma have never had a bigger number of secondary school and university graduates. They are the best hope for Roma communities.

But here, too, there is a paradox: even though we now have more highly educated Roma than a decade ago, the voices of Roma organizations seem weaker, as does the trust placed by the community in these organizations. This impression, though not formally researched, is widely shared in the field. Roma organizations need to become a place that highly educated Roma recognize as a privilege, and a public service that can help them build their careers.

There are plenty of external challenges to contend with: civil society is under attack; the space for citizen participation and influence is closing; human rights and human rights organizations are being delegitimized; anti-Roma speech and behavior is allowed and even endorsed at the highest level in parts of Europe.

We can’t take on or solve all of these problems, but a good to place to begin is with those areas we do have control over.

21 Comments

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Thank you. I have been hoping to see something like this for twenty years. Finally. I am really happy to see that we are getting started. Let's keep moving in the right direction.

The only way Roma will have real change, is when the policy makers and leaderships of the EU, decide that we are also Europeans. To be given the same rights to education, training, accomadation and employment. To be treated as an equal, within the twenty first century. As it is the political will and greed of those at the top and those who are feeding off the backs of those, who are being dogmatised and vilified. That is the biggest staler in the full integration of our people. For over a thousand years, we have learnt to hide ourselves and survive. Now we need the tools to come out of the woods and povity, to be tought how to integrate and become a valid citizen, who can contribute to society, without assimilation, but a well thought out plan of a full integration, without the destruction of our culture and way of life. We need to see the extended hands if friendship from those in power, who hold our des trendy in those very hands. To accept us for who we are and from where we are. To alow us to grow, so that we may provide all the benefits others enjoy throughout the EU.

Joseph P Jones

This needs to be sent as a message to major media outlets, for example the Nouvel Observateur in France which keeps publishing articles by a non Roma president of an association which claims to defend the rights of Roma, instead of speaking to Roma themselves. Journalists and editorial boards of major media outlets are horribly ignorant and allow such trash to get published while educated and eloquent Roma journalists and insiders are capable of providing more captivating and interesting stories for the public.

I like the video this is the real picture about the Roma People who work with rroma .

But what will happen after, how to adress this to the leaders this message.
The NGO is just only information and research desc for the Government and other institution like EU .Those project who are financial is just short term I don't agree with short term projects because you resolve nothing with this.We need something where can be real long term where the Rroma ( Intellectual) have a chance to raise his or her voice and to listen.

Any way I like this video a lot.

Joseph,

The Romani people can never change nothing , why i say this most of the time other control us liek we say in Romanes ,, AMARE BAREJA AMARO SHERO PARAVENA ....With our stone they crush our head .
And how much the Roma is smart, educated or intelligent for them we are just Rroma always they look us under never equal .I would like to se us as equal like all people in this world but never will happen even they help , they do something that is just front page of the book . Only Soros did well with the youth Roma who gave then change to prove them self and educated

Devlesa
Elez Bislim

Beautifully made - so very clear, strong and essential this message. Thank you for the work you are doing and your leadership in the Roma community, and for Europe.. bringing out the meaning of community building, from inside out. www.cfor.info

No community can fix the problem of social exclusion by itself. The general political and legal structure of the European societies that discriminate against Roma should be forced to stop segregation, expulsion, housing discrimination, etc.... It is great that this video talks about empowering Roma to lead projects for which they get grant money, but honestly if European society is not help accountable to provide an equal democracy for all of it's citizens, then something is very wrong. I almost feel like the Roma are being shelved with all of the responsibility to make these changes. Progress cannot be made unless all people rally around this cause. There is a fundamental mentality problem with the way the European power structures view and treat the Roma. Roma cannot do this alone, just like the Civil Rights movement in America could not have happened unless many supporters of various backgrounds got involved. If you make the victimized pull themselves up all by themselves, you are just talking about maintaining the status quo, but at the same time Europe pretends to be working on the problem .... This is insufficient...

Good text, although the social, political and cultural contextes in every country are quite different. It's time to start Roma - Roma dialogue. This issue is very actual. It will be good, as well to start the inter-generation dialogue within the Roma intellectual elite. If we start it there, then it may also be transfered to the very Roma people. Of course, everything in this world needs time. Nikolai Geogri, our late brother, often spoke about Roma - Roma dialogue-
Dear Zeljko, it will be good to realize that idea. It would mean that we became mature, as the peoples and the nation, too.

I was very glad to see this; far too little attention is paid to the situation of The Roma – Gypsies in the UK – in the media or elsewhere. But there are key people working in the field with no illusions and no romantic notions either about the situation or the need for better an more attentive action. Much of what I say here can be read in "We are he Roma: one thousand years of discrimination" by Valeriu Nicolae – an activist whose name must or should be known to you – published by Seagull Books of India. I have to declare an interest: I am the commissioning editor! It is worth your attentionsince it addresses much of what you say here. JVH

Nobody from Serbia...

I think, it is one of the most important steps, which should be done, but not the only one. Donor organizations are providing grants for its own policies. So, basically, it is very difficult to set up a frame for common understanding of inclusion issues, with so many stakeholders. However, our communities and organizations know the specificity of their needs and problems, - being honest – much better than any donor organization, or institution do. On the other hand, there are many organizations with different organizational culture, experience, success and failure, which make difference between them. Building professionalism takes time, belief, trust and a lot of work. However, project based funding and bureaucracy only help donor organizations to follow the alternative realities of the field, which are presented by calls, applications and reports. Socialization of Roma CSOs led by academics, donor organizations, national- and international institutions, which are framed and blocked all community based CSOs. It’s a power issue, where there is market for spending grants and implementing donor`s policy, and on the other there are organizations with individual and conceptual interventions. Breaking down the wall, should be done by both actors, which should lead us to common understanding and stories. Joint philosophies, theories and approach could effect on donor organizations, political and economic decision makers. This way is long, and most probably it is not a single act, much more revolution in our mind, which brings change to our people.

Bela,

If we will see the real picture, most of the donors are looking Rroma NGO just to implement they yearly plan program to support organization and to the and the donor will write report that they did some activities with the Rroma NGO. But also sone Roma NGO dont care about the Rroma people just to get some money to travel around EU in the seminars, conference etc. What happen with that Roma nothing they will be same as they are before.We need to implement some realistic programs where will help and promote the equality and social standard for the Rroma in EU.We don't have nothing result after 2015 will be same as the Rroma was. I thing we realistic plan activities where will ones implemented for the long term not for the short always the Rroma NGO get financial support from the Donor by their characteristic needs and for sure all NGO not just the rroma apply how they looking.I thing now as we have the Intellectual Rroma NGO across the EU we need to create new strategy but realistic .
Elez Bislim
www.worldrroma.org

Thank you. like this video

Agree that the search for solutions must include empowerment of Roma youth through education and access to media structures.

A truly enlightening video. The donor/NGO situation is the same in many places (including and especially Afghanistan). Please do more about the Roma. All of us need to learn much, much more.

First of all, I like the article and the speeches of my colleagues, Roma and non-Roma. I will be short, and I hope that I will positively provoke the younger generations, the experts, the donors, the politicians to look at the Roma problem as a political one in Europe and in the world.

If we look back, it's s success is that we have a few good Roma NGOs, thanks to the Roma and non-Roma enthusiasts from the 90s thank to Mr. George Soros.
The Roma program which started to develop the Roma movement in the 90s contributed to the production of good activists and leaders, but unfortunately, at the same time, the so-called big non-Roma organisations and experts took 85-90% of the funds/programs/donations in the past two decades.
No one monitored or took responsibility for the past two decades.
My message is to support the Roma or non-Roma organisations, regardless of nationality, but with a realistic implementation and with long-term effects for the future of the younger generations.
We must fight to make the Roma issue accepted by the EU institutions and its member-states as a political problem in their agendas.
The effects from every initiative could be expected to be seen after 5 - 10 years. At the beginning of the Decade, at the initiative meeting, I said that the Roma need at least three decades.
Many things have changed, but the attitude of certain persons on important positions towards the Roma have remained the same.
The Roma Holocaust is on paper, and the responsible institutions and states have still not compensated the victims or their successors.
And this the current bad situation for the Roma, racism and antiziganism are at their peak together with poverty; the freedom of speech and movement is threatened. Simply put, you don't need doctors to diagnose the Roma, but strong political decisions and means which will be implemented directly for the Roma.
A message to the young activists: learn more languages, have success, but don't forget you identity and languages. No matter what we do, how we look, Roma will stay a Roma.

I hope that we will have the energy and receive the support, and will have the chance to have dialogues regarding the Roma situation.

www.nationalromacentrum.org; www.ednomagazine.com; Facebook: National Roma Centrum.

thanks again for your video is very encouraging I read all the comments and everybody's ideas it takes someone and the government that is a vision to work as an ambassador and United States our president has the power to place a couple people in the seat of authority to represent theRoma senti people after a couple of years if they haven't done their job to organize to lead and develop the people he has the power to change but it would be a good starting place we have so many organizations around the world when people speak we don't even know who they are as I speak you don't know me but if we have someone from the government that has the power just speak and work for the people something can happen with the help of everyone else
this is the world problem and it's going to take help from the government to place key people where they can work with each country and different leaders to develop all the things that's needed that's been talked about .thanks very much Ps.and I mean world problem in a good way

Director, you gave grate speech but no answer to one question: How do you use leadership when you have a small group people working in one area? How can 40 or 50 people vote and change something? My work has been in America and have worked for 40 years in many areas where Roma are overseas and in the OSCE meetings work with most all leaders . Forgive me if you don't understand I ask for more info. We need help in for more than 20 million Roma/sinti. Thanks for all your help.

I am working on the issue of Roma,Sinti,Kale,Manush,Jenishe people since 1977. Since 1990 the situation of racial persecution,racism,poverty and violent death in Europe is 100% worse than in 1980! United Nations must act with Roma people by International and Diplomatic Strategy! That is the only way of the solution how to help to more than 60 million's of Roma people across the world.

"Roma organizations generally lack democratic practices of participation, transparency, and accountability, both internally and in relation to Roma communities."

Dieses Problem existiert nicht nur bei den Roma. Es existiert überall dort wo Aggression den Vorzug vor konstruktivistisch-demokratischem Denken und Handeln genießt. Wie schon Kofi Anan feststellte, muss demokratisches Verhalten in den Familien und im Alltag stattfinden, um schließlich im Rahmen von Bildung und Job seine konsequente Weiterführung zu erleben.

I agree with most of what is said and the basic principles are sound.
As we all know most countries across Europe (UK included) currently are still in the situation where non Roma benefit the most from the available grants and schemes that exist.
The repeated cycle of pointless training courses that benefit the NGO’s hosting the courses more than the participants.
NGO’s without any kind of legitimate mandate claim to represent the Romani community because it’s in their financial interest to do so.
Likewise local government officials put themselves forward as first port of call for consultations on Romani issues, when they are often a major barrier to change.
Romani activists subsidise there own activities to achieve something, or to help other people.
To avoid problems Romani people often don’t disclose their Romani background or distance themselves from the community (usually for good reason).
People who confront problems are branded as trouble makers.
The Decade of Inclusion (so called) gave some opportunities to Eastern European Roma and excluded Romani people in the West of Europe thereby damaging community cohesion.
The great thing is that in spite of all the negatives, the pride and resilience of the Romani people will eventually prevail, and the diversity that exists between the different Romani Communities across the world will one day be a source of pride and strength to us all.
Joseph G Jones - Gypsy Council

In 1971 Bernard Coard wrote a short pamphlet called "How the West Indian Child is made educationally subnormal in the British school system". Coard claimed the British education system actually made black children become educationally subnormal by making them feel ‘inferior in every way’.
Things have improved since 1971 but in 2014 the rate of unemployment amongst African-Caribbean boys was still 55% in London.
I make this point only to highlight the point that the "industry" that grows around issues linked to specific groups can at best simply keep the issue on the agenda. The change on the ground however, is along time coming and needs to be" politically driven". Nothing less than system change will create the goal of Roma equality. The current institutions at national and EU levels are the very same institutions that created the problem in the first place by ignoring the human rights of Roma and then for so long turning a blind eye to the reality on the ground.

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