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Faced with isolation, citizens strength their solidarity

Civil society and local governments are promoting solidarity initiatives to counter the effects of social distancing

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many countries to enforce social distancing or even decree the confinement of people in their homes to curb the spread of the virus and prevent a collapse of health services. Such measures, necessary to protect lives and public health are causing huge impacts on the economy, social services and people's daily lives, including a halt on the community life of our towns and cities.

Citizen collaboration is deemed essential for the fulfillment of confinement, but also key to bear its the consequences: loneliness, lack in cultural, educational, sports and social activities, protection of the most vulnerable people. Without a doubt, states and the public sector must guarantee the fulfillment of the fundamental rights of all people, but solidarity initiatives from the grassroots are also crucial to cope with this crisis as long as exceptional measures remain active.

A plethora of solidarity initiatives are emerging from citizens and civil society in all areas. Some local and regional governments are now coordinating and energizing these efforts to make community action survive in times of isolation. 

Coordination between local governments and public administrations is essential. Hence our emphasis on the Cities for Global Health initiative, co-led by Metropolis and the Euro-Latin American Alliance for Cooperation between Cities, AL-LAs, which is part of the "Live Learning Experience: beyond the immediate response to the outbreak", developed by UCLG with the support of UN-Habitat and Metropolis.

The OIDP is collecting experiences of cooperation between civil society and local governments, some examples of which we summarize below:

  • In Barcelona, the citizen participation platform of the city council decidim.barcelona receives these days numerous proposals from different groups, in fields such as as  sport, culture, education and care.

           

  • "Grenoble Voisins Voisines", created specifically by the city of Grenoble, emerged as a result of the measures taken by the French Government in March 2020. This platform aims at promoting neighborhood networks to fight the virus by creating a mutual aid system that improves the daily life of residents, reduces loneliness associated with containment measures and strengthens ties of solidarity with the most vulnerable. In doing so, "Grenoble Voisins Voisines" proposes to create "bonds of solidarity" to exchange good advice, help in daily life to their neighbors mobilized for the management of the health crisis or to take care of the most fragile people.

            

  • Applying containment measures, while easing the lives of the inhabitants. This is the objective of the City Council of Nantes when addressing the health crisis which is affecting the country. Given the spread of solidarity initiatives and actions in the last hours, the city launched the Facebook group "Nantes entraides" to coordinate all the good ideas.

  • Bordeaux's citizen participation platform (jeparticipe.bordeaux.fr) has added an "Entraide COVID-19" section, where proposals and offers of help are geotagged. In addition to current aid programmes against COVID-19, the city council has has created a crowdfunding campaign for an emergency fund to provide the most vulnerable with food and hygiene kits.

  • In Brest (Brittany) the city council has started to post advertisements and signs to promote help between neighbors for shopping, pets, childcare, homework and prints. 

  • In Madrid, the city council has created the space "Madrid goes out on the balcony" to organize citizen proposals during the pandemic within its participation platform. The portal is open to private citizens and also to city associations. Besides citizens' self-organized initiatives, the city council has launched a campaign to boost already-existing neighborhood solidarity: to this end, it has launched a standard sign that anyone can print and fill in to the put it up in the lift or any other common area, so that your neighbours know what kind of aid you offer, ranging from shopping to merely talking on the phone with someone to avoid the social isolation of the most vulnerable.

  • The government of Aragon (Spain) has opened a section on its citizen participation platform for information on the elaboration and distribution of facial protective screens (homemade masks) to provide (non-health) workers in contact with the public workers with, and thus minimize the risk of transmission amid the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). In addition, the city of Zaragoza (Aragon) has enabled a specific platform "Zaragoza Helps", to geolocate all volunteer offers.

  • In Paris, the City Council, besides taking all public health and isolation measures, is coordinating the solidarity of citizens to support people at risk, such as the elderly or the homeless. Through "La Fabrique de la Solidarité", the center for the mobilization of the city of Paris in the fight against exclusion by helping associations that are looking for volunteers to help support the most fragile people.

  • In the United Kingdom, many town councils are recruiting volunteers to ensure support for the most vulnerable sectors of the population in the face of an imminent saturation. The website of the Association of Local Governments (LGA) collects on all the necessary information for local entities to prepare in this regard. In addition, numerous associations and NGOs at the local and neighborhood levels have organized the joint campaign "Community Action Response",  whose aim is to make raise awareness of the need to be attentive to those around us and help the most vulnerable. 

  • In Rome, the Sparwasser association quickly organized to help the elderly make the purchase, and to provide means for workers who must telework but do not have the means, among other initiatives. Similar initiatives have been replicated in the rest of the country.

  • In Busto Garolfo (province of Milan), the town council has is managing a free-delivery service for food, medicines and other basic necessities, in collaboration with the municipal social services. 

  • In Terrassa (Catalonia) the city council has elaborated a database of volunteers and a database of firms, associations and other entities which offer their help. 

  • In the province of Vicenza (Veneto), the Voluntary Service Center has created a platform for citizens, associations and institutions to share and spread their initiatives throughout the territory, especially aimed at the most vulnerable groups. All these actions are geolocated and classified on its website.

 

  • Community aid has boomed in Italy, the first European country to enforce confinement, and Covid19italia.help already lists hundreds of offers in Italy and Europe for help or tips.

  • In several cities from the German state of Thuringia, solidarity initiatives between neighbors are mushrooming: besides help to buy and collect medicines for the elderly and risk groups, cargo bikes for the youngster to do these errands are being offered, as well as babysitters to take care of the children of those who can not work from home.

  • In Berlin, the city council has implemented a system to organize neighborhood help within everyone's reach, including those without internet connection: in case one needs help with, among many other things, their groceries, medicines or pets, one only needs to call the number and enter their post code and type of request. This is automatically published on a web page, sorted by area.  The website can be accessed by volunteers who can directly contact those in need. 

  • The Helsinki City Council has launched an express aid campaign that includes the possibility of receiving up to € 5,000 for each innovation proposal in citizen aid.

  • In Cluj-Napoca (Romania) the city council wants to ensure the right of information by means of a platform where citizens can attend online council sessions

  • In the United States, the "Weaving Community During Crisis" movement promotes and facilitates conversations and video calls, and has a forum for anyone to contribute with ideas on how to provide care to those around us.

  • Philadelphia is coordinating volunteer help from across the city through its website, where one can find information about the City's Aid Fund, volunteer opportunities, as well as an external app to connect restaurants to surplus and needy people.
  • In Ottawa, the city council encourages community action and a grassroot initiative named #ViralKindness has emerged, consisting of filling a sticker with your contact information to offer your help to people nearby. The City of Ottawa also provides help through the Distress Centre of Ottawa hotline and recommends buying local to help citizens.  

  • In Poland, the city councils of Gdańsk, Gdynia and Sopot officially supported an initiative consisting of a hotline to allow those who are excluded from the digital world to do their groceries.

 

  • At the international level, the platform "Frena la curva" (Spanish for "Stop the Curve" platform has been created, which thanks to a geolocation system organizes citizen initiatives and offers / requests for help among neighbors throughout the territory. Currently it has been implemented in Spain, Brazil and Ecuador, and is in the process of expanding to other European and Latin American countries.

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 If you know of any other experience of citizen collaboration in the context of this health crisis, which linked to local governments, do not hesitate to share it with us via email to info@oidp.net.