From developing apps to reforming laws, these changemakers are working across Europe and Central Asia to make governments more open and accountable.

From developing apps to reforming laws, these changemakers are working across Europe and Central Asia to make governments more open and accountable.
Zaruhi Batoyan works as the Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Affairs in Armenia. Photo: Eduard Arustamyan

Zaruhi Batoyan

Armenia

“As a wheelchair user, the lack of accessible spaces in Yerevan has been a constant source of frustration. I often have to rely on help from other people, which is not only unpleasant, but also an issue of dignity and deprivation of independent life and work.

When I became a member of the Yerevan City Council, I even had to struggle getting into the municipality building – a public building and essentially my workplace. Having a colleague in a wheelchair was an unusual experience for other City Council members, too. But such challenges motivate me even further, because I know people with disabilities deserve decent lives and equal opportunities, not benefits and pensions.

I was part of the movement to introduce inclusive education in Armenia, and its adoption as a state policy is one of my proud achievements. Now it’s time to take that inclusive approach and apply it to all spheres of public life.

Currently I work as the Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, coordinating issues regarding people with disabilities. One of my goals is to make sure people with disabilities are in the driver’s seat when it comes to decisions about their lives.

My fight isn’t over yet. Armenia ratified the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities more than 8 years ago, but we still don’t have a law based on the human rights model of disability. I am determined to change that.”

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Oleksiy’s app promoting governmental transparency won the prestigious The Shield in the Cloud Award – a global anti-corruption innovation competition. Photo: Oleksandr Ratushnyak/UNDP Ukraine

 

Oleksiy Sobolyev

Ukraine

“The Revolution of Dignity was a turning point for me. I realized that I had only two options – stay and build a new country, or leave. I wanted to live in a different country, but without leaving Ukraine. I started to look for any opportunity to help my homeland become a transparent, corruption-free country.

I quit my job in business and began volunteering at the Ministry of Infrastructure. In 2016, together with a team of four activists, I launched the Prozorro.Sales platform – an electronic auction system designed to sell government assets in a transparent and efficient way.

Basically, we had only three months to test the system before rolling it out. But in the first six months, we earned UAH 1 billion (US$38 million). It was like building the railway line while the train was already on the move.”

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Aida Kasymalieva is a Member of Parliament in the Kyrgyz Republic Photo: Alisher Aliev

 

Aida Kasymalieva

Kyrgyzstan

My colleagues were shocked to learn that I use public transportation to get to my job. That voters can interact with me in public any time. Seeing journalists pick up the story, I have come to understand how important it is to be accessible as a politician.

I’m a former journalist and have been a member of parliament since 2017. With that background comes my belief in transparency and openness. One innovation we recently introduced is an online form that allows voters to ask questions to MPs. Of course the form doesn’t mean we are giving up on personal communication. It’s just one more way of bringing us closer to our electorate.

Now I am working to make committee hearings publicly available. These sessions are where deeper discussions are held on budgets, proposed laws or our performance. It’s important that the public gets to understand how politicians make decisions on their behalf. I am absolutely sure that live broadcasts will make decisions taken by MPs more transparent.”

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“I firmly believe that openness is vital for representing people and creating good laws.”

Irina Pruidze

Georgia

“I was elected to the Parliament of Georgia in 2016. Excited as I was with this new turn in my life, I also felt an enormous responsibility. I knew that, as an MP and one of the few women in the Parliament, I would make every effort to ensure that Georgia’s legislative body moves forward to becoming an open, accountable and highly functional institution that fully responds to the needs of parliamentary democracy.

I firmly believe that openness is vital for representing people and creating good laws. It also generates new opportunities for all – for the government, parliamentarians and most importantly, citizens.

I am proud that Georgia is the first country in our region and one of the first in the world to sign up for legislative openness. Since joining the Legislative Openness Declaration in 2015, the Parliament of Georgia has been achieving a steady progress.

100 years after the establishment of the first democratic Republic of Georgia, today, we are given a chance to make the Parliament stronger, more transparent and accountable, thereby building trust among our people. I’m honoured and proud to be part of this process.”

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German Filkov is a civil society activist, leading the anti-corruption and transparency watchdog organization “Center for Civil Communications.” Photo: UNDP fYRM

 

German Filkov

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia 

“I lead an anti-corruption and transparency watchdog organization. We monitor state institutions and recommend measures to eliminate corruption. Our goal is to ensure that public money is spent less for private gain and more for citizens’ needs.

The one thing that hasn’t changed is my unpopularity with governments. On a more serious note, I see Macedonian citizens becoming more and more demanding towards centers of power. Corruption is now a “hot topic” instead of a “taboo”, and citizens’ voices are heard much more clearly while policies get drafted.

I am proud of how brave civil society activists have been in the past period of over ten years of a captured state in our country. Being on the brinks of the defense of democracy, most of time we were the only voice of reason in the society. I hope that this served as a lesson for any future government – not to underestimate its people.

 

 

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Dragana Brajovic

Serbia

“I have seen first hand how governmental units can resist change. I remember a two-page response from one of the ministries listing in great detail all the reasons why the proposal we sent for open governance could NOT be implemented. That did not deter me.

Let me tell you, that turned into a four-hour long meeting. But out of the four proposals we had on our list, we came out with three of them moving to implementation. The key was explaining to the public officials how the change would benefit not only the citizens, but also the institution itself. The ministry eventually understood that it is easier to work side by side with the civil sector rather than be under constant pressure from them, which leads to difficult, long and unproductive public hearings.

You can look at it from the other angle, too. When the CSOs are involved in the process, they gain an understanding of the complexities behind the change in the system, they can make more realistic and more constructive proposals, which can then be implemented more easily.

That was actually one of my messages to CSOs: have patience and be ready for a compromise. Sometimes you may have great ideas and solutions, but you have to get the timing right.”

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Revaz Barbakadze is an advisor on participatory budgeting and civic engagement at the office of the Rustavi Mayor in Georgia. Photos: UNDP Georgia
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Revaz Barbakadze

Georgia

“I love my city. I want to see it more beautiful, more developed, and happier. I know you can’t achieve that without bringing democracy to citizens and citizens into democracy. Each of us should understand what citizenship and governance really mean. Each of us should recognise our own responsibility and how best to be engaged.

In Rustavi, I can see positive changes happening every day. People are becoming more active in the matters of their town and community, and the authorities should keep up the pace, too.

Currently, I work at the office of the Rustavi Mayor. My job is to create and use innovative tools to make our municipality more open and inclusive for the people.

In 2017, Rustavi became the first regional city in Georgia to develop an Open Government Strategy, my personal source of pride.

In July 2018, we will have a chance to show the achievements of Rustavi at the World Summit of Open Government Partnership in Georgia. This is a big reason to be proud, too - telling the world what we are doing to build our local democracy.

At the end of the day, most rewarding thing for me is to see my community and city transforming in a positive way, knowing I have been able to put my own brick into this change.”

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Nadia Babynska is a social innovator, investigative journalist and open data and access to information advocate. Photo: Andrey Krepkih/UNDP Ukraine

Nadia Babynska

Ukraine

“I began my career as a journalist in 2001. But accessing information was a big struggle; nearly every time I started an investigation, I would hit a wall. Often I had to go to court just to show that I had a right to access particular data. I knew I wasn’t alone in this struggle. This is how pushing for open data and open governance became part of my life.

In 2015, my colleagues and I came back from a meeting in Tbilisi, inspired by progress Georgia had made, and we decided to push for open governance in Ukraine too. We rolled up our sleeves and got to work.

Back then we had no guidance from the government. Now we have an amended law on access to public information, a state policy and a roadmap for open data running up to 2020. I realize now what a big moment that was for Ukraine.”

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Gordana Dimitrovska is the State Advisor and OGP National Coordinator for the Macedonian Government. Photo: Vasko Dzambaski

 

Gordana Dimitrovska

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia 

“I love my job. I started working for the Macedonian Government in 2003. Since Day 1, I’ve been challenged to do things better, more transparently and more efficiently.

If you can’t do big things, do small things that make a big difference instead. For me, that is what the Open Government Partnership is all about. I see the change this process has brought to my country. It has taught governmental institutions and civil society to listen to each other, to work together to find solutions to important challenges – such as access to information, open data, integrity and good governance.

Each and every one of us can contribute to improving our communities. We just need to be patient and persistent, because it takes a lot to change behavior, especially those that have been set for a long time. But change is necessary if we want to keep moving forward. That is why the push for open governments must never stop.”

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Altynai Mambetova and Anastasia Valleva are co-founders of School of Data in the Kyrgyz Republic. Photo: School of Data

 

Altynai Mambetova

Kyrgyzstan

“I’m proud to have organised the first Data Journalism Hackathon in my country. Our theme was “Hack Poverty”. During that event, 100 developers, designers and journalists came up with a game to help people understand how poverty can affect girls.

I was recently on a radio show in one the most remote and poorest areas in Kyrgyzstan. It made me so happy to receive so many calls from people who wanted to find out how data could help them.

That’s part of the reason Anastasia and I co-founded “School of Data - Kyrgyzstan.” We’re organising informational events across the country, developing online courses on data analysis, and working with journalists to develop data-driven storytelling. I think it’s important to talk about data in a language that ordinary people can relate to. Otherwise it’s like you’re working in a bubble.”

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Hayk Malkhasyan works as Head of Legal Department at Prime Minister’s Office, Republic of Armenia. Photo: UNDP Armenia

 

Hayk Malkhasyan 

Armenia

"I took up my first government job when I was 20. I started as a legal expert, working on anything from toxic waste management to registering bulldozers. But every time I wrote a draft, I found myself reflecting on the impact. Would this benefit someone? Or would it simply create additional paperwork?

Gradually I came to understand that laws and decrees are often too long, complicated and difficult to understand. I found myself always thinking of opportunities to improve people’s lives.

Of course, having ideas is easy. The difficult part is implementing them in spite of the obstacles – financial, political or technical. The beauty of my job is to overcome all of those challenges and come up with a product that is useful for ordinary citizens. Seeing people benefit from the changes you make encourages you to do even more.

This is how we created a judicial database with a search engine that allows users to easily find court cases. Another accomplishment I’m proud of is the “Consumer’s Advisor” chatbot, which serves as an automated consumer rights lawyer."

Originally published by UNDP Eurasia.

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