A sound tradition
Voluntary activities are well established in Paros and widely recognised. The FoP awarded distinctions to several local organisations during their annual event in August 2009. Many of these provide community services on their own or complement the services of the statutory authorities, as amply demonstrated during the crisis by the solidarity activities of the island’s women’s associations. Additionally, a multitude of associations are active in cultural activities with “Archilochos” the most prominent (see HERE).
In this short article we look into how some new voluntary initiatives have taken this tradition further and are contributing to the bigger picture of the identity and development of the island.
Showing the way
The Friends of Paros reflecting on the growing concern at the threats to the character of the island, went beyond the usual spasmodic actions of the local authorities, and acting as a local “think-tank” launched “Paros 2020” as a vision and strategic plan for the longer-term development of the island, prepared through a participative and inclusive process. Aiming for a “Cycladic, Hospitable and Prosperous Paros”, it marked a new start for putting the future of Paros on a sustainable basis and tackling the new employment, economic and social problems associated with the financial and economic crisis.
There is a dearth of reliable information available to, or shared between local stakeholders about key aspects of the development of the island, including tourism, water resources, and renewable energy. The FoP took the initiative and carried out voluntarily and with own expenses two surveys of visitors to Paros in the summers of 2012 and 2013. They disseminated widely the results of these studies, including to the island’s hoteliers and other tourism businesses, as well as the municipality of Paros.
Information in the public domain, shared and used freely by the citizens, feeds a healthy civil society and represents soft power to be used for the common good. The Friends of Paros, working jointly with Archilochos and the local committee of ELLET, have developed the Environmental Observatory of Paros. This is an online tool that allows anyone who lives or visits Paros to report developments with a positive or negative impact on the natural and built environment and character of the island. Reports (text, photos, videos, etc) are submitted to the site of the observatory (http://paratiritirio.paros-island.com) and are published after validation.
The Observatory has a great potential as a means of alerting individual citizens and local associations to take action and the statutory authorities to enforce the law. It is also becoming a resource for sensitising residents and visitors on issues concerning the environment and character of Paros, for educational activities and as a database for use in planning and other purposes.
There are many opportunities for taking things further and, in a way, moving from isolated actions or “think-tank” type efforts towards a “think-and-do” model. The great success of the Marpissa Festival (see HERE) which was started and is run by volunteers is a case of a bottom-up initiative which displays a degree of inspiration and organisational capacity undreamed of among the official bodies of the island.
This experience reveals that in Paros the civil society can provide much needed leadership for the development of the island in a way that will be compatible with its unique Cycladic character and indigenous resources. This is a bottom-up approach that the European Union is actively promoting in all 28 Member States known as “Community-led Local Development”. EU regulations on funding support in the 2014-2020 period provide for all EU funds to be made available to local partnerships as block allocations, to be managed on the basis of locally prepared development strategies by local partnerships with a majority of voluntary and private sector members. This is something of great value for local development and Paros should not miss out.