We are united by common values and everyone can get involved to promote and protect them!

A strong civil society is fundamental for a well-functioning democracy and an inclusive society. In the past few years, there have been some worrying trends across Europe, placing the civic space under pressure, therefore, supporting civil society is more important than ever.

The EEA and Norway Grants are currently running a campaign to raise awareness and spark the conversation about civil society. At the heart of #CivilSocietyStartsHere lies the invitation to think about the values that unite us, and a challenge to take action. At the same time, it offers the opportunity to showcase and celebrate the many civil society projects that are already taking place throughout Europe.

The initiatives funded by the EEA and Norway Grants are often locally launched by people and organisations who want to make a difference for their community and its future.

„It all starts with people who want to contribute: people who take an interest in their community, who want to be part of decision-making. All it takes is a dedicated person with local insight. Many of the projects we support are started by one person with a good idea. Someone with the determination to create change can make a big difference,” says Anna Striethorst, senior sector officer for civil society at the EEA and Norway Grants.

Together, they make a crucial contribution to safeguard Europe’s most important fundamental values: dignity, human rights, freedom, equality, democracy, and the rule of law. They are noble, shared ideals — the bedrock of a diverse modern society. And it’s up to us to protect them, together.

Human rights: the foundation of our society

The campaign started with three examples of projects that are making a difference in protecting human rights and continues with initiatives that protect and promote values such as dignity, freedom, equality, democracy, and the rule of law.

In certain situations, human rights are about respect and understanding, but sometimes it’s about acceptance.

Campus Pride, funded through the Active Citizens Fund Romania, fights homophobia and transphobia, and increases LGBTIQ acceptance in universities throughout the country. Through the project, MozaiQ together with its partners PRIDE Association, Identity. Education Association and Samtökin ‘78 Félag hinsegin fólks á Íslandi (Iceland), empowers students to self-organise and join forces to drive the change.

The project builds on the impact that everyone can have in their own environment: in their circle of friends, at home, school, college, work, and so on. This creates safe spaces, better policies, and helps monitor discrimination within the university grounds. Together, students are building a climate of acceptance.

„The diversity of students participating in our project and in our activities is stunning and quite frankly extraordinary. Students from all walks of life decided to get involved, to come together in solidarity to improve the situation of LGBTIQ students” , says Vlad Viski, executive director of MozaiQ organization.  

One of the conditions for guaranteeing human rights is that people can live together in peace – even if they come from different communities. In Cyprus, Nicosia, the Association for Historical Dialogue and Research (AHDR) opened the Home for Cooperation (H4C), a community center, right in the heart of the buffer zone. Hosting an extensive variety of cultural, artistic, and educational programmes, it functions as a shared space for inter-communal cooperation and dialogue.

„The idea is that when people from different communities are given the opportunity to meet, share experiences, and work together, traumas can be healed, and divisions can be set aside. It is a place where true friendships are built, regardless of language barriers, religion and ethnicity”, says Lefki Lambrou, Director of the Home for Cooperation.

The House2 project is one of the initiatives in Athens that offers long-term shelter for young refugees. All children and adolescents are provided with housing, food and health care, social counselling, legal and psychological support, and information. In addition, House2 offers vocational guidance and training, entertainment and sports, Greek lessons and support with schoolwork. And, finally, House2 initiates and monitors procedures for family reunification. House2 is part of a housing network for underage refugees and has the goal to offer a new – second – home – to all young people who need the care.

„We are running the shelter in the same way we are running our house: with care. You can see it in the furniture, the tiles, the walls. The project team consists of people with different educations and backgrounds, and we truly rely on their empathy, their problem solving, and their smiles”, says Eirini Chazapi, who is a project manager at House2.

Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway aim to help safeguard Europe’s fundamental values, such as democracy, the rule of law and equality. Through the EEA and Norway Grants, they fund projects that help promote democratic participation, support active citizenship, and protect human rights. Over €200 million have been allocated in the current funding period to promote democratic participation, support active citizenship, and protect human rights. In Romania, 46 million euro are allocated to civil society through the Active Citizens Fund.