“CEEweb for Biodiversity” is an NGO based in Budapest that acts as an umbrella organization for environmental NGOs in Central and Eastern Europe. Their mission is quite broadly defined as “working for the conservation of biodiversity through the promotion of sustainable development” and accordingly widespread are their activities. We got to know them through some projects we worked in together and met up with them when we were in Budapest to rest for a few days. We spoke to their two Senior Experts Thor Morante and Gabriella Nagy as well as Anna Szentes and Ádám Varga.
A network of members across Central and Eastern Europe
The CEEweb team is made up of 13 people with different expertise and experience, which makes it possible to work on topics ranging from “advocacy, networking with and influencing decision makers, implementing national and transnational projects, and carrying out capacity building and raising awareness activities”. The goal of all these different activities and projects is to bring a benefit to their member organizations and generally improve biodiversity conservation in Central and Eastern Europe.
Managing an international network comes with some challenges
Because they have worked in 20 different countries over almost 30 years, they know some of the issues of biodiversity conservation pretty well. Central and Eastern Europe is a naturally and culturally rich and diverse region, but that comes with the use of many languages. Hence, when we ask about how is it, communicating with such a broad network, they confirm that naturally, CEEweb also experiences language barriers in contact with their members and within their activities across different countries. Luckily, this becomes easier and easier as more and more people speak English. Nevertheless, to really reach and activate people in each country, there is still no way around using national languages.
Another issue is funding. Biodiversity conservation is most often a secondary issue, which means that funding is insecure and fluctuating. This is especially true in poorer countries, in which at the same time the least money is available and the biggest intact natural areas occur. CEEweb had to experience this themselves as they have dealt with financial issues. Four years ago, there was a financial bottleneck and most of the staff left. Afterwards, the organization was basically built up again and all current employees joined CEEweb afterwards.
Keeping up with the times
Since then, CEEweb focuses on EU-funded projects, which provide the possibility to work on their mission with rather secure funding. When we ask how they choose with projects to submit or join, Gabi tells us that they contribute to their mission. She also tells us that CEEweb has had different focus points, activities and phases, but this is normal and that an organization with time. Especially in Central and Eastern Europe many countries had just come out a long paralyzing communist rule when CEEweb was founded in 1994. Private organization and initiatives as well as international cooperation were still in their baby shoes. Now, almost 30 years later, the EU has changed legislation, standards and possibilities for biodiversity conservation in many of these countries. And this created previously unknown opportunities for CEEweb and its members as well.
An innovative take on youth involvement
One project we are specifically interested in is “Game On!”. It aims to “to activate the global youth and react to the existential threat climate change represents for the future of humankind”. Thor, the project coordinator, tells us that the basic idea is to introduce gamification in the climate change communication. Gamification is a crucial part of the rise of many smartphones apps and other products that manage to capture our attention for hours a day. But in nature conservation, innovative approaches like this are still rare. Game On! sets an example how this can be changed. They do all kind of cool things like an app, escape rooms, geocaching, improvisation theater, stand-up comedy and camps.
Game On! is about exploring new ways to communicate climate change. We try out new things and learn from successes and mistakes.Thor Morante, Project Coordinator of Game On!
One part of Game On! that will actually accompany us for the rest of our journey is the board game “Terra Futura”. It was the first product developed within the project and Thor gives us one as a gift, and he comes up with an idea. Why don´t we take the game on the road with us and play it people all around the world? They are happy for every test run of the game, the discussions it creates and any feedback to improve it. So, we packed the game into our bags, and now we have a playful way to raise the topic of sustainability, and also something to do on a lonely evening on the road – the game can be even played with two players. We end our time with at CEEweb with our first play of the game with Thor and Anna. Our review after the first time: it is quick to learn and trigger our competitiveness, so we eager to play it more often, get better at it and see how other people along our route will react to it. Follow our journey and let us know where we can meet you to play!