The idea of the exchange programme arose through contacts of PREPARE with its national partners and the perceived need to develop human resources and ensure better exchange of experiences within the PREPARE group of countries. It was supported by Fondation de France through Forum Synergies, a partner in PREPARE.
The first exchange programme was announced in late 2007, when the potential participants and hosts were invited to submit their profiles and work programmes. The interest was not very high, mainly due to the lack of language skills on both sides (trainees and hosts) and the short period within which the exchange had to be carried out. The second issue can be dealt with in the next round of scholarships, but the first one will remain a barrier to a more wide-spread use of this instrument.
Three pairs of trainees+hosts were approved:
- a trainee from Estonia visiting a Local Action Group in Finland,
- a trainee from Romania visiting the Slovakian Rural Parliament (the Slovakian partner in PREPARE);
- and a trainee from Serbia also visiting the Slovakian Rural Parliament.
The three exchange programmes have been successfully completed:
- Mai Kolnes from the Estonian Village Movement Kodukant visited the Finnish LAG Keski Suoment Kylat ry from the 14th to the 28th of March, 2008;
- Zsuzsanna Incze from Civitas Foundation for Civil Society in Romania visited the Slovakian Rural Parliament from the 26th of February to the 10th of March, 2008;
- Danijela Stajic from the Educational Centre in Leskovac visited the Slovakian Rural Parliament from the 14th to the 23rd of May, 2008.
The three trainees (young women actively involved in rural civil society) were received in organisations which are carrying out numerous projects dealing with rural development. In each organisation there was someone nominated to look after the trainee and ensure that the learning process was smooth. The trainees participated in the normal activities of the host organisations, but they also took some time to get acquainted with project reports and documents. The number of field visits in which both of them participated is quite striking and it shows that the host organisations really made efforts to show the trainees a wide range of projects and to enable them to meet various actors and communities.
The trainees prepared their work programme in advance and they looked for specific answers to questions which would be relevant to their communities. In the Romanian-Slovakian case the main focus was on the preparation of the Slovakian rural areas for Leader (which, in the framework of EU funding for 2007-2013, is new both to Slovakia and to Romania; however, in Slovakia many preparatory activities and Leader-type actions have already been carried out). In the Estonian-Finnish case the main focus was the organisation of village activities and the preparation for training of village leaders. The Serbian trainee was particularly interested in work with community leaders and local governments.
It should be noted that all three trainees state clearly that the goals of their visits have been fulfilled and that they obtained the information and experience they were looking for. They also indicate in their reports concrete ideas on how to utilise this information and experience in their everyday work at home. The fact that the trainees note differences in organisational style and culture of their host organisations compared to their home country seems to indicate that they got a good understanding of the local conditions and have benefited from the exchange also as a cross-cultural experience.
There were some (very few) negative aspects of the exchange: in the Romanian case the main barrier is limited communication in Slovakia because of the language; in the Estonian case the learning possibilities were limited because the host organisation in Finland did not receive grant for a project which it was hoping to show to the trainee. However, the overall impression of the exchange was in all cases very positive, and the hospitality and good organisation by the hosts was highly appreciated.
All three trainees wrote full reports describing activities and visits carried out on each day, as well as a summary of their main learning points. They also provided the full list of expenses and all the receipts, tickets and other financial documents in original to the PREPARE Coordinator.