My name is Andreas Pavlou, and recently I started working at Involve in the newly-created position of Network Lead.
Since telling my family and friends about accepting this job, I have been asked why would I leave warm and sunny Spain for cold and rainy London. Obviously, I am not here to ‘enjoy’ the weather!
Before coming to London to work for Involve, I worked for a civil society organisation based in Madrid which focused on promoting government transparency and access to information in Spain, other European countries and particularly on the institutions of the European Union. Here I worked with advocates across Europe that pushed for open government, in constantly-evolving and ever-more challenging environments in which, over the last few years, democratic principles and the rule of law have come under attack. Yet time and time again we witnessed positive reforms as well.
Spain is no exception – the current crisis over Catalonia is putting Spanish democracy through its most turbulent crisis since the transition to democracy in the 1970s. Yet, in my five years in Madrid, huge steps forward were made in deepening local democracy and citizen participation. Today, residents of Madrid can not only propose initiatives that must be examined by the city council, but they can vote on proposals that affect them and their local community – making the decisions that are then implemented by their local government. The Spanish capital also allocates €100m from its budgets for its residents to allocate directly on local projects. Whilst only small steps, it shows the rest of us how open government – in this case, the effective use of citizen participation – can make positive changes to decision-making and democracy for the benefit of citizens.
Systemic change is possible. It might not be perfect, it might not be complete, it might not work out quite how you expected, but at some point you stand back and can see quite how much has changed for the better.
Hence why I feel the UK decision to leave the EU should be seen as an opportunity to bring about significant systemic change for the better. The upheaval and debate about the vision for the UK’s future is a chance to reform UK democracy and make it more open and responsive to citizens, more transparent and more accountable. If enough of us can work together towards this goal now, then hopefully we too will see positive changes in the years ahead. But by no means will it be an easy task.
Herein lies the value of the Network Lead position. Building a democracy for everyone is an ambitious and bold strategy. Rebooting the British state so that it is transparent, engages with citizens, is accountable to them and that ultimately is fair and just, is something worth advocating for, and an objective which needs to incorporate building wider support and a network of coalitions to promote a new vision for UK democracy.
It will be a tough journey, but I am eager to contribute towards this vision in the years ahead, of a democracy that works for everyone … despite the weather.
If you want to find out more about this, feel free to get in contact!
Andreas Pavlou, firstname.lastname@example.org
Feature picture: Julio Albaran, Creative Commons, see the picture on flickr