Challenge Fund 2020: helping with debt issues in Georgia and building a skatepark in Zambia

Since 2018, the Czech-UNDP Partnership for SDGs’ (CUP) Challenge Fund helps to facilitate transfer of Czech know-how and innovative solutions that address development challenges and contribute to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals in six priority countries: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ethiopia, Georgia, Cambodia, Moldova and Zambia. Let’s look at some of the last year’s achievements. Will be 2021/22 round again so diverse, and what are the priorities of 2021 call for applications?

Tackling Indebtedness in Georgia through Czech Innovations

Georgia is one of the original CUP’s priority countries. Many Georgians now face debt issues which were further exacerbated by the COVID-19 outbreak. While the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 threatens development gains in our partner countries, Challenge Fund implementers do their best to reverse this trend. Insights about two recently finished projects show the diversity and impact of the Czech-UNDP Partnership’s actions in the field.

People in Need (PIN) built on their rich topic-related experiences from the Czech Republic and focused on consumer protection of borrowers and promotion of consumer-friendly accountable debt practices in Georgia. The value of this intervention, which truly reflected noble principles of altruism, fairness, and solidarity can be hardly overappreciated as the topic of debts affects many.

Credit is characterized by high interest rates and low flexibility in Georgia. Thanks to liberal lending, consumer debt has increased 7,5 times in the years 2009-2019. More than every second household is indebted, and many individuals have more than one debt. The National Bank of Georgia passed in period 2017-2019 a series of protective measures, however, much more is needed. Despite all described, there was almost no public conversation on the topic before the start of the project.

With their local partner GeoWel, PIN created a very experienced multidisciplinary project team, which fully used the advantage of physical presence in the country. Project’s experts focused mainly on comprehensive mapping of credit environment, formulation of policy recommendations, but managed to create also, for example, Debt Advisory Guide. The guide is expected to be used by partner organizations. 

The socio-economic consequences of COVID-19, unfortunately, multiplied the project’s relevancy.  

Generated results gained significant attention from key stakeholders, including policymakers. Just during this year, the topic of indebtedness was raised 5 times in the Georgian Parliament.

PIN and GeoWel are however well-aware that for improving the setting of credit environment towards bigger protection of customers, certain additional steps are needed and currently plan future strategy.

PIN Debt Recommendations

Eurasianet Article: Georgia’s pensioners hamstrung by crippling debt

New Eastern Europe Article: Georgia’s household debt crisis deepens in the wake of COVID-19

Dion Battersby, Country Director of PIN Georgia comments, on what surprised her and how she sees the future of this debt intervention:

“PIN suspected the debt challenges in Georgia to be greater than reported, but we were shocked by the scale of this “open secret”. As we spoke to people across the country, it appeared every family knew someone affected by exorbitant or predatory lending practices. PIN will continue to advocate for access to affordable and safe credit, free advice, and the adoption of a personal bankruptcy law to reduce the devastation caused by spiralling debt.”  

Youth Community Centre in Mongu, Zambia

Meanwhile in Zambia, the Czech-UNDP Partnership’s Challenge Fund supported the creation of the Youth Community Center in Mongu. With the support of CUP, a Czech NGO Skate World Better partnered up with We Skate Mongu to bring local kids a top class skateboarding venue.

As Matouš Bém explains, “Because a proper place to train and ride was missing, kids used the only option they had which are the busy streets of Mongu. The streets are crowded and the local skateboarders are sometimes even persecuted for doing what they love.”

As members of the Skate World Better (SWB) point out, the project is not only a skatepark. The Youth Community Center features a stage which also offers a place for other activities such as education and workshops. As Martin Loužecký explains, this is very important because existence of similar multi-purpose infrastructure is very limited. With kids representing half of the population, a safe space for youth to learn, meet and play makes a huge difference. It helps to keep kids entertained. Skateboarding also brings down social barriers.

“In skateboarding we learn that it is necessary to fail thousand times in order to succeed once, we learn that nothing comes for free and we also learn that together we are stronger than alone.” says Martin Loužecký.

The use of the Youth Center keeps growing thanks to initiatives of Johnny Kalenga, the founder of We Skate Mongu who not only teaches kids how to skateboard but who will also organize education events and seminars for the local community.

2021 Challenge Fund Call for Applications

Development challenges reflect UNDP Country Programme documents. In addition, they are consulted with respective UNDP representatives and project’s donor. Different needs of different partner countries result in an unique mix of diverse Challenge Fund projects, approaches, and beneficiaries.

2021 Call for Proposals seeks to address following development challenges