Learnings from the online Danube Governance Conference // 28 January 2021
Resilience means to be flexible in a situation of stress, learn from it and grow – as we could not gather our partners in the familiar physical way at a final conference in Vienna, we moved the conference experience online! The Danube Governance Conference as the closing event of the BACID program was held in the virtual space. The pandemic did not stop us to further exchange know-how, learn from each other and network. The easier accessibility of online conferences became clear: we had more than 180 attendees from over 30 countries mainly from the Danube region.
“The SDGs are the right way, and the right way leads to European integration” as the Mayor of Vienna and President of the Austrian Association of Cities and Towns put it in his welcoming statement. These clear words introduced the topic of the #DGC21: Towards European integration with the SDGs!
We were able to welcome many speakers who are experts in their fields. In the morning, Katalin Tünde Huber, responsible for EU enlargement at the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs gave an overview of the status of the EU enlargement process of the Western Balkan countries. She stressed the importance of South-East Europe not only as a market, but also because of historical and societal ties with Austria and the rest of Europe. Her positive view into the future of the accessions process was an encouragement – and to quote her: “The European family is only complete with the accession of all Western Balkan countries.”
Next up was our COVID panel discussion on challenges and responses of local governments in the light of the pandemic. Among the panellists were representatives from the OECD, the European Parliament, academia and NALAS as the network of associations of local authorities in South-East Europe. Key takeaways were the importance of the rule of law, transparency and intergovernmental coordination for economic and social prosperity, the vision of the Western Balkans as the Silicon Valley of Europe, and the SDGs as a tool for policy making and framework for recovery.
In the afternoon, our keynote speaker from the City of Riga shared the Riga way of localizing the SDGs. With this inspiration in mind our participants had to make hard choices. As the topics are so diverse in how the local level can contribute to European integration and SDGs, we had four panels, of which two were always parallel. Our experts and partners discussed…
- Governance & Democracy
…where regionalization, trust in governments and transparency of institutions were vividly debated.
- Climate adaptation measures and Smart Cities
…with the topic of what urban resilience means and how Smart Cities are more than just digitalisation.
- Strengthening participation and civil society
…with the importance of changing the mind-set of administrations for more citizen-involvement.
- Local economic development
…with a perspective of the importance also of social enterprises in the region.
And of course, we also used this conference to put the spotlight on our incredible BACID fund projects – projects that are doing the groundwork for localizing SDGs in the region. Our virtual expo area made it possible for our partners to present themselves and their work via slides or videos. In the breaks, some of our expo booths also went live to explain their work in more detail and interact with participants.
All in all, we had an amazing and smooth conference and were happy to see many familiar faces but were also be able to tie new contacts for future collaborations. This conference was made possible by the Austrian Development Cooperation, the Austrian Association of Cities and Towns as well as our partner NALAS – to whom we want to express our sincerest thanks!