The European Union, or the EU, is financing a project called Build Solid Ground which provides a great opportunity to promote Habitat for Humanity’s Solid Ground campaign topics and disseminate messages among EU citizens for the duration of three years. 

It has been more than a year now, since 14 project partners from 7 EU countries (Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Poland, Slovakia, Great Britain and Ireland) joined together in Bratislava, Slovakia and officially launched the project implementation. Under the leadership of the Habitat for Humanity Europe, Middle East and Africa office the project consortium partners are working together towards informing, educating and engaging EU citizens about global issues related to Sustainable Development Goal 11 (SDG 11), housing, urbanization and land rights. A complex but exciting mission!

Across the EU there is a diverse level of knowledge and engagement in global housing issues, therefore involvement of partners from the EU 13 (relatively new member states from central and eastern Europe that entered the EU in 2004 and later) should collaborate to close this gap. The Build Solid Ground project created a space to provide a broader variety of outputs by bringing together Habitat for Humanity country organizations and other partners in 7 EU countries.  

So, what were the achievements of the first year? 

All 14 project partners launched their extensive mass communication campaigns with the reach of 1.5 million people. Partners used both traditional and online media as well as public visual announcements and participation at various creative events.  It can be challenging to attract a wider audience with topics related to housing and land rights from the global perspective, especially in countries with well-established property rights, policies and institutions. For this reason, the Build Solid Ground project began by sharing a video produced by Habitat for Humanity Great Britain giving insight into the risks and challenges communities living in informal settlements, or slums experience.  

Learning events organized by project partners are crucial for building critical understanding about SDG 11 and housing. Since Build Solid Ground launched, nearly 6,500 Europeans participated in a variety of learning events led by the project partners. The primary audience of the campaign is focused on university students, CSO workers, local authorities and corporate workers to increase their knowledge about global housing issues. The seven Habitat for Humanity country organizations supporting the project hold much of the expertise when it comes to housing, land rights and urbanization, with much of this knowledge coming from the larger Habitat for Humanity network enrolled in the Solid Ground campaign, which is being implemented in 41 countries around the world. 

It has been exciting to see the new and interesting ways the remaining seven, non-Habitat for Humanity project partners have complimented the project, bringing different skills and avenues for engaging EU citizens in the project. With support of international experts in land rights and negotiation in conflicts several groups of students in Slovakia had the opportunity to improve their negotiation skills in conflicts over land. Digging into hosting sporting mega-events, such as the Olympics, in developing countries served as an example of how such events can increase the most vulnerable community’s fear of eviction from the land where they live. Another example led by a non-Habitat for Humanity project partner is engagement of technological institutes in Ireland and their expertise in nature-based technology. They organized several workshops presenting the potential of nature-based technology to support resilient cities and communities.  

What matters in the long term, regarding the improvement of the global housing situation, is the work towards changing policies and systems, especially in developing countries. However, Build Solid Ground does not have any particular goal in achieving policy changes, approaching policy makers at all levels is an important component of the engagement part of the project. Our advocacy managers and experts from Habitat for Humanity Europe, Middle East and Africa took advantage of the current negotiation process around European Union-Africa, Caribbean and Pacific states Agreement, or EU-ACP Agreement, and attended several meetings with EU and national policy makers in Brussels. The outcome of these efforts should be prioritization of affordable housing’s role and security of tenure in creating sustainable cities in ACP countries, in line with the New Urban Agenda. Efforts to engage in the EU-ACP Agreement have served as a great opportunity to promote housing and land rights and to hold the EU and national policy makers and politicians accountable!   

More than 900 EU citizens have participated in volunteering trips aimed at building or renovating houses for vulnerable families in non-EU countries. As previously mentioned the level of active engagement among EU citizens in global issues varies from country to country. Engagement and volunteering in western European countries has a long-lasting tradition and is well established in the project partner countries such as Northern Ireland, Ireland and Great Britain, through the Habitat for Humanity country organizations. Volunteers from the CEE (central and eastern Europe) still prefer to address issues in their own countries and volunteer locally. We are therefore very proud of the engagement of a group of volunteers from Romania in a house construction project in Malawi. Even more because the engagement does not stop after getting back home. Volunteers are involved in follow up activities such as writing blogs, taking part at discussions or just simple sharing of the great experience with their peers.   

In the second year of the campaign, we are excited for the Everything starts at home exhibition that was launched with support of a bunch of Slovak celebrities on March 8th, 2019 on International Women`s Day in Bratislava. This exhibition will provide the community the opportunity to learn about stories of brave women who have been struggling for their homes. Their personal engagement as well as institutional support of Habitat for Humanity have supported women around the world in graining better access to decent and safe housing.  

We are all excited to work towards further results and outcomes that are to come in the second and third year of the project!