The City Council of Riga (LV) opened the Riga NGO House in September 2013, in line with the wishes of residents and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The aim was to help implement the Riga City Society Integration Programme for 2012-2017, support NGOs, and promote increased citizen awareness of local affairs and participation in municipality-related activities.
Set in a refurbished school building, the NGO House is a space where organisations can develop sustainable cooperation with the municipality; receive educational, technical, administrative and informative support; and organise various events and activities. It is also a place for raising and debating issues that are topical for civil society.
The NGO House offers resources for capacity building, exchange of information, experience and best practices, networking and leadership training. It promotes the processes of societal integration, social inclusion and citizen participation.
NGO House empowers Riga's non-governmental organisations by offering practical solutions and providing resources for capacity building, information exchange, best practices and experience exchange, networking, leadership training and membership recruitment. The NGO House develops several realms of activities which raise awareness of self-organisation and its advantages, as well as promoting active participation of non-governmental organisations and citizens:
1. Support for implementing events and activities produced by non-governmental organisations by offering free premises and technical equipment;
2. Informative and educational support – free advice, informative and educational seminars, a monthly electronic newsletter;
3. Support for encouraging cooperation – joint NGOs twinning and networking events, best practices experiences exchange, thematic events.
The NGO House is a platform where representatives of civil society effectively engage in practical work, share ideas and experience, debate raising topical economic, educational, environmental, social issues.
The objective of the organised events is to find ways for shaping a well-functioning democratic, inclusive society based on solidarity and equal access to civil, social, economic, cultural and environmental rights. In this way, the NGO House promotes citizen participation and an integrated approach to development and sustainability.
European cities have committed themselves to providing integrated and quality services and cooperation possibilities for citizens to ensure their active integration into society. The cities adapt to citizens’ expectations and needs and not vice versa. Targeted and appropriate investment in urban integration, participation and social inclusion processes will result in economic and social betterment.
The founding and operation of the Riga NGO House is based on a participatory approach. The cooperation model of the Riga municipality, non-governmental organisations and citizens is focused on sustainable long-term activities, and the NGO House serves as a tool for this cooperation model. Members of NGOs are the most active part of society, bringing together people of all ages, professions and nationalities. NGOs help citizens to make their voices heard, express their creativity, represent and defend their interests.
The role of the non-governmental sector in the development of civil society is growing alongside the support of the municipality for joint projects and activities. There's also increased participation of NGOs and citizens in implementing various municipal policies and proposals put forward by citizens. The founding and development of the NGO House demonstrate the interest of the Riga government in bilateral cooperation as it provides a significant long-term support system for NGOs' activities, henceforth a sustainable society and integration policy development direction.
The NGO House was set up at the request of the inhabitants of Riga. Organisations' needs are taken into account in the development of services, and the city conducts regular consultations. The citizens have proposed establishing branches of the NGO House in other neighbourhoods of Riga.
Since the opening of the NGO House, more than 47,000 people have visited it and attended the events organised by the NGO House or NGOs. In 2016 the number of visitors doubled compared with the first two years of operation. In the course of three years 140 NGOs have organised 2,920 events. Every year we witness the growth of the number of events: in 2014 there were 400 events, in 2015 830 events, and in 2016 1,690 events.
Representatives of more than 500 organisations have participated in the events organised by organisations themselves or municipalities.
Some 104 informative, educational seminars or practical workshops attended by representatives of more than 410 NGOs have been produced by NGO House staff as support measures. Twinning and networking events of 18 organisations drew more than 1,000 participants.
The activities of the NGO House foster the development of a favourable environment for the cooperation of various associations and foundations and capacity building in the city of Riga, thereby promoting social inclusion and citizen participation. NGOs have involved a wide range of stakeholders in their events and activities. A few events organised by NGOs caused widespread public interest and resonance.
Such a model of regular, long-term cooperation of the municipality, non-governmental organisations and citizens promotes active involvement of organisations in the society integration processes and development of an empowered civil society. Other local governments of Latvia have visited the NGO House to learn of the acquired experience.
In the course of three years, 2,920 events covering the whole spectrum of activities have been organised, including seminars, forums, workshops, meetings, concerts, working group meetings etc. A total of 140 non-governmental organisations operated on a regular basis. More than 47,000 visitors – Rigans, residents of Latvia and guests from abroad have attended seminars organised by the staff of the NGO House, as well as networking events organised by NGOs. Every month applications from new organisations are received.
The NGO House regularly offers a wide range of educational and informative seminars, basing the content on the identified needs and interests of the organisations. The NGO House has become one of the community centres of the city of Riga.
One of the major tasks of administrations of European cities in the coming years will be to encourage their citizens to become civically engaged and to put forward proposals and initiatives on a wide range of issues for common solutions. The success of city administrations is based on the ability to listen to citizens and the non-governmental sector, and to support NGOs, social communities or movements for the development of the city.
The support platform for non-governmental organisations created by Riga municipality is the way the city tackles the topical issues for Europe - participation, social inclusion and society participation processes for people of different ages, social groups and nationalities. The NGO House in Riga can serve as a valuable example of rendering practical support to organisations and engaging citizens in dealing with various topical issues.
The experience of the NGO House as a valuable cooperation and support model has been presented and shared with other local governments in Latvia and delegations from abroad.