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How can we make EU subsidies benefit everyone?

Used by many local governments and state agencies, non-profit associations and companies to promote education, health care, transport, environment, entrepreneurship, social protection and other domains, European Union subsidies play an important role in promoting life in Estonia. The European Union Cohesion Policy Funds alone finance over 10,000 projects in the period 2014–2020, to the extent of more than 4 billion euros. But what can be done to make sure as many social groups as possible can benefit from the subsidies?

The creation of equal opportunities for all in the society can only be achieved through cooperation. Sometimes, only a few observations and actions are enough to bring about major changes. Therefore, within the framework of one’s core activity – whether it be the provision of labour market services or the renewal of town squares – it should carefully be considered how to make these actions benefit both young people and older people, women and men, as well as people with special needs.

Where to start? We offer the opportunity to learn from the success of others, and hereby propose some good examples that could encourage thinking about one’s activities from the viewpoint of equal opportunities. We should start with three questions here.

First, what can I do to improve accessibility?

Often, building a ramp or a lift is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about accessibility, but in fact, “getting in through the door” alone is not enough. Consideration needs to be given to buildings, the information environment and services from the perspective of users with different needs. A good example here is the Fat Margaret Museum and Visitor Centre, which involved the representative associations of disabled people in the planning stage of the renovation works already, to provide a comprehensive museum experience for people with special needs. The result is a museum unique in Estonia, providing comfortable travel paths and exhibits for people with visual, auditory, mobility and intellectual disabilities, as well as for children, the elderly, people with a baby carriage, people with a temporary restriction on activities, and many others. The main suggestion by the museum is to think about creating accessibility for people with special needs at the very beginning of the project already – it is cheaper this way, and no costly mistakes have to be dealt with later.

Watch the video on the advice given by the Fat Margaret Museum and Visitor Centre to improve accessibility in your project.

"I always suggest that when creating something from scratch, think about accessibility right from the beginning. Then, the concept created does not have to be broken later." Jakob Rosin, Estonian Blind Union

Second, what can I do to increase equality between women and men?

Sometimes, involvement in the society is not hindered by physical constraints, but by the stereotypes and attitudes rooted in the society, such as the belief that technology and programming are for men rather than for women. On the one hand, we know that there is a major shortage of skilled labour in information and communications technology (ICT), while on the other hand, the share of women in ICT in the academic year 2019–2020 was only 29%. In order to bridge this gap, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications launched an information campaign aimed at breaking gender stereotypes and encouraging girls to be braver in choosing careers in ICT. For this, workshops were organised for girls, with inspiring speakers, to broaden the understanding that the IT domain actually consists of very different skills, not just programming. In order to reach Russian-speaking young people, workshops were also held in Ida-Virumaa.

“There are lots of stereotypes surrounding us, and people all too often fail to notice that they are carrying them. For example, a hobby club instructor may subconsciously refer boys to programming and girls towards more “beautiful” activities such as design. But actually, both boys and girls could try out a wide range of different jobs in ICT.” Kristi Kivilo, Digital Skills Coordination Director at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications

When planning project activities, the gender gaps in the domain promoted by the project – be it the labour market, education or care – should certainly be considered, as well as how to prevent and overcome the stereotypes that feed these gaps.

Watch the video to see the advice given by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications to promote gender equality in one’s project.

Third, how can we notice the varying needs of our target group?

The prerequisite for a good project plan is to know the target group and know (not assume) what it needs. To this end, the breakdown of the target group based on age, nationality, gender and other characteristics should be reviewed and, where possible, members of the target group should be directly asked what they need to participate in the activities, services or other things proposed. For example, the NGO Johannes Mihkelson Centre has realised, in several projects, that the parents of young children value time like gold and that lack of babysitters can become an obstacle to participation in trainings. They therefore provide babysitting services for parents of young children and notify the participants in advance of this opportunity. This way, the parent of a small child knows that he or she is also welcome to the training.

Regardless of the area of activity, the chosen channels of communication should critically be reviewed and it should be considered whether, in the current form, information will still reach all interested people and target groups who could benefit from the activity. If, for example, a group attending trainings is unvarying, the message is probably spreading in a circle that is too narrow, so the expansion of the circle should be considered.

“At one point, it became clear that there was also a need for separate Russian-speaking groups. Among other things, we figured out how to better reach the Russian-speaking youth, and we found that putting up information on the information boards of large apartment blocks in Tartu works well. It was an unexpected solution, but it worked.” Ingrid Purje, Head of the Work Centre of the Johannes Mihkelson Centre

Watch the video to see the advice given by the NGO Johannes Mihkelson Centre to identify the needs of the target group.

To reach everyone, we need to think about each one separately

Smart service designers and innovative minds have long realised that there is no such concept as an average person, and if there is, an activity directed at that person only excludes most of the customers or citizens. Therefore, gender equality or accessibility considerations are nothing more than being up to date with people-centered services and principles of public space development. To reach everyone, we often need to think about each one separately.

Inspiring examples of how to contribute to creating equal opportunities in one’s project can be found in the collection “Best ways to create equal opportunities". Model examples of projects funded from structural funds in 2014–2020”. The collection is available HERE LINK.