On the Edge and Edgy: Innovation in the Balkans

Chris Mould

Last week I was in Moldova. This little-known country is still reeling from the mysterious loss of $1 Billion, an eighth of its GDP, in a banking scandal just one year ago. One month earlier, I was at the other edge of the Balkans, in Albania, and saw this similarly sized country experiencing similar challenges. They are the poorest in Europe, with declining populations and remarkably low fertility rates, victims of the brain drain, camped in the buffer zone outside the gates of the EU. Their development is hobbled by corruption. Known too often in the popular mind for human trafficking, their problems dwarf those many better resourced governments face. But I came away uplifted, hopeful, and inspired.

It’s all down to whom you spend your time with.

We were meeting with remarkable people, social entrepreneurs with a visionary mind-set. These were the partners in the Foundation for Social Change and Inclusion (FSCI) Development Programme and their associates. Our talk was about what works and how to replicate it, about scale and systemic social transformation.  Rooted in the gritty soil of community-based practice though they are, A2B (Albania) and Beginning of Life (Moldova) want to reach far beyond their home base. That’s where the Shaftesbury Partnership and the FSCI come in. As we collaborate across nations, deploy proven projects that address common issues of poverty, exclusion and exploitation, building the talents of all those involved, transformation begins to look achievable.

Talking, they say, is one thing; doing is another altogether. Our conversations have been with people who get things done. They are resourceful and creative. But these same people stand out because they also reflect. And reflection, especially collective, collaborative reflection, is the crucible where transformational steps can be forged. Dr Francis Schaeffer once asserted that when it came to people who made a lasting mark on their world, there were “no little people and no little places”.  For Shaftesbury Partnership, going to the edge is always worthwhile. That’s where you find an unfamiliar view of the familiar. And that is exactly the starting point for the most radical innovation.

Balkan Peninsula. Map/Still. Britannica Online for Kids. Web. 16 Dec. 2015.  <http://kids.britannica.com/elementary/art-87299>.

Balkan Peninsula. Map/Still. Britannica Online for Kids. Web. 16 Dec. 2015.  <http://kids.britannica.com/elementary/art-87299>

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