Let’s Do It! Conference for Eastern Co-Op Countries: Where Are We Now and Where Are We Heading?

On November, 26–29 Let’s Do It! Conference for Eastern Co-op Countries took place in Kiev, Ukraine. It was the first Let’s do it! Regional Conference for this part of the world. Campaign leaders, LDI representatives and activists from Belarus, Azerbaijan, Russia, Slovakia, Estonia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Moldova and of course Ukraine gathered to figure out where we are now and where we are heading.

We planned the conference as an opportunity to get all the regional leaders of the clean-ups together to meet one another, share their experience and bring new people on board. For me, as a regional coordinator, who obtained this role quite recently, this conference was, first of all, a chance to understand what level my teams are at: what are their motivations, plans, strengths and weaknesses. There are 13 countries in our region and only five of them are active in Let’s Do It! today. The conference was crucial to determine whether we need to come up with one set of actions for the whole region – simple steps that every country could follow to reach the main goal: engage 5% of the population by 2018 – or should every team continue in their own way.

Two main problems for all these countries are illegal dumpsites and dated waste management systems. Recycling systems are not developed yet; for example in Russian Federation recycling is not approved on the governmental level and the best way to manage waste according to Russian laws is to incinerate or bury it. Thus less than 10% of all waste produced in the country is recycled, while every year 60 million tons of solid waste is generated. The figures are even more horrifying in Armenia, where according to „Waste Atlas” 0% (sic!) of waste is recycled. Belarus has a problem with waste burials as well – you don’t see trash on the streets there and you might think the country is clean whereas in fact all the trash is buried underground. In Ukraine, landfills cover 7% of the country territory (keeping in mind that Ukraine is the largest country in Europe). They say that introducing numbers is a bad motivation, but consider it as my cry of pain in this case. Summing up, it’s very sad that in such a vast region like Eastern Co-op Countries people still think in short terms, which makes is hard to talk about sustainable development.


Luckily, problems are not the only things we have in common. Most Eastern Co-op Countries are united on the basis of language as a big part of the population in every country of the region understands Russian. This is historical heritage along with the common mentality, which remained as a relic of the Soviet regime, that has influenced all the 13 countries. This makes our work and relations easier, especially considering the fact that many people in the region are not fluent in English.

As the waste management system does not work well, the question is what to do with all the trash that’s been collected during a clean-up. For example, in some cities of Ukraine the trash collected and packed during a clean-up stayed on the streets for two weeks because municipal services could not handle this quantity. This situation is not unique for Ukraine. I hear this question, “what’s the point of clean-ups when the system is not working?” quite often and not only from the teams but also from potential leaders in other countries of the region. The European model – bring together the whole nation and clean up the country – is not that simple to implement here as there is no basis for keeping the country clean afterwards. This is one of the reasons for decrease in the popularity of Let’s Do It! World movement in Russia through the years – they started high, people got excited, but then they faced the reality. At the moment, they’re rethinking their strategy and I hope next year we’ll be surprised by their success.


Most heated discussion topics 

‘Where to get funding’ and ‘how to influence the governments to create an effective waste management system’ – those questions were the two cornerstones of our talks.

It was quite challenging to talk about the global LDI plans as the core team itself does not have them figured out yet – that will be the subject of Clean World conference in Bursa.

The Ukrainian team talked about their experience. They are the strongest team not only in our region, but in the whole movement. In most cases all younger teams have the same struggles such as funding, lack of resources, engaging volunteers and as Let’s Do It! Ukraine tackled a large portion of them in their practice it was useful for others to find out how they did it. So we organised brief seminars delivered by their volunteers manager, Masha Shepetun, partnership team, Oksana Tjupa and Roman Britanchuk and the team leader, Julia Marhel. We’ll continue to discuss these topics in more detail during our webinars.

The most heated discussions actually took place after the workshops during team meetings and get-together evenings. For teams such as Russian and Ukrainian this was a rare opportunity to meet (with some members for the first time) due to the large country territories.

At present the teams are on very different levels and for now a common action plan would not be the best idea. Ukrainian team is the only one that is a registered NGO, which makes it easier for them to get partnership agreements. They’re also ready to develop their own strategy for the organisation after 2018. Other countries such as Azerbaijan are young and clean-up movements have been active only in one part of the country. They are not having much influence in all regions yet. Rather than following one course, like arranging a region-wide clean-up campaign in 2017, it’s better for them to focus on more independent steps that will help tackle the existing problems. However, we will continue to cooperate in terms of education and experience sharing. We’re planning to create a common platform, similar to Intranet web page that we have for LDIW coordinators in English, where we could gather all the materials from our countries in Russian for activists to share. We’ll share and create more materials on values, aims and structure of LDI to keep team up to date and set a direction. We also have our newsletter and webinars and some other plans that we will reveal later on. Thus, the teams will have an opportunity to develop at their own pace and according to their special circumstances and not lose out on quality by trying to reach the plank that may be too high for them at the moment.


By Darja Rovba