To finish up our series of blogs about the 2020 Small Grants Programme projects, here is how we supported setting up two new organizations working towards our common goal of full spectrum harm reduction. This blog details how these two projects were supported by our grants, in Hungary, by our International Working Group member Beatrix Vas, and in the USA, by our International Working Group member Kelly Ebert.

Hungary

SSDP Budapest, a chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy based at Central European University, Hungary, applied for the grant as an initiative group. For the implementation, SSDP Österreich and PsyCare, both based in Vienna, Austria have acted as our partner organizations while the Rights Reporter Foundation, based in Budapest, Hungary acted as our financial host.

The first goal of the project was the reorganization of SSDP Budapest into a broader association for Hungarian youth that will be a registered non-profit organization. This was necessary as previously the SSDP chapter was centered around the CEU-campus, and actual involvement of Hungarians was low. The student-centered format has proven inefficient as it mainly reached masters students who left Budapest within 1 or 2 years, thus the organization was not sustainable. Further, youth activism does not have a culture in Hungary, and civil society organizations are increasingly affected by hostile government policies, which is a deterrent factor, along with the country having one of Europe’s most restrictive drug policies, to be openly involved in drug-related initiatives. 

Thus our first sub-goal was to map areas where we could reach our target group of young people interested in issues around drug education, policy and research, and aim to recruit them to participate in organizing campaigns, events and activities as part of the newly formed association. Despite challenges posed by COVID-19 restrictions all throughout the grant period, we were quite successful in interest mapping and recruitment, as we currently have a contact list of about 50 people interested in the initiative. To officially register the organization as a non-profit in Hungary, we need to hold an in-person General Assembly and have a founding document signed by at least 10 committed members. This was planned for the beginning of November, but as the lockdown was reintroduced, it again became uncertain when this can take place. We continue to work on coming up with digital organizing ideas and solutions, and have contacted a local lawyer to help out with registration, while we also work online on our organizational and founding documents – though these will only be finalized at the General Assembly to ensure the process remains member-driven.

The second goal of the project was to establish and deepen relationships with and between harm reduction organizations in the CEE region, and collect best practices in nightlife harm reduction, with a special focus on drug checking activities. The latter will be done by the development of a qualitative comparative report on the state of nightlife harm reduction in the CEE region. Simultaneously, a policy advocacy strategy is being developed, specifically identifying the gaps in service provision in Hungary, and how practices of other organizations could be adapted. This can be used to lobby policymakers and nightlife organizers to allow these services to exist, especially drug checking. Original, the target countries for our study were Austria, Czechia, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Albania, but in the initial stage of the research, we could not get enough data from these countries so we expanded the geographical scope and changed our methodology, deciding to base our report on a focus group discussion held with selected participants from the target countries. Again, as we have faced issues with scheduling, the discussion is planned to take place before the end of November.

The United States of America

Prior to securing the initial round of funding for the small grant project, we set to work registering our organization, Live to Love Project, as a nonprofit with the Pennsylvania Department of State Bureau of Charitable Organizations. We successfully achieved our status as a Domestic Nonprofit Corporation on 11 August. Our final step in this process is to work with two regional newspaper outlets to formally announce our creation. We are seeking out appropriate venues and will take care of this step soon. Unfortunately, we have not yet been able to secure tax-exempt status, as this is a lengthy federal process, slowed down further than usual by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We have since set our sights on organizational development! 

After receiving the first round of funding from the small grant, we began setting up organization documents such as an official strategy document, a revised budget, financial tracking documents, and more. Additionally, we have invested in technological resources to assist in our development. These investments have included hardware such as a mouse and keyboard, and software such as Adobe Cloud and SquareSpace. On 8 November, we launched our website, livetoloveproject.org, along with our first blog – a short piece about the importance of listening. We have also been using TikTok to directly reach youths, bringing attention to our project as well as the important issues that we will be tackling. We have blogs planned out for many weeks to come and plan on releasing approximately one each week.  Our first video was released on 26 October and our videos have amassed over 1,400 total views on TikTok and Instagram Reels to date.

Additionally, we have attended several conferences in order to expand our knowledge base regarding harm reduction, drug policy, and sexual reproductive health. Notably, we attended the Maine Harm Reduction Conference on 30 October. This conference was heavily focused on harm reduction practices surrounding youths, rural communities, and indigenous peoples. We are actively seeking out further, similar conferences and training sessions. However, our busy schedules and the pandemic has made this a bit tricky! 

Finally, we are in the planning stages of our major social media campaigns – specifically one centered around World AIDS Day. We will deploy all of the knowledge gained, technology acquired, and social media presence accumulated to reach young people with critical information regarding AIDS, sexual health, and harm reduction strategies. Through our blog, TikTok, and Instagram channels, we hope to reach a diverse group of young people through a variety of accessible mediums.

Although our project is still in its infancy, we have gained a great deal of experience in dealing with the slow nature of government bureaucracy, seeking out relevant and timely resources, and building a platform. We are hard at work developing the organization’s presence online while also building our technological resources. We’ve loved every step of the way and are excited to keep working!   

Written by Beatrix Vas and Kelly Ebert