Book Two: Eliška Koderová & Martin Maška of International Forum of Social Studies

Teamwork is the key to protecting our environment. When multiple organizations collaborate on a project, more people are reached and educated. This increases knowledge on the importance of sustainability. That is what EliskaKoderova and Martin Maska created with the International Forum of Social Studies. Their non-profit is a model of outreach and teamwork. They work with cities and other organizations to raise awareness about social issues including environmental sustainability.

By showing an individual how protecting the environment protects their jobs, their homes, and their health they began to think of it as “our” environment and are more likely to get involved. Are you aware of any environmental issues that plague your community? If so do you know what, if any, local organizations are working to find a solution? If you can’t find an organization than maybe it’s time to start your own. Become actively involved in your community and see what changes you can create.

  What inspired you to educate others about creating a healthier environment? We live in so called “information society”. There is much information about the world. But how can we be knowledgeable in it, when it can be incomplete, false or even manipulated. Media has also significant role. They turn audience´s attention to themes and assign importance to them. The result is that many local or international issues go unacknowledged. And it makes no difference if we are talking about environment or political situation. People aren’t able to assess all important public issues, in their community or country, and rather become passive.

Simply speaking, we want to contribute to changing this situation. Therefore, our main objectives are to strengthen European society and to support international activities especially of youth – not only in Europe. We educate people and encourage them to be democratically and consciously interested in improving of their living situations, public affairs and environment. So we are establishing international as well as regional cooperation in the field of social science; regional development and environment; media, journalism and communication; international and European law (e.g. EU Justice Project – data-map of the EU judiciary). This quite wide spectrum of branches allows us to combine one with another and make each project more interesting.

Protection of nature and landscape is also important for a stable society. It is our heritage and place we can draw inspiration from. There are many localities, that contain rare animals or plants. Sometimes people don´t know about them, even when it´s in their neighborhood. And almost nobody present such localities in a clear and interesting way. One can´t be surprised, when the majority doesn´t show interest in it, or even hasn´t got apositive relation to it. But condition of nature and landscape, as well as possibilities how to improve it and thus to create healthier environment, ought to be much more discussed and presented. Because Martin has experience with projects of improvement of the environment, we decided to do such projects within our organization too.

Our work in this branch includes reconstructions and renaturalizations of diverse localities, but also media presentations, educational events and materials, like studies, articles, reports, interactive web-projects, videos and films. International networking, cooperation and exchange of knowledge are also significant. Just as in our other projects, we believe it is very important to achieve a conclusion by dialog and understanding. LikeSteve Martin said in one of SNL´s classics, but we mean it seriously: “If we had one wish that we could wish, it would be for conscious, committed and happy society with positive attitude to its environment.” We are also looking for new knowledge and experiences in order to be good example and explore new horizons.

  What steps did you take to start this particular journey?  We had been working on joint goals since 2010, as we had participated on diverse projects or conferences. In 2011 we decided to institutionalize our activities, because that way we can complete our experiences and knowledge. So we applied for registration of civic association at 22 February 2012. So it was the first step – International Forum of Social Studies was officially founded at 30 March 2012. Our motto expresses our background, objective and the way we want to accomplish it: “It´s possible to enhance the society with traditions and innovations.”

Our experiences are partially similar, but also various. Eliska has creative, organizational and communication skills. She works on developing relations with other non-governmental organizations from Europe. She cooperates with law institutes from US and tries to improve availability of information e.g. about constitutional rights or presidential authority. Her task is to take care of educational and regional development projects. Martin has knowledge of film and media production from the USA, and took part in several projects related to the environment and organized eg. by MiamiUniversity or UNEP.

IFSS is a small organization, but we think that´s not a disadvantage. We can easily agree on something than in company with, say, ten members. But we are establishing regional and international cooperation with bigger partners, and that´s second step of our journey. In 2013, we signed cooperation agreement with Paneuropean Union in the Czech Republic and become observer member of the European Youth Press. On regional level, we cooperate with Iron Mountains National Geopark (movies and educational projects related to geology and nature conservation, with Mr. Daniel Smutek and Jan Doucek), Nature Conservation Agency of the CzechRepublic (Mr. VlastimilPerina) and with some municipalities.

As the next step, we will be looking for new cooperation and projects possibilities. It shouldn´t have to be so complicated, because there are still many places that have to be improved and issues which we ought to raise public awareness about. The more experience we and our organization will have, the bigger and thus more beneficial projects we will be able to implement.

  What was or are the hardest obstacle(s) to overcome in getting your message to the masses?  There were two organizational obstacles at the beginning. First, we were full-time students when our organization started, so we hadn´t enough time to prepare extensive projects. We focused on making of “internal infrastructure” like web, accounting system, graphics and document templates. It was not easy, but now we needn´t waste time doing it. And the second, we wanted to found an organization as a team of four people, so we had other vision, how the IFSS should develop. The progress was slower, but we adapted our vision and plans.

The hardest obstacle is funding. And it doesn´t matter if we are talking about environmental, educational or other projects. Sometimes, the application criteria are very complicated and when we fulfill them, the selection process is often too long. The problem is that you made a lot of work and then must wait and wait. And when foundation or other organization says that you haven´t been selected, there are two possibilities: to leave the original project idea and innovate it later or to try it again and find other funding opportunity. It depends on how much time we spent with the project. In the case of environment, it is really a lot of time and each project usually concerns one concrete locality, so there isn´t any space for innovation and we always choose the second possibility. On the other hand, in the case of educational or communication related projects, it is better to innovate them.

We are just at the beginning, but as long as we are motivated and vigorous, it´s about imagination and believing.

  What is your proudest accomplishment so far in relation to your environmental work?  In general, it is European Youth Press observer membership. IFSS is the sole Czech organization involved in EYP and next year we want to apply for full membership. Although it is journalistic, media, organization, it did and does several projects about reporting on environmental issues (eg. Green Up Blog in 2012 and Flag it! in 2013). Now we can either participate in projects of the EYP or other member organizations, or invent our own project and cooperate on its implementation with this network.

Our cooperation with Paneuropean Union in the CzechRepublic is also significant, because it allows us to get in touch and work with Paneuropean Union in other countries. In relation to our environmental work, we can get important contacts there and spread information about our work. Each of our projects has the chance to be international.

But our proudest accomplishment so far in relation to our environmental work is project of reconstruction of the locality “Pools near the Chotebor town”, where live rare Great crested newt and other amphibians. This locality was in danger because of growing town industrial estate and garbage the people throw out there. Moreover, almost nobody knew about importance of that place. We convinced its leaseholder and the mayor that it is necessary to protect it. Then, we got support of the town and department of environment at municipality – we would like to express our thanks to Ms.     Iva Cechova for helpful advice. Partners are “Ekoclub” at Chotebor comprehensive school and local organization of the Czech Union for Nature Conservation. From now on, the locality will be kept neat and people will be informed about it through special website, information boards and other materials.

This is also our pilot project. Now we can say: “This is what we made or achieved and we would like to do something like that for other localities.” It works, because on the basis of it we started cooperation with Nature Conservation Agency of the Czech Republic in the Pardubice city. With them, we prepare project “Return of primeval forest Queens”, plantings of firs and beeches instead of spruces monoculture in protective zone of the nature reserve “Polom” (Fallen trees) in the IronMountains, CzechRepublic. We had applied for one endowment, and although we didn´t get it, there is one quite funny story the woman from foundation experienced. She was reading our application in the Prague underground and one stranger told her: “You should have to support this project. It is good also for mushrooms pickers, because mushrooms don´t grow under spruces. And that´s bad!” So we realized that projects, which have importance and are useful, open paths to many others and even can engage the public´s attention.

We are also making movies – Eliska as producer and Martin as director. In cooperation with Iron Mountains National Geoparkwe have made a short documentary “If Stones Were Talking…” about geology and what can we learn from it. This film is screened withina travelling exhibition and we will submit it to various film festivals. In July we decided to make a sequel, which will be premiered in December 2014, at the latest. We will also make a short documentary about the “Pools”. In the future, we would like to make more movies, shorts, and features about various themes.

  How can people get involved either through your work or in their own communities? The fact, that our strategy is to establish cooperation with other organizations doesn’t mean, that individuals can’t get involved in our work, either as employees or volunteers. Especially environmental projects, either big or small, need to be supported by local communities to be fully effective. Although that people usually think something else, it is not too difficult to find support in your community, town or city, if you got interesting and useful idea. It can also be the basis of something bigger with international overhang. Of course, we would be glad to support such initiatives of communities or single persons, e.g. in Chotebor and Pisek town, where we are based. Please don’t hesitate to contact us. IFSS is open to new ideas and we would like to cooperate on many interesting projects all around the world.

Learn more online: www.ifss.cz

www.youthpress.org/members/ifss

Follow us on Twitter: @IFSSpublic

International Forum of Social Studies, o. s., Budovcova 105/4, 397 01 Pisek-BudejovickePredmesti, Southern Bohemian region, CzechRepublic

President: Eliska Koderova, eli.koderova@gmail.com

Vice-president: Martin Maska, martinmaska@europe.com

This interview is from a  book that includes 10 other amazing people who are creating positive change. You can read the full book and buy a copy for your school at Bookemon.com. Buy the e-book for 99 Cents on Amazon.com.

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