Citizen Spring: The new movement connecting social enterprises across Brussels and Antwerp


We have been trying to articulate what we mean by a “Citizens Action Network” (or a CAN).

This is a structure - both face-to-face and digital - that brings together civil and social enterprises in an area, along with citizens currently disengaged with politics. A CAN tries to build a combination of concrete services meeting actual needs, as well as a growing agenda about the need for decision-making power at the lowest possible level.

And all the time, it’s fully aware of the need to respond to megatrends like climate breakdown, automation, mental health and migration - and allow a viable future amidst all these to be actively imagined. Our friends in Plymouth and South Devon are, with us, forging exactly such a CAN, and the Noisily Festival is also building a CAN too.

What’s so remarkable about this historical moment is that you can turn around and find situations where your fondly imagined plan is actually well underway. An example - from Shareable magazine - is Citizen Spring in Belgium. Shareable reports;

Citizen Spring is a network based in Brussels that aims to connect local projects so that groups can identify ways to support each other, coordinate their activities, and promote sustainable and future-facing ideas.

Communa invites members of the public to learn how they’re transforming disused spaces across Brussels

Communa invites members of the public to learn how they’re transforming disused spaces across Brussels

It was launched by Xavier Damman, co-founder of Open Collective — a transparent funding platform for open source projects that has attracted donations from big Silicon Valley players like Airbnb and Facebook. During a climate march in the Belgian capital last year, Damman began talking to activists about the support they needed to create a more sustainable Brussels.

“Demonstrating on the streets is the easy thing to do, but it’s also boring. It can be useful, but we should all be asking what else we can do,” he says. “If we want system change, not climate change, we need to recognize the future is already here — it’s just not evenly distributed. We need to bring to the surface the things that people are already doing to initiate change.”

Damman reached out to the city’s community initiatives and invited them to join the first ever Citizen Spring event. He took inspiration from industry open days, where businesses are encouraged to throw their doors open to the public, and decided to recreate the idea for citizen-led efforts.

From March 21st to 24th, the city’s social enterprises and grassroots projects took time out of their hectic schedules to showcase their work. Members of the public were offered tours and presentations of 45 different initiatives where they learned why the projects were founded and how they hoped to improve the city. Workshops were also facilitated to find new ways for social enterprises to work together and pool resources.

“It used to be that big institutions, governments, NGOs and private companies had the monopoly on creating an impact. But citizens are becoming more and more empowered to participate,” Damman said. “We want to accelerate that transition from citizens being passive consumers towards being actors, creators, and contributors. Not just by promoting what they do, but by encouraging people to join them. Opening the doors is just the first step, but it’s an important one.”

The concept is already spreading to other cities in Belgium. Antwerp established its own Citizen Spring network earlier this year, and Damman expects more cities in Europe and elsewhere to join the movement in time for next spring. “There are citizen initiatives in every city in the world, but too often they work in isolation. It’s in everybody’s interest that we connect them so they can find ways to increase the reach and impact of everybody’s work,” he adds.

We’re particularly interested in the stripped-down, but evidently useful sites that are enabling these exchanges - see this one for Brussels. The map of activities and initiatives is very important, as are a well-thought through system of tagging and categories, where you can quickly get to a rich seam of relevant organisations (something we’ve been trying to consistently do here).

Citizen Spring - we’ll be in touch!