Conciliation Resources has been working with local partners in the Georgian-Abkhaz context for over 15 years, supporting dialogue initiatives between divided communities affected by the 1992-3 violent conflict.
Although fighting in the region died down after 1993, the nearly quarter of a million Georgians displaced from Abkhazia continue to feel the impact of the conflict and still have little opportunity to influence the peace process. Despite significant improvement in recent years, politically, they remain marginalised. They also face challenges such as unemployment and a lack of access to housing, health, education and social services, more so than the average Georgian population. Over a long period of time many continued to live in isolated settlements with other internally displaced persons (IDPs), exacerbating their sense of separation from the rest of society. Intensive resettlement processes appear to have gone some way towards addressing this marginalisation, which is less evident in some areas today, but underlying causes of tension between communities remain.
To help displaced people get their voices heard at national and local levels, Conciliation Resources works with a network of around 20 organisations in different parts of Georgia to address issues affecting IDPs. The Synergy network is a group of non-governmental organisations working on issues concerning internally displaced persons in Georgia. The majority of its members are organisations established and run by people displaced from Abkhazia, based in Tbilisi, Samegrelo and Imereti regions. The network was founded in the years 2000-2001 with the assistance of Conciliation Resources. It seeks to encourage the participation of IDPs in the country’s public and political life, and promote the peaceful resolution of conflicts. It is a strong example of the types of long-lasting, locally driven initiatives that Conciliation Resources feels best support communities affected by conflict to find their voice and participate in decision-making processes that affect them.

IDPs as a whole are now more involved in political processes and are better integrated into the society. They are visible as a diverse group of citizens who make their own choices. – This is not only Synergy’s achievement, but Synergy did play a significant role in this.

(Paata Zakareishvili, Georgian State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality)

Synergy acts as a forum for information exchange and for joint analysis and action. It advocates at local, regional and national levels for greater inclusion and integration of the displaced, and for the protection of their rights.
The network is active in issuing appeals and statements on issues affecting people’s lives, for example condemning forced evictions from properties sold to private investors for development. A monthly supplement in the national newspaper Rezonansi has since October 2010 enabled the network to have a platform to influence mainstream understanding of issues around displacement. And collaboration with journalists to produce regular radio shows and TV debates has helped to challenge the stereotypical image of displaced persons as passive and desponding victims of war. 
By offering constructive criticism and practical solutions to policy makers, the network strives to increase confidence and political inclusion of internally displaced persons. As public voices of collaboration and non-violence they feel that over time they can contribute to an environment in Georgia's political landscape that is more conducive to finding peaceful ways of dealing with conflict and diversity.  
Network members also work with a range of political parties, informing them about specific concerns and encouraging them to generate more coherent policies on IDP issues and conflict resolution.
Today, the network is financially independent of Conciliation Resources, having developed sufficient skills, contacts and capacity to fundraise more sustainably from a wider variety of sources.
The Synergy network is now regarded by a range of local and international actors as a competent resource for advice and collaboration with regard to issues of displacement. In 2012 network members were invited to participate in three permanent work groups established at the Georgian Ministry for Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refugees (MRA); and in 2013 the network formalized work relationships with the Georgian parliament and the Ombudsman’s office.

Successfully influencing national policy and practice

Over time network members developed skills to turn local concerns into systemic recommendations and policies.
After series of forced evictions and resettlement of IDPs in 2010, Synergy together with local and international NGOs drew up a SOP document – Special Operational Procedures, which was adopted by the government and made the continued resettlement process in 2011 more transparent and just, although flaws remained in the implementation.

People need to be active in order to be taken seriously! When IDPs were being resettled in 2010, we involved a lawyer before resettlement took place in our community, and organised a number of information sessions and consultations. This means people were well informed about the strategy of resettlement and had discussed their different perspectives and possible solutions as to how reallocate families in the two new buildings provided by the government. We approached the MRA and presented our own suggestions. That’s how we managed to have IDPs involved in the resettlement and share responsibility with the authorities. 

(Synergy member in Kutaisi, Georgia)
The process of supporting the network to develop this level of self-sustaining energy did not happen overnight and was built on strong foundations of respectful, equal partnership between Conciliation Resources and the Synergy network. 
The network is also now recognised as a model for other displaced communities in the South Caucasus region, and has, for example, built strong links and shared learning with a coalition of non-governmental organisations working on similar issues in Azerbaijan.
Three factors have contributed to ensuring that the network is locally led and sustainable:

1. Emphasizing collaboration while embracing diversity

Networks can be extremely strong mechanisms to tap into a wide spectrum of actors and interests across a large region and to support long-term, patient responses to issues such as political participation in complex contexts. However, the South Caucasus region has seen a number of networks and coalitions come and go. Most of these were created by international agencies around a certain issue and within the framework of a specific project. And when the project ended, local member organisations often no longer had the means or motivation to co-operate.  
The Synergy network evolved organically over time. Its members are diverse and engagement in the network can be fluid. Some of the member organisations are well-established NGOs founded in the early 2000s; others are fairly young and small initiatives that registered as organisations only a few years ago. They all joined Synergy at different times and do not necessarily share views on particular political issues. While this has led to internal tensions and conflicts of interest, network members have worked out terms of co-operation that define how member organisations act as a network and individually. 
Synergy’s work can be controversial but, by participating in a network, member organisations are offered some protection and solidarity when they are under pressure.
One of the most important ways in which networks achieve this is by becoming a hub for information sharing, joint analysis, and campaigning. Members of the Synergy network meet around four times a year to exchange perspectives from their respective local constituencies and work on joint courses of action. Over time, the network has built trust between those in Tbilisi and those in the regions. 
These support structures have also served as a cushion against the cyclical nature of projects, providing ongoing support and motivations despite occasional funding gaps. This has allowed some organisations to survive that otherwise might not have done. 
Working as part of such a wide network has also encouraged individual local actors to become more ambitious in their action plans, moving away from working only with narrow categories of constituency (such as youth, women or veterans) and demonstrating a greater desire and capacity to work with wider circles of the society.

2. Engaging at multiple ‘tracks’ and building bridges

Synergy is able to offer a neutral space to facilitate public discussions and co-operation between IDP communities and local authorities in order to create mechanisms that ensure that the displaced can make their voice heard on decision-making processes that affect them and their lives. 
Working together as a network, the constituent organisations have more impact and authority. Presenting a collective front of organizations was a significant shift away from the previous practice of individuals appealing to government offices. In the words of one of the coordinators, ‘The network made officials sit up and listen’.
At the same time it is just as essential to not lose touch with the grassroots communities. The strength of the network is to draw on experiences of local communities and translate them into recommendations relevant to policy-making. The trust that network members enjoy at the very local level gives them credibility and authority to approach those in positions of decision-making.

I am not myself an IDP, but I’m married to one and live in one of the collective centres in Ingiri village. I’ve found it hard to integrate into the IDP community initially. In 2009 I came to a meeting with Synergy members in our collective centre. Before working with Synergy I didn’t know anything. I then received training to become an initiative group leader in my collective centre. My IDP neighbours were often aggressive and passive, waiting for help from others and being resentful when they didn’t get it. Now the community is able to identify problems, prioritise together and use opportunities to improve their own situation. You wouldn’t recognise our community! 

(IDP in Samegrelo region)

3. Giving local actors the space to develop at their own pace

Our experience shows that it is important not to force the pace of development, and to build capacity and confidence first so that partners can raise difficult issues when they are ready. Conciliation Resources recognizes the need for ‘strategic patience’, and that partners are the best judge of how and when to push for change in their societies. 
The Synergy network is an important example of this – we began this work over fifteen years ago, initially with workshops on civil society development and conflict issues, including exploring attitudes among the displaced to conflict and justice. IDP colleagues over time came to play a much more active role, initiating work themselves with solid and tangible goals to improve IDP rights and living conditions in regard to integration. Their confidence and coherence has increased significantly over time and has demonstrated some real achievements. 
Following from their successful participation in shaping political agendas with regard to social and human rights issues, network members more recently agreed to focus on articulating and promoting IDP voices in regard to peacebuilding. They could utilize their experience and contacts to work with political parties on conflict issues in the run up to the elections in 2012. Conciliation Resources continues to play an advisory role in this endeavor by sharing observations and analysis with network members with regard to the conflicts and developments in Abkhazia. However, the agendas and priorities for action are shaped and formulated by the displaced themselves.
For more information and updates on the work of the Synergy network, please visit their Facebook page