Active Citizenship Award to Kinga Milankovics

“On March 26, Ambassador Kounalakis presented the third Active Citizenship Award to Kinga Milankovics, founder of REGINA in Gödöllő.

Remarks by Ambassador Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis on Active Citizens and Women’s History, Gödöllő, March 26, 2012

Thank you all for coming today as we recognize a member of the Gödöllő community and present her with the U.S. Embassy Budapest award for Active Citizenship.

I would like to start off by attempting to explain what we mean by Active Citizenship. The best way for me to do this is to go back about 2,500 years, to ancient Greece, and to the Athenian Oath. The Athenian Oath was the oath that was recited by all young men as they became citizens of ancient Athens. And here is what they pledged: “I will not leave my country diminished when I die, but greater and better, so far as I am able by myself and with the help of all.”

Thousands of years later, in the United States, which is considered by many to be the great successor of Athenian democracy, President John F. Kennedy put it this way. In his inaugural address he famously urged all Americans to, “ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

Two generations after President Kennedy spoke his famous words; a young man named Barack Obama graduated Columbia University and Harvard Law School. He had college loans to pay, and he had plenty of opportunities to work for a high paying law firm. But, instead, he moved to a poor neighborhood in Chicago to become a community organizer. With his knowledge and energy, he helped people learn how to take better care of their neighborhoods, and improve and strengthen their communities.

It is no surprise to most Americans that a future President would have spent part of his or her life dedicated to helping improve society. We value those who roll up their sleeves and, on what we call a “grass roots” level, strive to be part of something bigger than just themselves.

As a way of demonstrating this deeply held value, the Obama administration launched a national initiative called “Champions of Change.” It is designed to recognize ordinary Americans doing extraordinary things in their communities.

Of course, active citizens can be found all over the world.

Here in Gödöllő I have been very impressed by the work of Mayor Gemesi in supporting civil society in this city, including through the provision of small grants to local NGOS. Gödöllő has shown a commitment to fostering citizens who take an active role in their communities. There are nearly 100 NGOs which collaborate with the Mayor’s Office through regular civil society roundtables. Gödöllő celebrates its active citizens and I am very proud that today the United States has the opportunity to single one out, and celebrate her too.

I am very pleased to be awarding the “Ambassador’s Award for Active Citizenship” to Kinga Milankovics, founder of the REGINA Foundation.

Kinga is a life-long active citizen whose efforts have helped the Gödöllő community in many different ways. She is also a member of the RETURN alumni organization for Hungarians who have studied in the United States. I was very happy to hear that Kinga credits her experiences studying at Purdue University in Indiana and, later, participating in a community organization exchange in New York City as inspirations for her own active citizen efforts within the Gödöllő community.

Building upon her academic background in agriculture and the environment and her experiences in the United States, Kinga first became involved in local civil society as the Secretary for the Gödöllő Open Garden Foundation, a Community Supported Agriculture initiative that was the first of its kind in Hungary.

Later, taking on the role of mother – Kinga has two beautiful children– she was inspired to learn more about the social and gender aspects of raising a family and balancing one’s personal and professional life. As a result she founded REGINA in 2002 and went on to serve as the vice-president of the Hungarian Women’s Lobby and as a national delegate to the European Women’s Lobby.

REGINA aims to empower women through improving their social and economic conditions and thereby contributing to the health of families and the community as a whole. Over the past ten years, REGINA’s membership has grown to more than 2000 members in its “local employment program.” 400 small and medium enterprise contacts and 30 local female entrepreneurs participate in its REGINA Entrepreneurs Club.

Utilizing this network, Kinga and others working with REGINA regularly reach out to local small- and medium-sized enterprises that are looking for talent and match them up with unemployed people in the region.

REGINA also oversees a Women and Mother’s Center that provides a community space for small business development training, community gardening, summer camps for kids and a meeting point for socializing and networking. I am pleased to hear that in our audience today there are also members from the network of Mothers Centers now present around Hungary, centers which are based on the model first created by REGINA.

Just last year, REGINA started a new venture: one of the very first charity shops in the country. The economically self-sustaining shop is located in downtown Gödöllő and provides a permanent space for local female entrepreneurs to sell their products.

As Secretary Clinton has said, “When we liberate the economic potential of women, we elevate the economic performance of communities, nations and the world.” Through its provision of resources, training, contacts, employment information and social connections, REGINA has empowered local women to empower themselves.

Many of the women who received support from REGINA now give back as volunteers and are active in education, health and civic projects around the community. Mayor Gemesi, I am sure you must be proud of all your outstanding citizens here in Gödöllő, especially Kinga.

March is Women’s History Month and I think it’s quite fitting that we recognize a woman who has done so much for women – and the wider community. So it is with pleasure that I present the Award for Active Citizenship to Kinga Milankovics.”

Source: U.S. Embassy Budapest

(Embassy photos by Attila Németh)