Civil Society Lost in Translation – BCSDN Once Again Brings Local Input to the European Institutions

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IMG_1201On 22nd November, BCSDN in cooperation with the German Marshall Fund (GMF) office in Brussels organized a policy workshop “Civil Society Lost in Translation? Donor Strategies and Practices in Support of Civil Society Development in the Balkans”. Mr. Michael Leigh, Senior Advisor, GMF Brussels & former Director General, DG Enlargement, European Commission open the workshop by underlining the role of civil society as essential for a liberal democracy, this has been recognized he said by the EC and other organization and this is why supporting it, is vital especially in the pre-accession period. He also added that while working with GMF and BTD he has realized that “small is beautiful” adding that with small financial assistance results can sometimes be more timely, effective and meaningful.

The meeting served as an opportunity for the launching of the research findings conducted in cooperation with Queen Marry, University of London during the summer of 2011 on the state of affairs on strategies and practices by donors present in the Balkans (including the Commission) in terms of the volume and models of their assistance, their understandings and relationships with civil society in the Enlargement context. Tanja Hafner Ademi, the Executive Director of BCSDN and Adam Fagan, Queen Mary, University of London presented the first findings and recommended further steps for effective support to civil society in the Balkans. The presentation is the base of the research that will be available in form of a publication and a database in the upcoming month.The key findings of the research conducted with a web survey and interviews with main multilateral, bilateral and private donors can be found here.

Based on the results of the research presented at the workshop, the panel discussion focused on three main elements.

The first panel was addressing the issue of the Commission’s support to civil society under the title: ”Is IPA CSF Intervention Providing for a Sustainable Civil Society?”. Venera Hajrullahu, KCSF, Assya Kavrakova, OSI Bulgaria [ppt] and Yngve Engstroem, DG Enlargement, EC [ppt] debated on the topic of IPA Civil Society Facility in terms of its contribution to sustainability of civil society and the appropriateness of models it offers in support of the democratic role of civil society, lesson-learned from previous enlargement and how new synergies with other donors and local civil society can be created. Julija Hoxha, Partners Albania as moderator concluded that what CSOs are asking for the Commission is dialogue, while the Commission is asking for a proactive approach by CSOs and support to locally agreed reform agendas.

IMG_1219The questions addressed in the second panel were dealing with the role of private foundations from Europe and the region under the title:“European foundations – exploring and unexplored opportunity?”. Fabrice de Kerchove, King Baudouin Foundation [ppt], Mia Vukojevic, BCIF and Nathan Koeshall, BTD discussed the role of private foundations from Europe as well as local ones in terms of how these can play a greater role in the mid-term perspective and what synergies can be created with the Commission, bilateral and esp. local donors and (pooled) funding mechanisms.

The experience presented showed that local capacities, knowledge exist on which basis the foreign donors should invest both targeting their agency and programme agendas while contributing to the long-term sustainability of the sector, esp. the grass-root organizations.

The panel brought together both experience of European and local private donors.

Finally, the fundamental question of a how to achieve a balance between external and local support to civil society to secure its sustainability and autonomy was explored in the last panel called “How to make a successful transition from external to locally funded civil society?”.

IMG_1153The panelists Elizabeth Peri, EU Policies and Aid Effectiveness, Financial Instruments & Contracts Unit, DG Enlargement, EC [ppt], Igor Vidacak, Croatian Government Office for Cooperation with NGOs [ppt], Ionut Sibian, CSDF, Romania [ppt]addressed the issue of coordination, sector based approach, effective transition from a foreign to locally-funded civil society and the successes and failures of EU support to civil society in pre-accession and what is experience from countries after entering the EU.

The panel on experience on donor exit-entry strategies and donor coordination presented the new IPA sector-based approach and Croatia and Romania practical experiences.

The conclusions drawn from the discussions were:
•  The EU is the most influential in terms of volume of assistance & funding repertoire, but the dilemma raised at the conference was if it is successfully driving the agenda, synergizing & using the support?;
•  Concerning the NMS: the EU reform agenda is not always effective conduit for completing the key structural reforms and fulfillment of political criteria & funds management by the Government is in danger of politicization if not monitored during and after accession. The EC has adapted its approach (longer-term support, re-granting) to local needs, but here the CSOs have demanded a strategic partnership and allowing the driving of national stakeholders-based agenda;
•  Also, positive examples of (re-)granting and cooperation models by private foundations – based on local capacity, knowledge, flexibility, long-term support and partnership with national Governments & local actors is a pre-requisite for long-term sustainability exit-entry point timing and strategies for it to work.

The full Agenda for the workshop can be found here, as well as the Background Paper and the Research Findings Summary as well as the photos and a video from the event.

This event was supported by the Balkan Trust for Democracy, a project of the German Marshall Fund, and Compagnia di San Paolo.

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