Celebrating 20 Years of Regional Cooperation!

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Regional cooperation has been the cornerstone of our work, the reason for our existence – and this year, we are celebrating 20 years of eventful and successful collaboration.

Back in 2001, in the backdrop of stabilization and peacebuilding efforts in the region, the Balkan Civil Society Development Network started as a pilot program for capacity building, implemented by the Macedonian Center for International Cooperation (MCIC).

“At the time, we were operationalizing a proposal for the establishment of the so-called Capacity Building Hub in the region –  proposed in a report by the World Council of Churches on the societal landscapes of South-Eastern Europe at the beginning of the ‘00s. We had a mission to establish the network and to identify potential members in each country outside of ecumenical partners. Through that process, we identified the initial members of the network.“  – Mr. Aleksandar Krzhalovski, Executive Director of MCIC

The pilot program ran until 2003, when BCSDN was launched as an informal network, already recognized as “…a unique regional network with considerable potential to develop and sustain itself in the long term, both through its capacity-building offerings and partnership ideology.” Six years later, the network held its Founding assembly, becoming a formal network focused on promoting a more enabling environment for the development of civil society.

“The network transformed from a capacity-building project which gathered ecumenical and civil society organizations. Very soon, it became clear that it had greater potential than just to be a pilot project. The project became a formal network that empowers civil society in the region and advocates on regional and EU levels for policies that enable civil society development.” – Civic Initiatives

In the past two decades, as the landscape in which CSOs are acting has changed significantly, many obstacles have been overcome through joint actions and mutual support of BCSDN members while pursuing their mission. Therefore, we are proud to say that our network has passed the test of time.

“In the years after the end of conflicts and wars in the Balkans, the network demonstrated in practice that there are local capacities, knowledge, and skills that can drive the rebuilding and development of the Balkan region. Today, BCSDN is a strong European network and a stark example of how a joint vision and dedication to democratic values, prosperity, and development of the region unite and enable success. As its Coordinator and first Executive Director, it was my privilege to be the engine behind the network in its formative years.” – Ms. Tanja Hafner Ademi, BCSDN’s first Executive Director

Founders and members had reasons to join forces in 2001, but the bond has grown stronger over time, enough to outweigh the immediate need for joint action and transform into a solid, value-based partnership.

“For more than 23 years, KCSF stands to defend and advance civil society, and in BCSDN, it has found its peers that stand for the same things throughout the Balkans. Civil society is national but even more universal. In our joint work, we have come to realize that bad examples in limiting the civic space easily penetrate our borders. Only by standing together, we can generate our alternatives to defend civic space, in our countries and beyond.” – Mr. Taulant Hoxha, Executive Director of Kosovar Civil Society Foundation

Twenty years in, the prospect of membership in the network still sparks interest, confirming that our network’s values and commitments are not merely declarative but are visible through our work.

“As BCNL, we believe that association is not only value but also the true strength of civil society. Our long experience in the NGO sector confirms the need for international partnerships and cooperation, which show the potential of the communities to deal with social challenges. Our eagerness to work in such international cooperation with the common aim to empower the civil society, to influence European and national policies, and to ensure sustainable democracies in the Balkans connected us organically with the Balkan Civil Society Development Network at the end of 2019 when we joined BCSDN.” – Ms. Nadya Shabani, Director of Bulgarian Center for Not-for-Profit Law

With partnership and solidarity as part of our core values, we are delighted that the network is still fulfilling and fiercely pursuing its mission, doing groundbreaking work in bringing the voice of local civil society to the European level and its institutions.

“With BCSDN, we grew and developed together as an organization. The membership brought us an exchange of knowledge and experiences with colleagues from the region, joint work, and advocacy for civil society at the regional and European level, improvement of the environment for CSOs in Montenegro through good comparative practices in legislation and procedures. We are proud of this anniversary, and we are sure that in the future, BCSDN will continue to achieve its mission successfully.” – Ms. Zorana Markovic, Executive Director of CRNVO

There are many things over these 20 years that we are proud of: from setting a common understanding of the enabling environment for civil society development through our flagship Monitoring Matrix tool to establishing the Regional Civil Society Hub as a means to empower more CSOs from the Western Balkans to join our efforts to promote civic space. BCSDN may be a testament to how successful regional cooperation can be a powerful tool to make civil society more resilient and can contribute to a vibrant, strong, and independent civil society.

“Building on our achievements and learning from the mistakes, we are committed to growing further in the years ahead by supporting each other and empowering other CSOs’ to be influential actors in our societies in order to ensure sustainable and functioning democracies in our region.” – Ms. Biljana Spasovska, Executive Director of BCSDN

Cheers to the New Year and another 20 years of BCSDN!

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