For the last two decades, within the network, we have been proudly working at a regional level to create an environment that supports civil society and promotes accountability. One of the most successful projects of our work is the Sida-funded Regional Civil Society Hub. Through its re-granting component, during the last two years, 50 small grants were awarded, along with ten multi-country actions, creating a positive impact through beneficiaries’ achievements. CSOs’ national events, regional conferences/forums, social media campaigns, and tech initiatives drove civil society actions toward strengthening existing connections between regional partners and more resilient democracies in the region.
Through innovative methods, the Hub Grantees worked with constituencies to create a more peaceful future by advocating various issues and encouraging CSOs to be powerful actors of change. By advocating alterations in a draft law, ELSA Sarajevo helped foster freedom of assembly among the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina citizens; while the Centre for Labour rights in Albania gathered employees, NGOs, labor unions, and government representatives, leading to an improved understanding of remote working. Through enhancing these processes, the Western Balkans Regional Platform for advocating media freedom and journalists’ safety advanced the state of freedom of expression and Think for Europe Network (TEN) strengthened civil society monitoring in Public Administration (PAR) area. Furthermore, Media Centre from Montenegro advocated for amendments to three media laws while Raport Media Group in BiH worked hard on reducing hate speech leading up to elections.
Other organizations worked on human rights challenges. For instance, Focus fought against discrimination by raising awareness of LGBTQ people’s challenges, and Analytica Think-Thank raised awareness about domestic violence issues. All meaningful steps towards protecting human rights were also upheld by the Helsinki Committee from North Macedonia, which fostered cooperation among various actors working on human rights, addressing the inflow of citizens’ complaints on medical issues for further processing within the justice system. YIHR and Human Rights Action – HRA made great strides in the fight against hate speech, while Censor and Roma Democratic Development Association SONCE-Tetovo worked to ensure people’s right to housing was respected. YIHT joined forces with CSOs for regional transitional justice efforts. One of the most impressive cooperative endeavors is the creation of an anti-fascist network across the Western Balkans, initiated by the Society for a Sustainable Future – Steps.
Some other projects provided legal aid support to those in need. The Citizens’ Association for Democracy and Civic Education – Civic Initiatives offered legal aid to citizens arrested or charged during a civic protest in Serbia. KlikAktiv – Center for Development of Social Policies provided psychological counseling and legal advice to people on the move, like refugees and asylum seekers, to further contribute to citizens’ well-being.
Other projects helped communities safeguard the environmental protection rights and preserve civil space in rural areas. For example, Organic Agriculture Association (OAA) from Albania discussed canceling concessions related to building a hydropower plant near the Vjosa river (Albania), while Organization KOD studied how small hydroelectric power plants were constructed within this area before finding an effective solution. In the direction of environmental protection, Polekol brought attention to the issue of water safety, Eco Team Montenegro made strides towards clean energy and a greener future in the country, while Eco Societal Action shared tips with neighboring countries on tackling lithium pollution. To help rural areas maintain strong civic spaces, MOCI set up a regional network that connected actors across sectors.
Other grantees, such as the Local Community Development Foundation Stip, boosted solidarity by launching a philanthropy awareness initiative, a topic that was echoed in SIGN’s efforts for civil society sustainability.
Besides relying on traditional methods, the regional hub opportunities for beneficiaries’ collaboration and impact also used innovative approaches like art-based civic activism. On top of these examples are FuturAl’s ten artistic narratives on Gender-Based Violence across Albania and Filmium’s use of film as a dialogue tool for fostering regional public change.
Some beneficiaries proved resilient in the face of digitalization, even turning it into an opportunity. Svetionik catalyzed cooperation and knowledge-sharing over community organizing and tech among CSOs across the region. At the same time, the CSO Forum of civic action FORCA Požega focused on building resilience through creative mediums beyond conventional media channels. On the other hand, NGO Bil spearheaded exciting Innovative Business-CSO Cooperations, which opened new spaces for action.
The Hub has also enabled some CSOs and networks to improve their internal capacities, such as Finance Think, who created WebEcon, an economic think tank network that operates across the Western Balkans. BNLD took this a step further by delivering accountancy principles useful for improving the internal network’s work. Meanwhile, ConWeb made great impact towards promoting consumer-friendly certifications, enhancing the capacities of those needing them.
Triggered by everyday realities, we are proud to be standing in solidarity with the CSOs and activists worldwide who promote peace during challenging times, such as we are facing now in Ukraine. To help our grantees fulfill this commitment, rapid response grants have been used by organizations like the Red Cross of Citluk to provide psychological support for mothers and children affected by war, while Legis from North Macedonia has provided legal aid for refugees. Additionally, PROI established the BUCN network, which fosters better cooperation between sectors within both Ukrainian and Balkan countries.
Finally, the Regional Civil Society Hub embraces all our work in building more sustainable and democratic societies in the Western Balkans, where the civil society actors with enhanced capacities would operate under supportive national and international legislation, enjoying fundamental human rights and freedoms. With the Hub, we not only supported different CSOs’ actions to resist undemocratic challenges but, using the similarity of their actions, we succeeded in merging CSOs’ work and creating new partnerships among them. On that base, we commit to continue operating in the future.
Stay tuned and regularly check our webpage for additional success stories, accomplished with the support of Regional Civil Society Hub.