PartnersGlobal Builds Civil Society Resiliency in Serbia

Washington, DC — PartnersGlobal signed a new cooperative agreement with the United States Agency for International Development to strengthen civil society resiliency in Serbia. Civil society creates channels of communication and cooperation between government officials, business professionals, and nonprofit organizations to overcome collective challenges and improve the lives of people of Serbia. It is the vehicle to elevate citizens’ voices and needs, and mobilize for change.

The five-year Civil Society Resilience Activity, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and implemented by PartnersGlobal, seeks to contribute to a more inclusive and pluralistic Serbian society. The project helps civil society to remain resilient in the face of closing civic space and perform its function as an effective watchdog, advocate, and monitor by:

  1. Equipping civil society with new knowledge, skills, and tools to fundraise, connect with different stakeholders, and communicate in complex operating environments;
  2. Building constructive dialogue between government and citizens;
  3. Bridging the gap between citizens and civil society through awareness raising, storytelling, and outreach; and
  4. Enabling the (re)emergence of civil society-government dialogue by improving existing civil society organizations’ participation mechanisms.

Building on two years of successful resiliency programming in Serbia under the INSPIRES project, this program will address the fragmentation of the sector through a cultivated blend of resiliency interventions that reach civic actors at the individual, organizational and sectoral levels. Targeting all three of these levels embodies the pillars of our ResiliencyPlus approach.

Project partners include the Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS), DT Institute, European Center for Not-for-profit Law (ECNL), Civic Initiatives, and Partners Serbia, all of which will provide strategic advice, legal, research, and technical assistance to dozens of civil society organizations and initiatives throughout Serbia. 

“This project reflects our commitment to ensure locally driven responses to complex challenges impeding civic engagement.” says Roselie Vasquez Yetter, Co-Executive Director at PartnersGlobal.  “With a combined three decades of Serbian civil society leadership across our consortium partners, we will collectively support civil society organizations’ resilience in the face of increasingly complex civic space challenges in Serbia.”

To learn more about the Civil Society Resilience Activity, please contact Program Manager Jessica Himelfarb directly at [email protected]

  November 10, 2020

We are pleased to share with you an opportunity for local civil society organizations interested in participating in a capacity building process to strengthen their resiliency in the face of potential impacts of growing restrictions on civic space. The Resiliency+ Process, developed out of the need for a new organizational model to combat the rise of changing civic spaces around the world, will take selected organizations through a structured process to increase their organizational resilience over a period of 12 months. This opportunity is part of a larger initiative under the USAID-funded Enabling and Protecting Civic Spaces (EPCS) – Illuminating New Solutions and Programmatic Innovations for Resilient Spaces or INSPIRES activity.

Organizations based in Ecuador, Georgia, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, and Serbia will be eligible to apply. At a minimum, organizations must be a locally registered civil society organization, have at least four years of experience, and be committed to the 12-month process. Please see the attached documents for more details.

If you’re interested in participating in this opportunity, please fill out this Google Form Application by 11:59 pm EST on the following dates:

  • Kenya: November 6th
  • Nigeria, Serbia, and Senegal: November 16th
  • Ecuador: November 27th
  • Georgia: December 1st

Please feel free to contact us at [email protected] with any questions or concerns.

Check the documents below for more details:

by Nick Oatley   January 19, 2017

Just a Way of Life?

People often think corruption is ‘just a way of life’, but every society, sector and individual would benefit from standing United Against Corruption. On this International Anti-Corruption Day we recognize that corruption is a major hindrance to stability, security and sustainable development. The scale of the issue is huge. Sixty-eight per cent of countries worldwide (with a total of 6 billion people) have a serious corruption problem. Not one single country, anywhere in the world, is corruption-free.

But what is corruption and what does it mean for those living in society and how can it be tackled?

One definition of corruption is ‘the abuse of entrusted power for private gain’. It can take many forms. Corruption can be grand corruption committed at a high level of government that distort policies or the central functioning of the state, to allow leaders to benefit at the expense of the people. Petty corruption involves the everyday abuse of entrusted power by low- and mid-level public officials in their interactions with ordinary citizens, who often are trying to access basic goods or services in places like hospitals, schools, police departments and other agencies. And political corruption is a manipulation of policies, institutions and rules of procedure in the allocation of resources and financing by political decision makers, who abuse their position to sustain their power, status and wealth.

But beyond the definitions and the figures, what does it mean for ordinary citizens trying to live and operate where corruption is rife? What does it mean for businesses operating in corrupt systems?

Many companies perpetuate corrupt practices, paying bribes to rig bids to win public procurement contracts. A commonly cited World Bank estimate from 2005 places the total cost of corruption around $1 trillion annually. Some estimates place the total cost of corruption at more than 5 percent of global GDP each year, which amounts to $2.6 trillion, or 19 times larger than the $134.8 billion spent globally on official development assistance (ODA) in 2013. The Center for Strategic and International Studies produced a report using World Bank data in February 2014 that estimated private sector corruption alone accounted for $515 billion or more annually. It is estimated that the financial burden on the private sector organizations is around 10% or more in terms of added costs of doing business in many parts of the world. The result is that economic growth is impeded, competition distorted and serious legal and reputational risks for businesses are incurred. The WEF estimates that moving a business from a country with low corruption to one with medium or high corruption constitutes a 20 percent tax increase for that business.

Whilst corruption has serious impacts on businesses, the most damaging effects of corruption is on citizens. Corruption has a disproportionate impact on poor communities and is corrosive on the very fabric of society perpetuating inequality, supporting illegal trade practices which impact on human lives (e.g., human trafficking) and creating insecurity by fueling the activities of terrorist groups.

For ordinary citizens, in the worst cases, it can cost lives. Short of this, it costs people their freedom, health or their savings. Corruption can affect peoples’ democratic rights like getting access to justice in a corrupt system or getting fair treatment by the police without having to pay a bribe. Corruption can also affect the quality of peoples’ lives as corruption diverts national investment to high-profile projects such as dams, power plants, pipelines and refineries where money can be siphoned off by those in power, leaving more urgent infrastructure projects such as schools, hospitals and roads neglected.

A distinctive approach to fighting corruption at the local level

PartnersGlobal is committed to combatting corruption. We are currently implementing several initiatives with our local partners in West Africa, including Partners West Africa — Nigeria which have achieved some success in improving access to justice and promoting greater transparency. But perhaps the most effective work of Partners in this area was developed in Central and Eastern Europe. Whilst most efforts to combat corruption have tended to focus on centralized, top-down control of corruption, by creating or strengthening anticorruption legislation, empowering the institutions of law and order, enlarging the judicial and investigative systems, and encouraging the capacity of civil society to play ‘watch-dog’ roles, FPDL (Partners Foundation for Local Development) developed a highly successful methodology that adopts a different approach. The approach they developed relies on securing the active participation of the leaders of local government and their staff to work together to find solutions rooted in an analysis of factors that permit and encourage a culture of corrupt actions. The approach was informed and inspired by the highly successful intervention of four-time Mayor of La Paz Bolivia, Ronald MacLean Abaroa, who worked with one of the giants of academic anticorruption research, Robert Klitgaard, to turn around a culture of corruption in public services in La Paz during the 1980s and early 1990s.

Working off a model of the causes of corruption as represented in the formula: C = M + D — A, or, ‘corruption equals monopoly plus discretion minus accountability’, Abaroa worked with his staff to look for ways to break the monopolies operated by the local government, limit and clarify discretion, and increase transparency and accountability, all the while taking account of the costs, both direct and indirect, of these ways. He also addressed the pay and working conditions of staff and worked with Unions to get their support for the changes he introduced. In the context of Bolivia’s worst economic crisis ever, within the first two years of his administration, the approach successfully restored and improved the municipal government services, multiplied city revenues, increased investments in public works tenfold while regaining the city’s international creditworthiness.

FPDL teamed up with Abaroa and Klitgaard to develop a transferable methodology that has now been successfully implemented in more than 10 Central and South Eastern European countries in 27 local governments. As part of this effort, the Partners team trained a cadres of 150 anti-corruption practitioners and developed a network of ‘change agents’ from more than 50 countries and 4 continents, involved in the public administration reform in their countries. The approach has been internationally recognized by a UN Public Service Award (2011). What this approach demonstrates is that even where corruption is endemic and seemingly intractable, it is possible to create islands of integrity in a sea of corruption, leading to the improvement of public services and the quality of peoples’ lives.

PartnersGlobal is now actively expanding this program to Sub Saharan Africa and Latin America, and creating a new Certificate Program for Anti-Corruption Practitioners to implement the Islands of Integrity Approach directly within their local contexts. For more information on how to collaborate with us on this initiative please contact either Julia Roig, President of PartnersGlobal [email protected] or Nick Oatley, COO of PartnersGlobal at [email protected].

by Elvira Felix   November 21, 2013

Twenty-five years after the collapse of the Albanian communist government, Albania continues to experience the growing pains of a democratic transition. Throughout the years, the presence of a strong and active civil society has been a key factor in the democratization of Albania. Yet, civil society in Albania has continued to struggle to maintain their significance as advocates for citizens’ concerns.

Historically, civil society in the Balkans has been at the center of progressive change; dozens of prominent activists in the region have used civil society as a springboard for political careers. However, their entry into politics has proven to be controversial, at times even weakening or detrimental to the organizations left behind. These incidents have also triggered a broader debate about the intersection of politics, civil society and European aid in the region. Still, others argue these cases show the vitality of civil society, validating its influence and its successful penetration into politics.

Nonetheless, the cases of using civil society as a catalyst to push political agendas have shaken many citizens’ belief in civil-society initiatives. This consequently creates the opportunity for those against civil society to disenfranchise and disenable productive civil society spaces. In addition, the nuances of the bureaucratic legal and regulatory frameworks have been affecting civil society’s development and operation in the country. As a result, needed reforms and democratization have been slow to unfold within this political dynamic.

This has yet to stop Partners Albania’s efforts to address the most pressing issues for civil society development and citizen participation. Partners Albania has developed new frameworks that contribute to increased cooperation between civil society actors, and both local and national governments. By promoting new legislation that legitimizes and sanctions citizen participation processes, and by utilizing participatory methods to implement current policies, Partners Albania has made strides to integrate change and conflict management in a meaningful way. Their methods have encouraged new models of participatory governance and cooperative planning.

Regardless of the corrupt use of civil society by a few individuals or debased policies, civil society is recognized as an indispensable social partner and will continue to be an integral part of the decision-making process in the country. Given the importance of civil society participation, the Albanian government has incorporated a yearly national conference that addresses civil society concerns, entitled “Social Partners — Time for Action.”

Civil Society Milestones

Albania-parliament-thumbTo ensure action and progress after the conference, Partners Albania led the “Enabling Environment for Civil Society” Working Group; an assembly of NGO leaders and civil society experts that were in close cooperation with the Prime Minister’s office. Together with Parliament, the group engaged in a joint process to adapt the necessary strategic documents and national mechanisms for State and civil society partnerships.

The establishment of this cooperative approach between the NGO sector and the government shows that despite their differences, it is possible to develop long-term dialogue with state bodies. As a result of this constructive dialogue, several policies and developments were achieved to advance civil society’s impact:

  • Adoption of the first charter that recognized and established concrete commitments by the Albanian Parliament entitled, “Recognition and Strengthening of Civil Society’s Role in the Democratic Development Process.” The charter was the first documentation to legalize principles of cooperation and to establish accountability for both civil society and Parliament;
  • Preparation of a first draft law for the establishment of the National Council for Civil Society, an independent advisory body to the Council of Ministers. The establishment of this council will guarantee civil society organizations’ equal representation and participation in the discussion and decision-making processes within state policies. The council will now have the opportunity to encourage sustainable development of civil society in the country;
  • Adoption of the Law 92/2014 — Value Added Tax in the Republic of Albania, which introduces a series of important, fiscal changes for the improved treatment of civil society organizations, providing clarity for the economic activity of non-profits.

Bridging Politics and Civil Society

Most people in the Balkans regard political leaders as synonymous with greed and incompetence; civil society therefore is playing a vital role for Albanian citizens’ oversight and involvement in government decisions. Overall, civil society groups such as NGOs are seen as an important counterbalance to bad government, representing the needs of the people to those in power. In this sense civil society groups have a political purpose; however, civil society organizations’ credibility often stems from their distance from political parties. Likewise, politicians can be criticized for appearing to align themselves with some in the civil society sector too openly.

In Albania the roles of politics, government and civil society are often seen as black and white. However, in order for there to be a thriving and prosperous Albania, civil society must be able to work with political leaders and government officials outside of any one political agenda. Partners Albania is demonstrating that this kind of collaboration is possible and can produce better results. The “Enabling Environment for Civil Society” Working Group has produced concrete policies through a truly participatory process. Ultimately, it will help civil society organizations to consolidate as they continue to play their needed role in a more open and democratic Albania.

Although Partners Albania has helped to establish noteworthy advancements for civil society, there is still much work to be done. NGOs need to continue to be vigilant when it comes to monitoring institutions and the enforcement of new laws that support civil society’s role in a democratic society. Under the auspices of the Working Group, Parliament will also continue to monitor and measure the progress of civil society’s enabling environment yearly by revising and setting new objectives to improve the sector. Together with other local NGOs, Partners Albania is committed to fostering this collaborative space for ongoing feedback and improvement of the legal framework, and to help oversee the proper implementation of the current laws.