Balkan Civil Society Development Network
The Balkan Civil Society Development Network (BCSDN) has recently established the Regional Civil Society Development Hub which offers various kinds of support and funding mechanisms for the CSOs in the Western Balkan region. Through this Hub and with the financial assistance provided by SIDA, BCSDN expands its support for effective, transparent, and accountable CSOs in an effort for a better, democratic and inclusive space for civil society.
The recent TACSO Needs Assessment Regional Report 2019 prepared by BCSDN identifies transparency and accountability as one of the main capacity-related challenges for CSOs in the region. While there is growing awareness of the importance of transparency in times of shrinking civic space, the level of transparency in CSOs is generally rather low in practice. A large number of CSOs in the region do not publish annual reports and, among those that do it, do not necessarily include a financial report. Even when CSOs report on their activities, they tend to focus on outputs rather than on their impact. Indeed, there is an absence of impact measurement methodology, knowledge, and resources. Proper communication tools to reach to their constituencies are also crucial for maintaining CSOs trust among citizens. The level of communication skills in CSOs is relatively basic, focusing more on promotion and using technical project language, instead of relying on story-telling. This results in having a sub-optimal and one-way presentation of CSOs activities to the public, which ultimately increases the gap between CSOs and their constituencies. Further, given the lack of funding, CSOs’ activities are mostly motivated by donors’ priorities, which can lead to tensions between donors’ own agendas and CSOs’ core missions. Therefore, investing more efforts in successfully advancing the Dynamic Accountability approach should be a starting point towards improved trust and legitimacy of the CSO sector and increased capacity.
With these challenges in mind, one of Hub main focus is the contribution towards effective, transparent, and accountable work of CSOs in their efforts to expand the civic space.
In this respect, BCSDN provides funding for the regional networks, platforms, and initiatives, striving to improve CSOs capacities and legitimacy and to increase the trust from their constituencies, that is, the citizens, donors, and policy-makers. The regional grants offer funding to support networks in the Western Balkan region to implement activities aimed at increasing trust in CSOs by introducing accountability mechanisms and standards such as the Dynamic Accountability approach of the Global Standard for CSO Accountability. The activities eligible for funding focus on supporting CSO constituency and trust-building, innovative outreach activities, CSO re-branding, capacity building for CSOs resilience against attacks, encouraging meaningful participation of stakeholders at all levels, etc.
In addition to this type of grants, the Hub is also envisaged to offer funding through the ad-hoc support grants program. Ad-hoc support is an instrument that provides rapid funding for a CSO’s immediate need to promote civic space when there is insufficient time to operate through the standard grant award procedure.
All types of support offered by the Hub have a regional focus, where the CSOs from the region are encouraged to share the experience and expertise across countries, aiming to foster regional cooperation towards strengthening the civic space within the region, thus leading to a democratic, vibrant and pluralistic society in the long term.