Engaging Donors for Civic Space Protection and Improved CSO Accountability

By July 1, 2021 NMedia

 Marija Vishinova, Communications and Information Officer, Balkan Civil Society Development Network 

June 17, 2021

In pursuing our strategic objectives, focused on strengthening CSOs’ capacities and their role in democratic regimes during a period of shrinking civic space in the Balkans, BCSDN has engaged in a meaningful dialogue with different stakeholders, including donors, to support efforts around CSO accountability. Enhanced CSO accountability not only contributes to effective management within an organization, but also strengthens CSO relationships with its constituencies, donors, and government which, in turn, increases public trust. Strong and accountable CSOs are prerequisites for a more enabling civil society environment in the Balkans.

International donors with operations in the Balkans, such as the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), the European Commission, and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) have provided substantial financial and technical support to CSOs during a period in which governments have adopted stricter regulations towards civil society in the region. Therefore, CSO accountability has become not only a means for strengthening civil society capacities but also contributing to the overall quality of democratic practices in the Balkans.

Recognized as one of the donors with a deeper understanding of the region’s political and social context, Sida supports programs to strengthen civil society. The need for capable, transparent, and accountable CSOs is considered as key to civil society development by the European Commission as well. EU’s commitment to supporting CSO accountability in the Enlargement and the EU Neighborhood countries as an approach to contribute to CSO resilience encompasses the concept of CSO self-regulation addressed in the new EU Guidelines for Support to Civil Society in the Enlargement Region.

With support from EU and Sida, BCSDN has implemented four programs since 2018, geared towards enhancing CSO accountability at national, regional, and international levels.

Together with CNVOS from Slovenia, BCSDN is a partner of the EU-funded program on “Sustainable Civil Society –State Financing of CSOs”, implemented by the Macedonian Center for International Cooperation (MCIC). Through this program, BCSDN has provided training and funding to five CSO networks to advance their own transparency and accountability practices.

In addition, in 2019, BCSDN established the Sida-funded Regional Civil Society Development Hub to provide strategic support for regional actions concerning the protection of the civic space in Western Balkans.

Our membership and cooperation with global networks working on civil society accountability, such as the Global Standard for CSO Accountability, the CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness (CPDE), and CIVICUS Affiliated Group of National Associations (AGNA)’s Legitimacy, Transparency and Accountability (LTA) Working Group have reinforced our efforts in this regard, by helping us acquire and share knowledge on enhanced CSO accountability practices that we adapt to our regional context.

As part of our actions in support of the Global Standard for CSO Accountability, BCSDN has also implemented a diverse set of activities, including training, technical assistance to review national CSO code of conducts based on the Global Standard’s framework, and network’s and national CSOs’ implementation of Global Standard’s commitments and its approach to dynamic accountability in Albania and North Macedonia. Our support has also entailed applying the Global Standard’s self-assessment tools – including through the RendirApp – to our members and national CSOs in both countries.

As European Secretariat for the CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness (CPDE), BCSDN has been implementing a 2-year CPDE-Sida program on “Promoting the Universal Application of Effective Development Cooperation for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).” The specific objectives and activities undertaken include promoting CSO Development Effectiveness principles and understanding of civil society accountability.

Protecting the civic space is an ongoing challenge. Therefore, we believe donors in the Balkans have an important role in:

  • Continue supporting effective conversations and collaboration with CSOs and encouraging them to jointly recognize and counter the threats in the environment in which they operate.
  • Reaffirming their commitment to supporting a strong and vibrant civil society and help critical civil society voice reach the governments and CSOs’ beneficiaries.
  • Supporting CSOs to respond to the governments’ restrictions, increase accountability to their constituents and the communities they serve, and provide innovative mechanisms in helping CSOs preserve the civic space.
  • Investing in long-term support to CSO accountability, applying the Global Standard as a reference standard to shift the power, making more sustainable, long-term support for civil society operations.

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