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Citizens' attitudes research
Researching the capacity of civil society organizations in the Western Balkans
The process of integration of the Western Balkan countries into the European Union implies numerous challenges in the field of sustainable agriculture and conservation of nature. Civil society organizations can significantly assist in responding to these challenges, bearing in mind their position as a "bridge between citizens and relevant institutions" and presence in local communities. However, in order for their role in the European integration process to be successful, civil society organizations must possess certain capacities such as organizational and financial sustainability, expertise, visibility and support in the community, recognition by competent institutions, networking, and advocacy capacity.
The research of the capacity of civil society organizations in Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Albania, and Kosovo was carried out in June 2016. The aim of the research was to assess the capacity of civil society organizations in five countries of the Western Balkans. The survey included 652 civil society organizations in the Western Balkan countries, which primarily work in the fields of sustainable agriculture and nature conservation. The research was carried out in two phases: the first phase of researchingonline information and internet presentations of associations and the second phase of researching advocacy capacity of the selected sample of 200 civil society organizations.
Based on this research, the Training & Grant Programme has been designed to assist civil society organizations in the Western Balkans (Grant & Training Programme).
The most important conclusions:
1. The distribution of civil society organizations is uneven
The uneven distribution of civil society organizations in the region is noticeable. In Montenegro, most civil society organizations can be found in the northern and central parts of the country. In Albania and North Macedonia, most organizations, especially those with great budgets, are located in the capital cities. In Serbia, and especially in Kosovo, organizations are predominantly located in certain areas of the country (the capitals together with some other cities and municipalities), leaving the less developed civil sector in the field of agriculture in other countries.
2. Financial sustainability of civil society organizations is poor
The survey found that about 58% of civil society organizations have annual budgets of less than EUR 5,000; 15% of organizations have budgets ranging from EUR5,000 to 10,000; while 11% of organizations have a budget ranging from EUR 10,000 to 20,000. Only 16% of organizations are labeled financially viable with annual budgets that exceed EUR 20,000 and more funding sources, including the European Union. Only 4% of organizations in five Western Balkan countries have a budget of over € 100,000 annually.
Poor financial sustainability is the most significant problem in the work of civil society organizations in the countries of the Western Balkans. Limited funding opportunities are a motive for some of these organizations to implement projects that are not closely related to their mission, to ensure short-term financial survival. Financial unsustainability and limited advocacy results are the consequence of the lack of strategic planning and expertise dominating among organizations with an annual budget below € 10,000.
3. The capacity of strategic planning organizations is limited
Although there are certain specificities in relation to individual countries, generally speaking, the capacity for strategic planning of civil society organizations working in the field of agriculture and conservation of nature is closely related to the level of their annual budget.
Organizations with an annual budget of less than EUR 10,000 usually do not have clearly defined missions, programmes, or special areas of work, but are committed to raising awareness about a wide range of topics. Organizations whose annual budget ranges between 10,000 and 20,000 euros have more clearly defined strategic commitments, and their projects are generally in line with their missions. On the other hand, organizations with annual budgets of over EUR 20,000 usually have clearly defined missions and strategic goals, or well-developed programmes that handle a limited set of problems. It is interesting that even though Montenegro is the smallest country in the region in terms of population, civil society organizations working in the field of agriculture and conservation of nature aremost developed in Montenegro relative to the size of the population.
4. Advocacy capacity needs to be developed in civil society organizations
Advocacy capacity of civil society organizations is also closely related to the amount of their annual budget.
Thus, advocacy activities oforganizations with an annual budget of less than EUR 5,000 refer primarily to public meetings and lectures, as well as volunteer actions. Organizations whose annual budget ranges between EUR 10,000 and EUR 20,000 have a greater focus on programme activities, and some are able to engage in decision-making processes at the local level and advocacy projects. Organizations with annual budgets of over EUR 20,000 have highly developed advocacy capacity. However, bearing in mind that only 16% of organizations belong to this category, the conclusion is that, in general, advocacy capacities are relatively weak.
5. The political environment is developing, but the mechanisms of cooperation between organizations and the state exist
The political environment for the work of civil society organizations is still under development. In all five countries, there are state institutions dedicated to the development of civil society organizations. Public funding instruments exist in all countries but are used to a different extent. Local governments, as well as ministries responsible for agriculture and/or environmental protection, are in a position to finance the work of civil society organizations in all countries.
The strongest political support for the work of civil society is noticeable in Montenegro. On the other hand, in Albania, one of the major problems for the civil sector is the registration of civil society organizations. Due to difficult and demanding procedures, only a limited number of organizations have been registered, so it is assumed that there are at least 8,000 civil society organizations in the country, of which only 6,800 are registered.