SUPPORT TO THE CIVIL SECTOR
Strong and active civil society – a mechanism for social change
Each society is a society of different opposing and even conflicting interests. In order for their voice to be heard, citizens must be organized around common problems and must have a way of jointly advocating the idea of change they want to bring about. Civil society provides this mechanism.
According to a survey conducted by ORCA, citizens have little confidence in the usefulness and impact of civil society organizations. Their financial sustainability is weak and capacities for strategic planning and public advocacy are underdeveloped (ORCA 2016).
With the aim of improving the situation in the field of sustainable agriculture in the Western Balkans and become more recognizable by decision-makers and citizens, civil society organizations must be built, empowered and networked.
ORCA supports civil society organizations in the fields of animal welfare, environmental protection and rural development, through training, mentoring support for project proposals, and grants for implementation of projects in these fields.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
MONITORING THE LOCAL INSTITUTIONS’ WORK AND CALLING FOR ACCOUNTABILITY
Civil society organizations investigate and monitor areas of public interest, contribute to the advancement of policies and regulations and their implementation, inform and motivate citizens to self-organize and cooperate, and engage in a constructive and structured dialogue with public institutions. They are an important mechanism for overseeing the work of public institutions, as they monitor and regulate the conduct of the state, that is, the behavior of its officials, and promote the principles of good governance such as accountability, transparency, efficiency, openness and inclusiveness.
PUBLIC ADVOCACY FOR SOCIAL CHANGE
A strong and active civil society is a mechanism for bringing about social change, and public advocacy is a tool for organizations to achieve these changes. Public advocacy is the process of changing policies and regulations, as well as the attitudes, behaviors and practices of all actors on whom the change depends. Organizations influence positive social change coming to life in the daily life of citizens and improved policies implementation. They encourage civil activism and help citizens articulate their values, beliefs and needs and participate more fully in social events.
EXPERTISE AND PROVISION OF SERVICES
Civil society organizations are significant providers of various services such as research, education, social protection, legal aid and others. Their expertise in particular areas is a significant resource, and because of their close connection with local communities that also create opportunities for ‘reaching’ the most vulnerable groups, they are often able to identify and meet the needs not previously expressed and to provide cheaper and better quality services from other providers.
A survey of citizens’ views on civil society organizations and sustainable agriculture conducted by ORCA in 2016 in Serbia and Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia and Albania found that only half of citizens support civil society organizations. The situation is similar with financial support. The number of citizens who said they would financially support the work of an organization and of those who would not is equal. Citizens have little confidence in the usefulness and impact of civil society organizations. In the opinion of the majority of citizens, the impact of organizations on solving key problems in the field of sustainable agriculture is small. It is interesting that the role of civil society organizations is not well understood by citizens. As the main role of organizations citizens stated research and problem identification, promotion of international cooperation and education of agricultural producers, and rarely chose answers such as conducting public campaigns and supporting the Ministries in strategic planning and policy making.
Only 16% of organizations in the Western Balkans have been labeled as financially viable with annual budgets in excess of € 20,000 (ORCA, 2016).
ORCA conducted research on the capacity of civil society organizations primarily working in the fields of sustainable agriculture and nature conservation in 2016 in Serbia and Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia and Albania. The survey showed that the prevalence of civil society organizations in the region is uneven. The largest concentration of civil society organizations is found in capitals and larger centers, while the civil sector in other areas of the country is less developed. Poor financial sustainability is a major problem for organizations. The survey found that about 58% of CSOs have annual budgets of less than € 5,000, while only 4% of CSOs have budgets over € 100,000 annually. The capacity of organizations for strategic planning and advocacy is also related to the budget. Organizations with an annual budget of less than 10,000 EUR (58% of organizations) often do not have clearly defined missions and programs, but are rather devoted to a wide range of topics. Few organizations (only 16%) have clearly defined strategic goals and well-developed programs, or capacities for public advocacy.
In order to play their role successfully, civil society organizations must possess certain capacities such as organizational and financial sustainability, expertise, visibility and support in the community, recognition by relevant institutions, networking and public advocacy capacity. They need to be able to convince citizens of their usefulness and capacity to cause changes in order to win their support.
“Where civil society is welcomed, communities are more safe, more secure, and more prosperous” (Ben Rhodes, American writer and political commentator)