Civil society initiatives are critically important in addressing inequalities and giving voice to people in the most vulnerable situations. Civil society organizations (CSOs) play a critical role in making meaningful contributions to the social, political, economic, and individual development in Kosovo*. The COVID-19 pandemic has been felt not only in the economy but throughout the society. Particularly, municipalities have faced many obstacles in concurrently managing the crisis but also maintaining adequate local services. Despite the challenges, this has created the perfect opportunity for us to rethink our values and rebuild stronger partnerships between civil society and municipalities.
With the support of the European Union in partnership with UNDP, ReLOaD 2 a four-year regional program, expanded its activities to seven municipalities of Dragash/š, Fushë Kosovë/Kosovo Polje, Mitrovicë/a South, Podujevë/o, Rahovec/Orahovac Skenderaj/Srbica and Shtërpcë/Štrpce. The program has made strides in not only reaching the most vulnerable, promoting local activism, and pursuing creative projects but most importantly – fostering regional and local collaboration. The focus of public calls remains simple: to improve public services and people’s well-being. Mechanisms are strong: tailor-made approaches to foster cooperation between municipalities and CSOs, with a strong focus on a strong emphasis on groups in most vulnerable situations. Equally important for CSOs are themes covering environmental protection, tourism, cultural heritage, and employment.
The first Public Call in the seven partner municipalities was successful in selecting 14 CSO projects that encompass the most imminent challenges faced in Kosovo*. The well-being of people is at the forefront of our local communities, therefore the main priorities focused on promoting ideas that are inclusive of all people, communities, and supportive of protection of environment and biodiversity.
Considering the challenges faced by persons with disabilities projects of OAktiv and Down Syndrome Kosova are important as they advocate for social inclusion, targeted support, and physical well-being. Oaktiv recognizes the lack of support for the needs of children with disabilities and therefore will take the initiative to organize social events that will benefit 25 children in the municipality of Podujevë/o. In the municipality of Mitrovicë/a South, 104 children and their parents will benefit from activities and support of nutritionists that promote physical well-being and healthy eating habits. These projects are also important in raising awareness to convince local authorities of the importance of providing regular personal assistance for persons with disabilities.
To combat the staggering unemployment rates among young people from ages 18 to 14 (48.7%), projects of Education Code in Fushë Kosovë/Kosovo Polje and Qendra Kosovare për Vetëpërkrahje in Skenderaj/Srbica, have placed emphasis on training and preparing 60 youngsters for their future careers. Whereas the project of the CSO Promaja in Mitrovicë/a South will provide young people with space and tools for artistic expression and promotion of cultural heritage. In the municipality of Shtërpcë/Štrpce, the focus will be on environmental and waste pollution. As a result, the project by Prima la Tolleranza will aid in promoting better waste management through the donation of waste bins for around 150 families and engaging volunteers to clean and raising awareness about protecting our biodiversity.
The allocation of local resources and the creation of synergies through civic engagement, empowerment of stakeholders, and enhancing local administration processes are the key factors to have a direct impact on people’s lives. The community potential can be reinvigorated by utilizing a bottom-up approach that raises the voices of vulnerable groups such as youth, women, and people with disabilities. This, in turn, creates a space for dialogue between people and municipalities and the overall local community to create solutions.
On Monday 17 October 2022, together with the European Union (EU) Office in Kosovo*, representatives from the central institutions, and partner municipalities, we gathered to commemorate the completion of the first public call and formalize our cooperation with the 14 awarded civil society organizations that will implement activities throughout the upcoming year with the aim to reach more than 1,000 residents.
UNDP Resident Representative Ms. Maria Suokko highlighted the role of ReLOaD in contributing to positive change in local communities. “Facilitation of active dialogue between municipalities and civil society is at the core of ReLOaD. Collaboration between municipalities, CSOs and the communities will contribute towards equal access for all and strengthen civic engagement in decision making and ultimately, improved services delivery”.
For Fetije Smakaj who signed the agreement today and for other women of Skenderaj/Srbica municipality, this is a happy day. Working with women in rural and diverse areas represents an opportunity but at the same time, a challenging process. Being part of the efforts to carve out a space and a voice for women in our society is one of the key messages to convey as something we can only accomplish together with local authorities. United in their path, Kosovo Albanian and Kosovo Serb women will work together to increase their capacities in the tourism sector and gain knowledge to become active in addressing their issues for the benefit of their communities.
Ms. Houee, Team Leader for Social Development, highlighted the importance of furthering EU objectives of a fair and accessible environment for civil society and strengthening the capacities of CSOs. “The support through ReLOaD 2 to the CSOs is not a gift, It is financial support that makes CSOs responsible and accountable to addressing the community challenges and needs.” While the selected CSO projects have various priorities and tackle a myriad of areas, they converge under a common purpose: restoring the power of communities and supporting each other.
The ReLOaD 2 team will stand on their side to help them articulate their needs and ensure lasting impact.
* For the European Union, all references to Kosovo should be understood in full compliance with Resolution 1244 (1999) and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence. For the United Nations, references to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of Security Council resolution 1244 (1999).