InFocus: Citizens Involvement Fund (CIF)
A partnership to address the needs of the most vulnerable

One of the key mandates of the European PROGES is to develop the capacities of the local self-governments (LSGs) to better address the citizens’ needs. Over the past decades a substantial change has been achieved in this regard for the general population. However, addressing the specific needs of the most vulnerable groups still remains outside of the realm of the local self-governments and is often left in the care of the local civil society organisations (CSOs). This is where the European PROGRES strives to make the change.

As Ambassador Michael Davenport, the Head of the European Union Delegation to the Republic of Serbia noted in one of his speeches, the non-governmental organisations are the key to the sustainability of any community based project. These organisation remain the strongest and sometimes the only voice of the most vulnerable in their pursuit to exercising their right through existing structures.

“CIF is meant to encourage partnerships among LSGs and local CSOs to systematically address the pressing issues that are affecting the citizens’ quality of life. This is why the projects eligible for this fund must be partnerships between local CSOs and LSGs,“ says Biljana Kerić, CIF project coordinator.

Although not exclusively, CIF supported projects are mainly focused on the three thematic areas: social inclusion and employability of vulnerable and marginalised groups, inter-ethnic dialogue and inter-cultural cooperation and migration issues. All of the programmes aim to contribute to the local development including improvement of health and social services, economic empowerment and the establishment and adoption of local policies. Along with ensuring the improvement of living conditions in the local communities, CIF projects strongly contribute to capacity building of the civil society organisations themselves.

Within the European PROGRES the first Call of the CIF was published in September 2014 when up to 20,000 Euros was allocated for the projects involving one LSG and one CSO, or up to 40,000 Euros in case where two municipalities partner with two CSOs better known as “2+2” partnership . All projects supported by the Programme were expected to provide a minimum of 10% co-funding.

In December 2014, the first of two rounds of CIF Calls for Proposals was completed and 20 projects in total amount 400,000 Euros and 70,000 Euros of co-funds were approved for funding by the Programme Steering Committee. Proposals were selected based on evaluation of the methodology, sustainability and cost effectiveness of the proposed intervention, relevance of the proposal to the objectives of the Call and operation capacities of the applicant and partnership arrangement.

Amongst other issues the selected projects will tackle unemployment and will strive to economically empower marginalised citizens through rural development and the start-up of the small enterprises. The business community of Knjaževac pledged to introduce and implement corporate social responsibility practices. In Surdulica and Vladičin Han projects will aim to decrease the number of Roma school children drop-outs while in Bujanovac a local NGO will facilitate long term cooperation and inter-ethnic dialog between two, Serbian and Albanian high-schools. Some CIF initiatives will also endeavour to increase the efficiency of inter-sectorial system for prevention of human trafficking and protection of the trafficking victims in the South of Serbia. It is expected that the next CIF Call for proposals will be published in the middle of 2016 after the first cycle of projects is completed.

The CIF intervention within European PROGRES is partially built on the results of the predecessor programme - EU PROGRES which between 2011 and 2014 provided 530,000 Euros for 66 projects. There were 16,500 direct beneficiaries of the intervention, while the number of indirect beneficiaries, through the both CIF Calls exceeded 600,000.

Overall, the CIFs contribution to enhancement of the cooperation between CSOs and LSGs has so far been significant. Apart from the obvious - number of successfully realised partnership projects, significant number of partnerships continued even after the conclusion of the project and outside funding. In more than one case the partnerships grew through larger projects realised in the new CIF round or through other initiatives. The CSO feedback shows that CIF opened up room for more regular communication with LSG representatives and better understanding between civic and public sector. On the other side, many challenges in this cooperation still remain - insufficient interest for involvement of CSOs in decision making process, politicised partnerships, and insufficient transparency in disbursement of the municipal funds to the organisations.

“CIF is just a part of the much larger development process that European PROGRES is working on. All of the issues we are facing are really an inherent part of the road to better processes so we make efforts to address these challenges and then find the solutions together,” concludes Kerić.

Implementation of the first 20 CIF projects started during February and March 2015 is already generating good initial results. After comprehensive selection process, 16 women from deprived socio-economic groups in Trgovište and Vladičin Han are chosen as eligible to participate in the project. They were equipped with the greenhouses and seedlings to start production of vegetables. It is expected that 16 women and 73 members of their families will be economically empowered through this project.

The project implemented by the Muscular Dystrophy Association Jablanica District is contributing to improvement of the quality, efficiency and availability of health services by training 33 on-staff doctors in the application and training about the process of non-invasive ventilation (NIV) for the persons with neuromuscular dystrophy. A group of 24 people with disabilities and their family members were trained to use NIV device at home. It is expected that the project will decrease the number of deaths of neuromuscular patients as well as to improvement of their health condition.