Open Society Foundations/OSIFE and the European Fund for the Balkans, together with the Forum’s Working Group (Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, ERSTE Foundation and Civil Rights Defenders) were partners in the organisation of the first Balkans Donors Forum, which was held in Belgrade from September 21-23, 2016.
The idea of the Forum was to examine the current socio-political momentum in the Balkans, which is both regressing in many areas and progressing in others. These new realities of the region pose numerous new questions and challenges to the community of donors, so it was seen as urgent to (re)consider the impacts on what is being supported and how the donors operate in this context both now and in the future. How much have the Balkans changed? What are the new needs and how well do we understand these new needs? Perhaps more importantly, what are the opportunities we can seize upon and how can we ensure that our investments affect positive change in society?
These were just the few questions that were presented in front of the dynamic and evolving community of the donors in the Balkans, offering an open space for constructive discussion, brainstorming and sharing of mutual goals in the different areas of engagement. The Forum was also presented as a platform for sparking greater collaboration and identifying new approaches.
Two research papers were commissioned for the Balkan Donors Forum and served as a basis for the dicussions – 1) The Current Socio-Political Situation in the Western Balkans: The Return of the Balkan Strongmen? – an analysis of the current socio-political situation in the Balkans by Nikola Dimitrov and 2) Speaking to the Future: A Mapping of Donor Investments in the Western Balkans (2014-2018) a mapping exercise of the donors who are active in the region and of the areas they cover authored by Aleksandra Vesic, Julia Szanton and Zorica Raskovic.
A significant number of donors active in the Balkans, including domestic and international foundations, governmental agencies and multilaterals were joined in Belgrade as a representatives of the committed community of donors, engaged in the fruitful and comprehensive discussion and conclusions.
In the Opening Address, Judy Dempsey spoke about challenges and opportunities facing Europe and the Balkans to a captivated audience. In her remarks, Ms. Dempsey outlined the backsliding in democratic standards and values across Europe (as they relate to the refugee crisis, Brexit, the war in Ukraine and other pressing developments) and how this reflects on the Balkan countries and their prospects of joining the European Union. The Opening Plenary Session “Europe and the Balkans Twenty-Five Years On – Facing Changes, Addressing Challenges and Charting the Way Forward” moderated by Jordi Vaquer with the panelists Nikola Dimitrov, Marina Škrabalo and Robert Hårdh, solidified the notion put forth by Ms. Dempsey, that the European Union is losing its credibility as the crisis of democracy is becoming more and more evident globally.
During the Breakout Session I: Effective Activism in Europe and at Home in the Balkans, moderated by Katherine Watson with Damir Arsenijević, Alex Pazaitis, Jovana Đorđević and Vasyl Cherepanyn on the panel, the discussion focused around effective and innovative approaches to movement building and activist mobilization.
In the Breakout Session II: Global Security and the Donor Community moderated by Fabrice de Kerchove with panelists Edina Bećirević, Uranija Pirovska, Vladimir Petronijević and Tomasz Terlecki, the discussion focused on countering violent extremism in Bosnia and Herzegovina, understanding how best to support refugees and migrants from the perspective of Macedonia and Serbia, as well as combatting climate change.
During the session Breaking Bread and Sharing Ideas, lunch was set up around thematic tables with topics that were not directly addressed in the agenda but were identified as pressing matters facing the Balkans – Corporate Donors Landscape, The Battlefield for Culture and Social Change, Digital Rights and New Technologies, Shrinking of Civil Society Space and Freedom of Expression, Impact Economy, Donor Networks and Coalitions, Open Space for Follow-Up, Anything and Everything: Choose Your Own Topic.
At the final plenary session of Day 2, the Donors Innovation Tournament, led by Zoran Puljić, the group was split into teams with an objective to develop a regional call for proposals within a certain designated budget and timeframe with the objective of innovation in search of hope. In a collaborative and competitive spirit, the exercise encouraged the participants to define the problem to solve, the expected collective impact that brings hope and clear impact indicators, as well as to incentivize the development of organizational structure in order to achieve the goal. The request for proposals of the group which won the tournament focused on the lack of critical engagement and opportunities for the youth, also identified by other teams as the most critical obstacle to social and economic development in the Balkans.