This mapping study was commissioned on the request of Open Society Foundations/OSIFE – Office of the Western Balkans and was designed to contribute to discussions at a Balkan Donors Forum meeting planned for 16-17 September in Skopje, North Macedonia.
The study examines institutional donor engagements in 6 countries: Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia and consists of two core documents, a regional overview and an Addendum that provides information on country-level specificities. It also explores recent and future donor engagements in the region, views of donors and key stakeholders on key issues and potential recipients of funds in the next 5 years and offers a chance to compare results with a similar study presented at a 2016 Balkan Donors Forum in Belgrade.
The study cannot be seen to present a complete picture of donor activities in the region, but its findings can provide an indication of trends and views across the region.
Particularly noteworthy may be the number of institutional donors found to have been active in the region in the period 2016-2019: 203. This figure excludes private sector giving (corporations and corporate foundations) as well as 21 additional donors identified from the Arab States, China, Russia and Turkey.
The themes most commonly supported by the 203 donors in this period are Rule of Law, Economic Advancement and Education, although some variation in top themes does appear when we look at individual countries. Other themes in which donors frequently fund are Social & Economic Justice,Sustainable Development, Citizen’s Activism & Initiatives, Human Rights and Civil Society Strengthening. The principal recipients of funds from the donors surveyed are CSOs, followed by the State (local and national).
By comparison, donors from the Arab States, China, Russia and Turkey were found to be funding principally in the areas of Education, Economic Advancement and Public Health. The vast majority (90%) of these donors provide funding to the State (compared to just under 62% among the larger group of donors).
Questions put to both donors and country-level stakeholders in the course of the mapping revealed where they see opportunities for the region, as well as a number of funding gaps and areas where adjustments in donor approaches would be beneficial.
Despite the very challenging problems facing the region, perhaps the strongest message – heard from donors and stakeholders alike – was the opportunity and hope to be found in the recent increase in grassroots civic activism, sometimes informal or issue-based, sometimes taking the form of movements. These are viewed as signs of increasing citizen engagement in public life and as a dynamic that CSOs and donors need to learn from, reach out to and support in appropriate ways.
For stakeholders from the region, education and improvements in the economy are essential areas for further work, not only over the long-term, but also to reverse the very immediate, growing and increasingly debilitating departure of young people in search of better opportunities elsewhere. Among the donors completing the survey the most common priority was the further strengthening of CSOs.
To achieve the systemic change needed to improve education, opportunities for economic advancement and other key areas, stakeholders felt that donor coordination and collaboration, increased communication between donors and CSOs as well as donor encouragement and support for governmental-CSO or multi-sectoral initiatives were needed.
Other proposed adjustments include:
• Improving the design of interventions through needs assessments and other forms of data and information gathering;
• Seeking partners among domestic organizations rather than large, external organizations or agencies;
• Exploring how re-granting can be complemented by other means of outreach to smaller CSOs outside of main cities and how rules on re-granting can be made more flexible to permit the largest impact.
Lastly, the private sector was explored and found to be most active in supporting marginalized groups, health and education. There are also signs that corporate donors are willing to work with CSOs over the long-term and collaboratively where they find common ground.