The European Commission’s 2016 progress report for Albania identified that local government lacked adequate capacity to ensure proper cooperation and funding of civil society. The report noted the need for adequate administrative and legal structure changes and increased human capacity to enable a better environment for cooperation between civil society and local government.
Stela Mardusha has worked as a specialist in the European Integration Department at Shkodra Municipality for eight years. She explains the difficulties that the municipality used to face in disbursing funds and cooperating with civil society. “We did not have any specific methodology for cooperation with civil society organisations (CSOs). This made it difficult for us to have targeted CSO projects with clearly defined priorities and results,” says Stela.
The Regional Programme on Local Democracy in the Western Balkans (ReLOaD) is a regional initiative financed by the European Union and implemented by UNDP in the six Western Balkans countries. In 2017, ReLOaD in Albania launched a call for municipalities to apply to be part of the support programme that aimed to help them increase administrative and human capacity efficiency in cooperating with civil society organisations. Shkodra municipality was among 35 municipalities that applied and among 12 municipalities that were granted support.
For Stela, the main and most important novelty introduced by the programme was the LOD methodology and manual which was approved by the Municipality Council at the beginning of cooperation with the ReLOaD programme. “LOD” stands for Local Democracy and is an instrument closely aligned with EU rules on the financing of external actions and guaranteeing an open procedure, equal opportunities for all candidates, visibility, and transparency. The manual starts with setting priorities, and covers the launch of the call, management of the project and implementation and monitoring of progress. “There is a considerable workload, but in the end, it is all worth it because it provides an excellent opportunity to work closely with civil society,” says Stela.
Strengthening human resources to improve the quality of services
Strengthening the capacity of the partner municipalities’ staff and CSOs, in the area of the project management cycle, was one of the key pillars of the ReLOaD programme. In addition to the introduction of the LOD methodology, the programme also supported partner municipalities in training their staff on the implementation of the methodology. The training included technical knowledge on drafting reports and budgets, project implementation and monitoring, with the standards of the European Union, and other necessary skills. Stela says that in addition to bringing her in close contact with civil society organisations, this training helped her to structure good work practices.
The municipalities of Shkodra and Tirana adapted quickly and successfully applied the LOD methodology and now serve as mentors to new partner municipalities.
In the first three years, the ReLOaD programme also provided funding for local non-profit organisations. More than 5,000 Shkodra citizens benefited from initiatives promoting social inclusion, women’s empowerment, tourism, culture and youth. This grant scheme also enabled the officials from the municipality to implement the LOD methodology and their learning from the training.
Stela says that she has learned a lot from this successful journey and is now ready to share with her peers in other ReLOaD partner municipalities which have joined in 2021. “After five years of experience, I call on my colleagues to benefit as much as possible from the opportunity that ReLOaD offers. It is a great learning experience for the administration: it is a long-term course where in the end the winners are local administrations, civil society organisations and society,” Stela says.
About the project
The Regional Programme on Local Democracy in the Western Balkans (ReLOaD) is a regional initiative financed by the European Union and implemented by UNDP. The Programme aims to strengthen participatory democracies and the EU integration process in the Western Balkans by empowering civil society to take an active part in decision-making and by stimulating an enabling legal and financial environment for civil society and pluralistic media. It also works to strengthen partnerships between local governments and civil society in the Western Balkans by scaling up a successful model of transparent and project-based civil society organisation funding from local government budgets towards greater civic engagement in decision-making and improvement of local service delivery.
Photo credits: ReLOaD
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