Belgrade, October 4, 2019

The number of citizens’ associations is increasing year by year, but there is a strong polarization of the sector and an increasing number of GONGO and PONGO organizations

Before you are the results of the “Assessment of the Needs of the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in Serbia in 2019“ report, conducted by Civic Initiatives through the Resource Center for Civil Society Organizations in Serbia project, with the support of the European Union. This is the first of two reports to be conducted over the three year period of project duration (2019-2021).

Since 2013, Civic Initiatives team has been monitoring the situation in the civil society sector and, by applying the Monitoring Matrix methodology, prepares reports on changes in the legal framework, as well as on trends and experiences from the practice of the associations, especially in the areas of freedom of association, assembly and information, financial sustainability and cooperation with the Government.

Through previous reports, it is possible to determine how civil society space has gradually narrowed and how undemocratic practices have led to numerous irregularities in public tenders, funding citizens’ associations, attacks and campaigns against activists and the formation of an increasing number of governmental non-governmental organizations (GONGOs) and political non-governmental organizations (PONGOs).

On the other hand, the declaratory statement of the Serbian authorities that they are committed to the values ​​of the European Union and efforts to harmonize the legal framework through the accession process, are not evidenced by facts, as can be seen through amendments to the Law on Public Assembly, the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance, the election of the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance, the lack of parliamentary debate and other examples listed in the text.

These worrying trends resulted in, among other things, the creation of the Three Freedoms platform in April 2019, signed by twenty CSOs. The goal of the platform is to jointly combat attacks against CSO activists and employees, fake news and information dissemination regarding their actions, as well as to fight for stronger influence on decision-makers on topics related to CSO activities.

The most important results of this research, compared to the previous ones, are related to the increase in numbers of citizens’ associations and the fact that the number is increasing year by year. However, there is still a strong polarization of the sector and an increasing number of GONGO and PONGO organizations. A large number of associations base their activities on the voluntary work of the members. A connection has been determined between the date of origin and, in regard to that, the topics covered by the associations, their technical equipment and geographical distribution, membership, funding structure, educational structure of those working in the associations. All the data obtained show us that there is a general lack of strategic directions in the work of the association, which, in addition to the strong trend of narrowing space for the civic engagement, may also result in consolidation of donor support.

A large number of associations still have high expectations of the state, both in terms of providing an enabling environment for their development (legal and tax framework) and in terms of funding, which has remained unchanged from the findings of the previous report. This information tells us that new ways of financing associations need to be provided, as well as working on strengthening their capacity to open up to alternative modes of sustainability, for example through philanthropic giving, membership, donations, social entrepreneurship, etc.

One interesting data collected shows that associations claim they regularly involve citizens in their activities, as well as in the preparation of their activities, while, on the other hand, the interviewed citizens say they did not participate in the work / activities of CSOs, except for possible donations to humanitarian organizations. This data points to the discrepancy between the understanding of the role of CSOs between citizens and CSOs themselves.

Resource Center’s (RC) role is to support civil society organizations and non-formal groups in Serbia through capacity building programs, mentoring support and empowerment to participate in the decision-making and the regulation processes. This research should provide credibility and the base line for RC to operate, taking into account findings on the needs of civil society in Serbia. This report should, as well, serve both donors in creating donor strategies, and public administration bodies that fund programs and projects of citizens‘associations.

The Resource Center for Civil Society Organizations in Serbia project is implemented by a consortium of organizations lead by Civic Initiatives, in cooperation with Local Resource Centers from Požega – Forca Požega, People‘s Parliament from Leskovac, Bečej Youth Association from Bečej, and in partnership with the Trag Foundation, Catalyst Foundation, Serbia on the Move and the Social Policy Center.

You can download the full Needs Assessment Report below.