Stanka Parac Damjanović, Balkan Network for Local Democracy: CSOs and local authorities are the “natural” partners

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Stanka Parac Damjanovic, senior trainer and pedagogue, has a long standing professional experience as an NGO practitioner working in civil society development, education for active citizenship and good governance at local level. Her primary area of engagement is related with capacity building, research and awareness raising activities targeting civil society organisations and local self-governments. Long years of working with Local Democracy Agencies (LDAs) has become an inspiration for initiating cross-border and regional co-operation connecting local communities , engaging LDAs in regional intercultural exchange and participatory local development policy making thus continuously creating a community of good practice.

What are the strengths of a regional network such as BNLD?
The main strength of BNLD is twofold: strong and sustainable LDAs as BNLD founding members as the pillar of the regional network on one side, and shared values and mission statement underpinning a bottom –up approach and local ownership over the democratic reforms and getting the citizens across the region closer with EU integration process. More than twenty years of working together in pursuing the shared values is our additional strength thus providing the grounds for building organizational capacities and a specific institutional memory in the field of decentralization and reforming the local self-government system in WB region.

As a regional actor what is the first issue you would tackle?
BNLD primary area of activities is related with the promotion of good local governance principles, developing participatory approaches and mechanisms of citizen participation in policy/decision making. Public consultations in policy – making, active citizenship, transparency and accountability principles, inclusive local development are the key issues we are addressing through a wide range of local and regional projects engaging diverse sections of local community, with particular emphasis on youth, women and marginalized groups.

The mission of BNLD is to empower the cooperation between civil society and local authorities. What do you believe is the key to successful cooperation?
We consider that co-operation between civil society and local authorities is the key prerequisite for the recognition of CSOs as relevant and reliable partner in the overall reform process. Moreover, CSOs and local authorities are the “natural” partners and drivers of promoting EU values and standards of good democratic governance. Additionally, the advisory and monitoring role of civil society organisations with particular focus on effective implementation of policy measures creates the solid grounds for permanent education for active citizenship, civic initiatives contributing to responsible and accountable performances of local public authorities.

Which of your activities are you most proud of?
There are certainly a large number of activities we have developed and implemented so far at local and regional level. They evolved in parallel with our organizational capacities to manage and coordinate both local, cross-border and regional co-operation projects. Thus, for example, the network of LDAs was engaged in organization of large – scale regional reconciliation programme within the EU Instrument for Stability taking place in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia. Regional Youth Compact for Europe is another successful story we are proud of. This multi annual co-operation initiative engaging youth groups from diverse local communities in intensive capacity building and intercultural exchange is one of our most recent flagship initiatives putting our Network on the map of relevant regional thematic CSOs. The Monumental 9 and CulTour projects have contributed to further strengthen our capacities in youth cultural participation and valorization of cultural heritage as a local development resource.
Finally, our jointly developed CSOs networking for better local government has enabled us to create adequate digital participation tools, advocacy tools, online learning and resource hub for civil society development and sustainable mechanisms for participation and civic initiatives at local level.

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