Under the auspices of the project “Civil Society for the Advancement of Serbia’s EU Accession Process”, in cooperation with the Embassy of the Kingdom of Sweden in Serbia, the Belgrade Open School has launched a new component of establishing and strengthening cooperation between the civil and business sectors.
Educational organization Belgrade Open School (BOS), has been engaged in human resources development, advancing public policies and empowering the business, civil and public sectors for almost three decades, to build a better society based on freedom, knowledge and innovation. BOS has placed people at the center of its activities as social change leaders, with whom it has implemented more than 500 projects for over 85,000 direct users of BOS services and educational programs. Vesna Đukić, general director of BOS, is particularly looking forward to the Innovation-Integration event, which heralds the cooperation of the business and civil sectors in the European integration process and the goals of sustainable development.
„The issue of social development and the changes that the European integration process brings about are equally important to the representatives of the business sector and civil society is precisely the reason why we have decided to include business sector representatives in the activities related to this important project. Monitoring and supporting the reforms that facilitate the European integration process and working towards accomplishing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are a great opportunity for the two sectors to work together, which will benefit citizens the most. Many examples from Europe demonstrate that major positive changes in society have been brought about through the cooperation of all stakeholders in society,“ Ms Đukić says.
Looking back, do you think that the business sector in Serbia has been paying attention to the needs of the civil sector, and, if it has, to what extent?
– The issue of cooperation between civil and business sector has not been one of those frequently asked questions in the society, and therefore there isn’t much information about the two sectors cooperating on development projects. Until now, this cooperation has often been limited to donations and sponsorships, rather than the pursuit of common development goals and jointly approaching decision-makers and the general public. According to the 2019 data collated by BOS, 22 per cent of the 200 CSOs surveyed say they have collaborated with the business sector in their advocacy activities. This information is encouraging because it shows us that there is an opportunity for joint action in society, not just through donations and sponsorships. Certainly, the business sector financially supporting civil is important, but we believe that the potential for cooperation is much greater. These and other sectors networking and intertwining can only ensure progress.
What will be the next step that BOS will take to further link the civil and business sector?
– The first next step is the Innovation-Integration event, which we are going to hold on February 12th, at which the representatives of both sectors will have the opportunity to share their experiences and examples of good cooperation between civil and business sector in advocating for reforms and changes in the society. Our goal is to prove that examples of such cooperation are possible in our country. Following this event, we will implement other activities to support business and civil sector representatives in finding new types of cooperation and joint initiatives.
In early 2000, most of the public could not comprehend the importance of the European integration process, while, even back then, BOS has already been educating both the citizens and the representatives of state institutions how to actively engage in the process. How much did this comprehension change in the last twenty years?
– The European integration process is so important because it will inevitably bring about radical changes in society. With all the problems, the European Union then, and even more so now has affected the deep reform in all the accession countries. After initial enthusiasm and unrealistic expectations, fatigue set in among Serbian citizens and there was a decline in trusting the European idea. It is important to understand that negotiations with the European Union are happening here, because laws, that align us with the rest of developed Europe, are being enacted and implemented in Serbia. It is up to us to adopt and apply them. This is precisely where the opportunity for business and civil sector cooperation lies; namely, to work together on implementing changes and development projects that bring us closer to the European value and business system. BOS is certainly a leading stakeholder in this respect and open to cooperation with the state and business sector because we are aware that there is no successful change in the society without a broad consensus of all stakeholders.
You have already mentioned that the issues of sustainable development and the changes caused by the European integration process are important for the representatives of the civil and business sector. Can you tell us about successful examples of that kind of cooperation in our country?
– An excellent example an initiative for the establishment of the Chamber Investment Forum, under the auspices of the Berlin Process, which brings together eight chambers of commerce as well as other initiatives of civil society organizations in Serbia and the Western Balkans. Our goal is to direct the cooperation between the two sectors towards the changes that European integration brings about and their effect on the operations of the civil and business sector. The project will ensure that they look beyond these frameworks and contribute in innovative ways to address the challenges that may arise in Serbia’s accession process. BOS will strive to bring forth as many examples of good practice through linking and networking between the representatives from both sectors that can help all stakeholders on this path of cooperation.
What is crucial for creating a stimulating environment for these two sectors cooperating on development projects?
– Apart from the national documents regulating how representatives of the civil and business sector participate in the process of Serbia’s accession to the European Union, the documents pertaining to the Western Balkan region are also relevant, which also stipulate certain mechanisms of participation of both sectors. The European integration process and achieving sustainable development goals is not a one-way street that the country on the path to the promised membership and prosperity moves on. Since most civil society organizations have already provided their support, further work needs to be done to ensure the greater interest of the business community.