The first ACT Community Days held in Belgrade

During the first three days of June 2022, a conference titled the ACT Community Days was held in Belgrade. The event organized within the ACT project, aiming to gather civil society organizations supported within all six ACT grant schemes since the project Together for Active Civil Society – ACT has been launched.

The conference was conceived as a space for networking, meetings and socializing of CSO representatives, as a possibility for strengthening their mutual ties and building the ACT community. The conference also was created as a platform for intensive learning of participant. Several carefully designed debates, panel discussions and sessions during which important topics for further development of civil society in Serbia were discussed. Opening remarks were given by Richard Collie, Director of the Swiss Cooperation Office, Jens Engeli, International Leader of the ACT, and Maja Stojanovic, Executive Director of Civic Initiatives.

The introductory lecture on the first day of the conference was given by Bistra Kumbaroska, activist, entrepreneur and poet, manager at Heartbeats Innovation & Communication. In her work, Bistra is focused on innovations in community management and activism. Bistra presented the latest global trends in community organization and spoke about the strength of individual initiatives to bring about change in the community, in order to defend democratic principles, rights and freedoms.

The second day of the conference was dedicated to intensive work in the field of several topics. The morning panel discussion, moderated by Bojana Selaković, Program Director of Civic Initiatives, was dedicated to the issue of civic activism in the Western Balkans and the possibilities for its strengthening in the current circumstances. Bojana’s interlocutors were Daliborka Uljarević, Executive Director of the Center for Civic Education in Podgorica, Marina Škrabalo, one of the founders of the Solidarna Foundation and its longtime Director, as well as Safet Kubat, activist, founder and leader of the Eco Movement of the River of Bosnia and Herzegovina “Budi promjena”.

Afterwards, the conference participants had the opportunity to discuss three topics significant for the further development of civil society through three parallel sessions: public advocacy, further cooperation between civil society and local governments, and strengthening cooperation between organizations and overcoming divisions and polarizations within the sector.

The first session on public advocacy was facilitated by Dragoslava Barzut from Civic Initiatives. Danijela Božović from ACT project chaired the session on cooperation of organizations with local self-government, while the third debate on cooperation and/or polarization was facilitated by Katarina Đukić from Civic Initiatives. After the break, the facilitators presented the conclusions of all three sessions.

The Quality Assurance System of CSO (Quality Assurance Systems – QAS) was the main topic of the third day of the conference. The speaker on this topic was Tina Divjak, Head of the Advocacy Department at the Slovenian CNVOS, the national umbrella CSO network in Slovenia. She delivered the lecture about QAS, its importance for strategic development, of both individual organizations and the entire sector.

The ACT Community Days closed with short speeches by Maja Stojanović and Jens Engeli, in which they summarized some of the main impressions and conclusions of the conference. Some of the main impressions of all participants are that this concept of events is extremely meaningful, valuable for strengthening ties and contacts between CSOs working on different topics and different parts of the country. It was concluded that the continuous and thorough networking of organizations is necessary at local, regional and national level and that the ACT team, which so far has over two hundred directly or indirectly supported organizations, is a great strength and opportunity for further work on strengthening civil society.

The ACT Community Days were the first major gathering of the ACT team since October 2019, when the ACT project officially began. Launched just a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic, ACT was implemented in extraordinary circumstances, and the project team had to adapt to conditions that did not allow for all common project cycle practices, especially field trips and direct physical gatherings.