Creating Lasting Change in Kosovo
Celebrating the successes of civil society organizations in Kosovo
In 2008, ISC launched the Kosovo Civil Society Strengthening Project, designed to ensure that Kosovo’s civil sector—often represented by nonprofit advocacy organizations—becomes an effective and influential partner alongside business and government in public decision making, leading to communities that are democratic, healthy, environmentally responsible and economically resilient. The project was funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
When we started the project, Kosovo was the world’s youngest nation, having just gained independence from Serbia. Ethnic and political tensions are still as serious as the country’s economic and infrastructure challenges. A robust civil society that can both serve and advocate on behalf of ordinary citizens—including minority and marginalized people—would help Kosovo emerge as a strong democracy.
Over the project’s first three years, ISC partnered with and built the capacity of more than 50 organizations at the local and national levels, who now have the tools, skills, and resources to be effective for years to come—and have already achieved remarkable results along the way. More than 10,000 people have directly participated in activities organized by ISC and our partners, and our work has lead to more than 40 legislative changes and public policy initiatives—such as a smoking ban in schools and hospitals.
In April 2011, ISC’s “Lasting Change—It’s Possible”event celebrated the many successes of Kosovo’s civil society, drawing public attention to the ways in which civil society organizations represent and serve the interests of everyday citizens.
Nearly 200 community leaders from all over the country—government ministers, diplomats and ambassadors, nonprofit representatives, artists, and children—were treated to a program of videos, music, and dance performances. They also marveled at a two-floor exhibition of photos and displays celebrating the civil sector’s work to achieve a healthier environment, a more responsive government, opportunities for youth, and a more peaceful nation.
One honoree—who also put on a dance performance at the event—was Down Syndrome Kosova (DSK), an ISC grantee that has established a national policy on early and inclusive education for children with special needs. Through DSK’s efforts, the policy has been adopted by the Ministry of Education, and a 5th-grader named Mjalta Bajraktari—along with 38 other children previously excluded from the public school system—is fulfilling her dream of receiving an education.
Other organizations were honored for their efforts to ensure more open and transparent governance. One local partner, the Institute for Advanced Studies (GAP), set up a Government Watchdog Project, which provides easily digestible information and analysis about government decision making. GAP shares their information with Kosovo Assembly members, other civil society organizations, and the wider public, through a newsletter and website that offer statistical and qualitative information on the activities of government institutions.
Kosovo’s civil sector is also leading the way on environmental protection. EcoMovement, for example, is a multi-ethnic coalition of a dozen environmental organizations engaging citizens across the country and bringing their concerns to local and national governments. The coalition has mobilized volunteers to participate in a number of international environmental events, including World Car Free Day, World Water Day, No Trash Week, International Day of Clean Cities, and World Walking Day. On Earth Day, 2011, EcoMovement led a “March for the Earth” in which 200 primary school students carried banners and flowers as they walked from Pristina’s city stadium to the national government building, where they planted gardens symbolizing youth commitment to the planet.
The Center for the Development of Local Communities (Centar za Razvoj Lokalnih Sredina or CRLS), meanwhile, is helping Kosovo tackle climate change, and recently conducted a year-long campaign calling for Kosovo to reduce CO2 emissions, use renewable energy sources, and establish climate change legislation and institutions. The organization has led debates in five cities with civil society, media, and municipal representatives on what a shifting climate would mean for Kosovo, and has gathered signatures of over 6,000 citizens calling for Kosovo to join the global movement against climate change. A minority Serb organization from Kosovo's north, CRLS is working across the country—including in majority Albanian communities—and demonstrating that addressing common challenges can overcome ethnic friction.
Through the everyday work of these and dozens of other organizations—a Mitrovica-based local grantmaking organization; a Kosovo-Serb women’s NGO; as well as the U.S. Embassy-supported Kosovo Youth Leadership Academy; and so many more—the emerging civil sector has made great strides since Kosovo's independence, demonstrating what’s possible when people are empowered to speak up and fully participate in the decisions that affect them. As the young country pushes for European integration, their efforts have laid the foundation for a future of effective advocacy, responsive government, and more sustainable communities.