The Resource Center for Nonprofits in Oltenia, Romania (CRONO) has implemented a regional project helping local community organizations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Romania develop and propose measures to their local authorities that would reduce the effects of the economic crisis on their communities’ most vulnerable groups.

CRONO, with a grant from the Balkan Trust for Democracy (BTD), organized 22 local forums allowing 25 groups to explain their communities’ needs in light of the economic crisis, as well as propose practical solutions. Nicolae Cuta, Executive Director of CRONO, said it was important that participants both identified problems and proposed solutions as it “showed local authorities that they are engaged and willing to tackle the problems as a community”. One Romanian community leader stated that he saw “for the first time, young people from our community proposing to the Mayor creative solutions for their problems”.

Typically, local strategies to deal with the crisis involved reducing social services spending without consulting the people most likely to be affected, such as the unemployed, elderly, women, and youth. CRONO supported local NGOs to engage with the communities and present their findings to local authorities during forums organized under the umbrella of Citizen Participation Week, held every September, and European Local Democracy Week, held every October. “We wanted to enhance the capacity of NGOs so they can become part of the solution”, said Nicolae.

The project enabled citizens from Banja Luka (Bosnia and Herzegovina) to analyze local budgets and propose measures to allocate municipality resources to the additional education and recruitment of unemployed people; organizations in Calarasi (Romania) proposed means to encourage small farmers to get involved in agricultural production groups and establish a local resource center. Young people from Tismana (Romania) presented to their local council ways to promote their town with a view to attracting tourism, and the youth in Karlovac (Croatia) received support from the municipality to launch a monthly info-guide for youth activities and opportunities, and to disseminate it broadly in schools and organizations.

Pavlina Filipova, a BTD Program Officer, says that this project is tackling a very important issue: “There has been no or little dialogue with citizens about effective ways to reduce the economic crisis impact on vulnerable groups. Linking citizens with their governments, regional cooperation and strengthening the civil society in the region are among the priorities of the two BTD program areas.”

The applicant and most of the organizations involved in the project are members of the CEE Citizens Network. The Balkan Trust for Democracy is a grantmaking initiative of the German Marshall Fund of the United States that supports democracy, good governance, and Euroatlantic integration in Southeastern Europe.