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Focus on Albania

Partners - Albania, Center for Change and Conflict Management is an independent Albanian NPO, with a mission to advance civil society and a culture of change and conflict management in Albania.

Partners-Albania is a member of Partners for Democratic Change International, a partnership of Centers in 19 countries, committed in providing conflict resolution training and services to the civic, NPO, municipal and national government, and business sectors in their countries and worldwide.

Juliana Hoxha is the director of Partners Albania, and a leading country partner in the Social Innovation Europe initiative.

 Your organization aims to advance civil society and a culture of change in Albania. What concrete actions are you undertaking to achieve this aim, and what will Albania look like in 2020 if your work achieves its goals?

Partners – Albania, Center for Change and Conflict Management has been working over a decade to support the development of civil society and active citizenship as the basis for the sustainable social, economic and cultural development of the country. As a consequence, PA has become a national leader in the development of Albania’s civil society and public participation at local decision making. The actions undertaken to reach the mission of the organization have focused on the following initiatives: training and on – site assistance, design and delivery – to enhance knowledge and strengthen capacities of organizations and governmental institutions and international level; participatory processes, design and facilitation – promote collaboration and ensure participation of diverse communities at all level of decision-making; research – monitor – the performance of governmental institutions in support of democratic processes; encourage and support citizen initiatives – promote advocacy tools to build participation, collaboration and ownership in meaningful and effective ways; develop and advocate enabling NPO legal framework – contribute to further development of enabling NPO legal framework and other self-regulatory mechanisms for the sector; and facilitation of organizational development processes, conferences and meetings – provide professional assistance and advanced methodology in facilitation.

What we aim for the future through our activities is strengthening of the civil society sector and enabling a more favourable legal framework for the sector’s activities; improving good governance through wide and sustainable participatory processes particularly at the local level; increasing social responsibilities of local stakeholders towards vulnerable groups; promoting and developing philanthropy; and continuing to contribute for the social and economic development of the country through capacity building programs for various target groups and different sectors in Albania, enabling an appropriate legal framework and strengthening cooperation between civil society and communities, government and the business sector.

These goals are long terms ones, and to be realistic with the political, economical and social situation in Albania today, these can hardly can be achieved by 2020. Of course we will continue our work in the above mentioned areas, but a more enabling and supporting climate for the civil society sector is a key to the success of all of these areas of work. We are not the only actors, but in complementary actions with government, business and community in general, can achieve our goals and improve the current situation in the country. 

Can you tell us about innovating in Albania? What are the challenges you face – either in terms of cultural, political or societal barriers?

The context for developing social innovation is very different across countries worldwide. Considering the general social-political-economical development level of Albania, social innovation and interest toward that is even more challenging and needs stimulation. In view of the economic development level, the issue of finance is particularly critical for social innovation. A key challenge is to carry through the transition to market economies and to create stable and favourable conditions for economic growth. Legislation in Albania is still undergoing a process of transition. From another angle social innovation and innovators are finding it hard to be understood and considered as part of our culture yet. The perception is that social innovation relates only to research and not to a broad productivity in general (the mentality and political culture is one of the biggest challenges). Social innovation requires a change on how policies should be formulated, proposed, tested and implemented, stressing the role of citizens, stakeholders, users and target groups in the definition and implementation of new policies. A clear-cut distinction between policy-makers and policy users, and a general view of politics as a process that puts citizens in a reactive and passive position is present in some of the countries and needs further improvements in others. Another barrier relates to the coordination between the various actors engaged in social innovation within the policy domain (policy making and coordination), but also among the various players (networking between social innovators, financing institutions, public and not for profit actors, incubators, etc). Continued and deep reform of education systems is still a challenge in all countries, even though the field is advancing. We need the following: greater interdisciplinary practice, a stronger interplay between basic and applied research, greater accountability and a deeper understanding of the social impacts of technological developments, both in terms of opportunities but also in terms of threats.

For collecting data’s we used for the first time SMS Technology – where each observer (we have 2500 domestic observers) reported through SMS in real time and enriched the electoral process database through a web interface.

Partners-Albania develops and improves the skills of local and central institutions across all sectors to better respond to the diverse change and conflict management needs of their constituents. Do social innovation tools and strategies play a role in your interventions, and if so, how?

Partners-Albania contribution, aiming to promote sustainable development and good governance in the country, has been actively focused on institutional and communities development, cooperative planning processes development, training and technical assistance for various stakeholders in the local and national level, grants program design and administration for local civil society organizations development and further improvement of economic and social situation of the communities they work in. In this framework the social-economic development remains a focal point.

Regarding social innovation tools and strategies, we would say that these tools play an important role in our interventions. PA has addressed social innovation focus in three areas:

  • Enabling a legal framework for social innovation.
  • Facilitating dialogue among civil society actors, government institutions, businesses, and media for common solution and for the responsibilities that each actor has.
  • Information sharing and knowledge delivering for civil society actors and other interested parties on social innovation.

We would like to mention our initiatives related with the monitoring election processes during 2007 and 2009. For collecting data’s we used for the first time SMS Technology – where each observer (we have 2500 domestic observers) reported through SMS in real time and enriched the electoral process database through a web interface. The database was update in the real time through ten operators (where each of them has 250 observers in surveillance. It was a success and we have give information in real time through our innovative tool.

Your recent work in supporting enterprises run by businesswomen in the cross-border area of Struga-Podradeci has received attention in the social innovation community. What motivated Partners-Albania to take up this work, and do you have plans to repeat or develop this programme model?

“Promoting Women’s Business Enterprises in Cross Border Area Pogradec – Struga” is an ongoing project between women’s enterprisers in Albania and Macedonia that started on April 2011. The motivation to design and implement this initiative was related with the socio- economic context of Albania and Macedonia, mainly low awareness among local authorities and national stakeholders on the general situation of business women and their needs in the cross – border area; low level of business related knowledge and skills among business women; lack of opportunities to promote the products, services and businesses of women in the country and at the other side of the border, and low commercial exchange and economic relations between businesses women at the cross border area.

In response of such needs PA had conducted a need-assessment to provide data on the exact number of business women in Pogradec and Struga, type of businesses run by them, size of businesses, and other relevant data and information; to evaluate how supportive is the general environment (including the legislation, the local authorities and institutions, the social environment). The findings were presented in a round table with stakeholders of both countries and through a clear frame from the assessment PA has assisted the women enterprisers with two trainings focus on sales and communication. Through this we foresee to develop a Fair by exposing products and services by these enterprisers and stimulate their collaboration possibilities for them. It is certain that PA wants to promote and expand the experience from this initiative to other cities for development of small and medium enterprises run by women.

This May in Tirana, Partners-Albania and Euclid Network organized a round table discussion on “Networking in the EU and benefits for the western Balkans” What does Albania aim to gain from networking with European groups?

“Networking in the EU and benefits for the Western Balkans” has in focus partnerships and exchanges in EU context, reforms and access for EU funds, mainly focus on IPA instrument. The round table was organized in presence of representatives of Civil Society Sector where Euclid presented not only their work at a political level in Brussels, but also to present initiatives on social enterprisers and innovation. In addition to this round table, PA has initiated a dialogue of networking between civil society in Albania (including Euclid Network), and business sector such as Intesa Sanpaolo Bank aiming to identify ways in which banks as financial institutions may be supportive and proactive with their services to the civil society sector.

European Networks bring not only knowledge and expertise, but also enable relations among Albanian CSOs and organizations abroad by creating bridges in promoting sustainability, influence and innovation. In a country context networkings means not only funds opportunity but foster dialogue and explore possibilities to open up country governance. In the Balkan context, networking is crucial for association and stabilisation processes in society and in the market field in order to meet the EU standards. PA facilitates this process by providing access for Civil Society to meet these standards. 

Partners Albania was recently linked with the Department of Public Information of the United Nations.  Through this association Partners Albania has committed to share information and raise public awareness about the purposes and activities of the United Nations and issues of global concern. How does your membership in global networks support your own activity? How can the Social Innovation exchange (a member of the consortium delivering the Social Innovation Europe initiative) support your efforts on the global stage?

From August 2011, Partners Albania has been associated with the Department of Public Information (DPI) of the United Nations. The membership with DPI supports our activities and fosters our commitment to conduct effective programmes and initiatives. We believe that networking with other organizations beyond Europe will reinforce our commitment and work to implement successful activities and ensure that citizens and interest groups are involved in decision-making and policy making, public services delivered by public bodies are improved and citizens  benefit from them more in quantity and quality. Therefore, throughout our partnership and co-operations will facilitate and global – sharing information on participatory processes, good governance and citizen participation in policy and decision making.