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Funding in the Western Balkans: SIE talks to Partners Albania

 

SIE is currently looking at how funding for social innovation has evolved over the years. As part of the feature, we spoke to Juliana Hoxha (Director, Partners Albania) to understand the situation on the ground in the Western Balkans.

Partners Albania is an independent non-profit organisation with a mission to advance civil society and a culture of change in Albania. They recognise the importance of cross-sector collaboration in strengthening social entrepreneurship and social innovation and therefore work with a variety of stakeholders. By establishing effective partnerships across the non-profit sector, government, business and donor community, Partners Albania has achieved institutional and financial sustainability. 

Juliana Hoxha explained that social innovation funding is not only struggling in terms of financial capacity but also professional collaboration. Since the global financial crash, funding sources have diminished. At the same time, we are also experiencing an increased awareness amongst civil society actors to come together at Balkan level in promoting a regional social entrepreneurship agenda, promote an enabling environment for the movement and share best practises.  The European Union is currently the primary funder for civil society organisations in the Balkans; however, its structured approach allows room for little creativity in a region where the movement is just developing. Though there is slight variation across the region with regard to business development and its role concerning business angels, corporate and individual philanthropy, and governments supporting social entrepreneurship and innovation, in general there is currently little support for social innovation funding in the Western Balkans. As such, Partners Albania has a key focus on philanthropy development in their work and look to foster constructive relations with the business sector as part of social innovation development in the region.

Partners Albania understands the potential of corporate partnerships but has identified several key barriers to its development. Firstly, there is a lack of fiscal incentive for businesses to support social innovation. Secondly, there is a lack of public recognition for CSR work which leads businesses to feel underappreciated and demotivated. Finally, in Albania there are no umbrella organisations to support the identification of new partners or new initiatives for businesses to support based on their CSR or corporate philanthropy programs.

As such, Partners Albania has developed a flagship initiative to bring together funders and social innovations. The Green Ideas Competition seeks to highlight and support civil society organisations, social enterprises and small business ventures in Albania that are tackling innovative green ideas. With investment from both large corporate donors such as Rockefeller Brothers Fund and local business in Albania, this pool of funding supports the achievement of environmental impact. The Competition has a strong business focus and entries must demonstrate that their idea will produce a product that is competitive and profitable in the market, whilst contributing to job creation and supported by a sustainability plan. All eligible entries can receive training and mentoring on business plan development and marketing skills, provided by corporate partners. Fifteen finalists are then selected to present their project ideas to an expert jury before three entries are awarded $10,000 in seed funding. (Further information on Green Ideas 2013 is available via this link).

The Competition supports Partners Albania’s works to develop philanthropy as it raises public awareness on the importance of this movement, publicly recognises significant contributions made by privates or corporate to social advancement and develops partnerships between social innovators and corporate funders. The Green Ideas Competition has demonstrated success in Albania, boosted by the regional initiative of Green Philanthropy organised by Rockefeller Brothers Fund. The three winning ideas from the Competitions in Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia are entered into the regional Green Ideas Competition to compete for further seed funding. The Competition has allowed Partners Albania to diversify its sources of funding for social innovation and increase the number of people and projects they can support.

In addition to the competition, Juliana Hoxha explained that the Western Balkans is also working to develop a political structure for social innovation funding. At the Social Innovations Forum in Belgrade, Serbia, the Belgrade Declaration was unveiled, which aims to ensure that the Western Balkans and Turkey become an integral part of wider EU strategies on social entrepreneurship and social innovation development. It alerts decision-makers, both in the EU and the countries of the Western Balkans and Turkey, to the steps needed to effectively contribute to the development of a social economy as a relevant model for sustainable social development in the region. It has been developed to increase support and funding for the movement, with the hopes of influencing the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) financial tools.

According to Juliana Hoxha, the Social Innovations Forum highlighted how countries across the Western Balkans are experiencing the same issues regarding social innovation funding: lack of capital; absence of support structures for start-ups at country level; and insufficient availability of training for social innovators. The lack of business incubators further weakens the infrastructure for social innovation. However, the issue of training and development has been recognised by the new Albanian government and vocational training and education, along with social entrepreneurship development, are now a key priority in fighting unemployment and increasing the employability rate, with a particular focus on young people. Currently, the downside of this across Balkan governments is that they look upon social enterprise only as a vehicle of employment among marginalised groups and not necessarily as a more competitive and innovative way to offer services. As with countries in Western Europe, the Western Balkans is facing a surplus of academic qualifications which do not match the employment opportunities, thus leading to high levels of unemployment. Juliana Hoxha argued that social innovation funding should consider training opportunities in order to foster sustainability in the sector.

Partners Albania greatly supports this strategy and understands the importance of capacity-building in the sector. Juliana Hoxha stated the Albania is now finally eligible for programmes such as Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs but more needs to be done to support exchanges and partnerships between the EU and the Western Balkans to share best practices in social innovation. Furthermore, given that the movement is more advanced in Western Europe, it demonstrates its value to the Western Balkans community. The lack of understanding for social entrepreneurship in the region has created a sceptical, if not hostile environment stated Juliana Hoxha. The concept of civil society organisations engaging in economic activity for social gain is poorly understood and therefore distrusted. In the last quarter of a century, non-profit organisations and governmental agencies have struggled to understand their roles and relationships in the movement but we are finally seeing the establishment of a strong sector that has the capacity for real impact in the region. It is through diversification of both funding sources and partner networks that we will achieve both awareness and sustainability of this movement. 

SIE would like to thank Juliana Hoxha and Partners Albania for speaking with us. Should you wish to know more, please visit the Partners Albania website: www.partnersalbania.org