WBF- striving to always be the champions of regional cooperation

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times February 25, 2020 14:45

WBF- striving to always be the champions of regional cooperation

Upcoming CSO Summit – springing from local need, looking into an ambitious future

Interview with Gjergj Murra, Executive Director, Western Balkans Fund (WBF)


Mr. Murra, how old is the WBF today and what have been some of its accomplishment so far?

Western Balkans Fund became operational on 5 September 2017. Our pace of work was really fast,since immediately we selected the team of the Secretariat coming from the region and opened the 1st Call for Proposal. Looking back when we started,makes it quite surreal to learn that we haven’t stopped, up to this date we successfully closed two Calls and now we are in the selection process of the 3rd Call grantees. Within this period of time we managed to keep the interest of civil society organizations very high.

Within the three Calls, we have received more than 894 project applications, networking more than 3,430 Organizations throughout the region, coming with joint ideas for enhancing regional cooperation and people to people links. The average partnerships per project are 3.72, while the overall amount of financial support required is more than 9.5 million Euros. Around half of applications came from outside the capitals and from newly established organizations.

Due to our limited funds we managed to identify interesting projects, that resulted to be very successful implementation and impact wise promoting people to people links within our region and beyond. WBF slowly positioned itself as a credible regional instrument in promoting regional cooperation and reconciliation processes in WB not only through direct action support but also through capacity building and networking support, in a way we are trying to fill the gap in terms of bringing our regional actors close to each other.

The Western Balkans Fund is one of the few regional platforms where governments have a real stake since they contribute from their own budget. How do you see the future of the institution in relation to this local ownership?

It is true, that WBF is regionally owned initiativepresenting another side of the story coming from our region. WBF’s interest is to continue enhancing cooperation throughout our region not only within the CSO sector but also with our decision makers. Relying completely on the governments of the region financial support puts WBF in a quite rigid  position since the approach is much more inclusive and multilayered. We need to assure equal representation of interests of all six contracting parties but at the same time fulfilling the gaps that our CSO sector is facing. All-inclusiveness doesn’t come only from the Secretariat, that consists team of Experts coming from the region, but also the decision making structure of WBF gives higher and more transparent accountability to our beneficiaries. This gives us a sign that keeps us believing that regional cooperation is something that our societies are in need for in order to further to enhance the connection of people, institutions and organizations. WBF truly believes that with governments support is be able to fast-forward reconciliation and integration processes within the region.

The WBF cooperates closely with similar platforms such as the IVF. Can you tell us something more about what you have learned from their experience and their model?

The International Visegrad Fund (IVF) is an international organization, established in 2000 by the Visegrad Group countries—Czech, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to promote regional cooperation in the Visegrad region (V4) as well as between the V4 region and other countries, especially in the Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership regions. IVF’s experience helped a lot the creation of WBF, since it served as a successful regional platform, where our governments could rely on tangible successful results. The IVF model paved the path for us in how WBF should foresee its expansion without risking in applying new approaches. Moreover, IVF was there to help WBF financially in establishing the Secretariat that made our partnership stronger and reliable but also learning from their experiences made us avoid certain challenges.

What are some of the challenges of managing an office with people from all over the region that oversee hundreds of projects and activities?

Our Secretariat is quite diverse ethnically and professionally. We have colleagues coming from all our region and with different academic and professional backgrounds. Looking to the big picture, a diverse team means employees of all abilities, creeds, and experiences. Having a diverse team has proven to WBF that helps in increasing the efficiency and gives the Secretariat a competitive edge in a number of ways. Beyond that, a diverse team grants us a diverse and broader regional perspective a point of view rich with the incredible nuances of human experience and culture. Nevertheless, for me it is a pleasure to expand my limits, as the first Executive Director of WBF, I have to adapt to their management style. I am proud of our team because they are real champions of regional cooperation, they truly believe in the regional cooperation and reconciliation processes. Our team follows our grantees from the beginning to the end, they do not hesitate in providing mentoring support that are helpful for them in future initiatives, this shows the dedication of our team in supporting regional initiatives.

Next week you are going to host in Tirana a major event, the first Civil Society Summit of the WB6 with more than 80 participants from all over the region. How did this idea originate and what are the objectives of this Summit?

Being actively present in the region, we as WBF learned from our stakeholders and beneficiaries that sometimes financial support is not the key element needed for partnerships. There is a bigger need to enhance people to people links. This Civil Society Organization Summit came as a direct request from civil society of our region, an event that provides them with the opportunity to exchange ideas and give recommendations to decision makers. In cooperation with Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan we designed a project that entailed all possible request of stakeholders. This project successfully was endorsed by the Government of Japan and is financially supported by them. We are happy to be one of the first regional organizations that gathers over 80 CSO representatives in Tirana with one goal in mind, to strengthen regional cooperation. The focus of the Summit is to bring different CSO actors and work together in drafting Conclusions and Recommendations that further synthetize strategic priorities of reconciliation processes in the region; moreover, will serve as evidence for the WBF to continue growing as genuine and relevant regional factor in supporting regional initiatives and people to people links.

Is it your ambition to transform this Summit into a regular activity, perhaps annually or once every two years?

WBF is happy to launch an event of such magnitude and we are excited to learn more about the outcomes of the Summit. Moreover, recommendations and conclusions deriving from this event will set the path if WBF should diversify its approach by organizing similar event in other capitals. WBF remains committed to provide the space where CSO actors can enrich their network and directly impact regional cooperation and reconciliation processes. WBF is happy to share same opinion with its decision makers, that such events are an added value to empowerment ofregional cooperation and partnerships among civil society.

Regional cooperation and European integration are closely intertwined. How has the stagnation and fatigue observed at least up until recently in the enlargement policy, affected your work? Do you think regional cooperation can proceed on its own without a joint European perspective?

The stagnation of the enlargement process of course is not good news for the regional cooperation process and also for our Contracting Parties, but this has not affected our day to day work. The governments are completely committed in their support toward Western Balkans Fund and our activities. Regional cooperation is more process oriented, what makes the work of WBF more demanding and accountable towards its beneficiaries and decision makers. For us as WBF, is more crucial for the region to have clear European perspective and the enlargement process to be more concrete in the time ahead. Our mission is to help all our Contracting Parties towards the European integration, therefore, both processes are interlinked with the current ecosystem, created in the European integration process of the Western Balkans.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times February 25, 2020 14:45