In the countries of the Western Balkans, shaking off long-standing socialist traditions where the state provides for all, can a culture of personal or collective philanthropy emerge at the same pace as democratic and market-oriented changes in the spheres of politics and business? To what extent is the durability of social reform in these countries still reliant on external funding and support?
Five years ago, these were some of the questions which arose as I worked as Senior Programme Officer for the Balkan Trust for Democracy. At that time, fears of closing space for civil society began to dominate my conversations with many non-profit organizations. These concerns were amplified in the Western Balkans by the gradual decline in foreign philanthropic and bilateral support.
My suggestion that domestic non-profit organizations (NPOs) might turn to domestic or diaspora-based funding was met with scepticism. There was scant evidence of the existence of organised giving within each country. Many NPOs believed their only salvation lay in convincing their traditional donors to either maintain or increase their funding to the Western Balkans.