The Bosnian War raged from 1992-1995, and it ended with the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords. A key aspect of these accords was the prevalence of international aid to Bosnia in the wake of the war. Indeed, ever since 1995, the international community has played a key role in maintaining peace and promoting democracy in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). From September 2013-December 2018, USAID ran a project called the Civil Society Sustainability Project in Bosnia and Herzegovina (CSSP).[i] USAID sought to increase the legitimacy and status of civil society organizations (CSOs) in BiH by partnering with two local NGOs to train the CSOs and give money and resources to these CSOs.[ii]
The two partner organizations in BiH held training workshops for the local CSOs that provided a standard for assessment of organizational capacity, monitored the Bosnian government to help inform the public on governmental activities, and helped shape the areas of priority for local CSOs to focus on.
Results were moderately successful; the monitoring efforts caused civil protests which resulted in greater governmental accountability, but there is little evidence that the CSOs have greater sustainability or more resources than before.
· This lack of results in terms of sustainability is symptomatic of USAID’s failure with this project; the project design was flawed.
· Future efforts must take a more grassroots, bottom-up approach with a focus on creation of real, human relationships with the local CSOs as opposed to top-down approach of indirect assistance from afar.
· The top-down approach is likely what caused the lack of sustainability of the CSOs. Clearly, future sustainability projects in BiH must make a greater effort to engage with the locals and give them more autonomy.
In BiH, the government has not been held responsible by civil society for the decisions they have made, which is the main issue USAID tried to address with this project. The problem was two-fold: on one hand, the Bosnian government did not recognize the legitimacy of Bosnian CSOs because of their reliance on international funding; thus, the CSOs did not actually represent Bosnian interests, in the government’s mind. On the other hand, the CSOs failed to accurately identify what the Bosnian people cared about, so the CSOs did indeed miss the mark often, although not strictly because of their reliance on international funding.
Taken in tandem, the situation of CSOs in Bosnia was strained; the government did not recognize the legitimacy of CSOs, and the people were reluctant to engage with them. This is the situation that USAID attempted to rectify. USAID tried to improve Bosnian society by stimulating the dormant civil society and getting people to engage more effectively with their government. USAID’s stated goal with this project was to “increase civic engagement in policy development, government monitoring and oversight if key structural, political, and social, and economic reforms…with a broader goal of increasing government accountability.”
Furthermore, USAID wanted to strengthen internal capabilities and organizational structures in order for the local CSOs to maintain sustainability and financial viability after the conclusion of the project.
USAID worked with two main implementing partners on the ground in BiH, the Centers for Civic Initiatives (CCI) and the Center for Civil Society Promotion (CCSP). The CCI and CCSP established a Local Advisory Group to choose CSO sector partners. There were 140 applications to a Public Call for CSOs in BiH, and the Local Advisory Group chose to work with 20 of them.
Both the CCI and CCSP held trainings in 2014 for these local CSOs in order to teach them how to better establish networks and have sustainability and efficacy not only during the implementation of the CSSP, but after its conclusion as well.
The organization of this project was top-down; USAID worked with and funded the CCI and CCSP, who in turn worked with these 20 local CSOs. The goal of this project was ultimately to strengthen the capacities and capabilities of these 20 local CSOs, because these 20 CSOs were identified as key to the prospects of a sustainable civil society in BiH.
USAID and the CCI and CCSP identified 12 sectors in which the 20 local CSOs would work in order to strengthen civil society: Anti-Corruption, Employment and Labor Markets, Economic Policy, Education, Health Care, Human Rights of Marginalized Groups, Women’s Rights, Agriculture and Rural Development, Culture, Public Finances, Environment Protection and Energy Efficacy, and finally, the Justice Sector.
Both the CCI and CCSP held workshops that focused on strengthening the capacity and sustainability of the local partners in these 12 sectors. These workshops introduced the notion of the Organizational Capacity Assessment paradigm to the local CSOs; all organizations involved used this process to evaluate their current situation and see where they needed to improve in terms of organizational capacity and sustainability.
Following this training, the local partners consulted outside experts to aid in systematic improvement in the status of civil society organizations in BiH. These experts focused primarily on establishing cooperative institutional mechanisms between the government and non-government sector, taxation reform to enable philanthropy, and starting public foundations in both the government and non-governmental sector.
The CCI focused on training and education for the CSOs and offering them the know-how needed to build their status and legitimacy in Bosnian society- specifically these trainings focused on project proposal writing, financial management, advocacy, and organizational management- while the CCSP prepared an overarching survey of the civil society sector and provided key recommendations for further civil society development in a report presented in the BiH Parliamentary Assembly on March 27, 2014.
Furthermore, a key aspect of the CCI’s strategy in this project was monitoring public officials in BiH in order to increase transparency and give the public a view into their government. The CCI published quarterly reports of the activities of BiH officials and launched a website where citizens can see an official’s activates and get into contact with them.
By doing so, they put pressure on government officials to be more accountable to the public.
Overall, the strategy of the CCI and CCSP was to bolster the budding CSO sector in BiH, and they went about this by educating and guiding local partners on sustainability and monitoring government officials in order to provide the public and civil society more connection to the government.
USAID claims credit via this project for several instances of successful advocacy campaigns in BiH. First off, USAID played an indirect and guiding role in a successful public campaign to reopen the National Museum in Sarajevo after the museum closed due to a lack of funding and political disagreements. A public campaign was launched, and six weeks later, the museum was back open.
Moreover, USAID’s help to civic society was manifested in the “White Bread” initiative in 2014, which resulted in Bosnian officials losing their right to “white bread, ” or a full salary for a year after leaving office, in three cantons. This was one of the biggest issues for civic protestors in 2014. Current efforts are geared towards abolishing this privilege at the national level.
USAID claims indirect credit for providing indirect support for these two efforts, yet the connection seems to be purely correlative, so it is unclear the extent of the causal effect between the project and the successful advocacy efforts.
The focus on monitoring yielded results as well. With USAID support, the CCI publishes regular reports on the Bosnian government’s activities and allows for citizens to accurately judge and expect more from their government, which is an important gain in a country where corruption and the feeling of powerlessness about that issue is prevalent.
The CCI was the first to alert the public of a decision by the Bosnian Parliament to increase their own monthly salary, even though the Parliament was locked in a standstill due to political infighting. As a result of the CCI’s monitoring, this decision was met with public outcry and media attention, and eventually the Parliament reversed the decision as a result of the negative reaction.
The CCI also alerted the public of a case in the canton of Gorzade where the Minister of Finance forged a public document. The CCI published a report and held a press conference, which energized the public and led to civil unrest and demands for more accountability from public officials. Two days after the press conference, the Minister of Finance resigned.
It is clear that this project achieved moderate results; particularly, the more successful results have been from this project’s emphasis on civil society monitoring the Bosnian government. However, the few results that have been publicized are small gains. It is unclear the full extent of what this project achieved due to lack of information published, specifically on the count of civil society sustainability, which is the overall goal of the project. The gains made were promising, yet minimal at best.
Evidently, the lack of substantive information available is not a good sign for the success of this project. As noted, the gains that are available to view were small. In a damning sign for the prospects of this project focused on sustainability, the virtual parliament website mentioned earlier does not appear to have been updated in a while, and the CCI website does not have an annual report on their website published since 2014. In perhaps the worst sign for this project, the USAID report contains a link that purportedly leads to a new CSO network set up to analyze flood recovery across 78 local communities in BiH, but that link is dead and currently leads nowhere. Attempts to reach out to multiple organizations involved in this project have, including USAID and the CCI, have been futile. USAID did achieve some of their stated goals: civil society has been shown to have the ability to unify to affect change, as the examples I pointed out illustrate. Government monitoring is also on the rise in BiH, which has led the government to be held more accountable than before. Nonetheless, there is no evidence that the local CSOs are organizationally stronger than they were before the project, which is a gloomy portent for their prospects of sustainability. In fact, USAID published a report in September 2018 on CSO sustainability in Central/Eastern Europe where they rate BiH’s overall CSO sustainability as a lackluster 3.7/7. They state that overall CSO sustainability in BiH did not change much in 2017 despite significant international investment.
All in all, it seems that this civil society sustainability project did not achieve much. Freedom House currently gives BiH an ambiguous 4/7 on both political and civil rights, and there has actually been a slow decline in their overall score recently.
If the USAID would like to improve upon this project in the future, it would be necessary to take a bottom-up approach rather than a top-down approach. Their own report exposes the problems with their strategic thinking; it seems to indicate that they blame the local CSOs and government for the failures because they are providing sufficient financial aid. The USAID gave money to the CCI and CCSP, which in turn used their money and resources on local CSOs. In order to truly give the CSOs the tools and belief that they can succeed without international assistance, USAID should send consultants and money directly to the local CSOs and form real, personal relationships with the CSOs which would signal to these organizations that they truly believe in them, and it would take a step in showing the Bosnian public that the CSOs should not be discounted simply because of their linkage to international aid. For sustainability to be successful, there must be a person or team dedicated to maintaining the online presence and progress of the local CSOs; it is both practically and symbolically a necessity for sustainability. Rather than throw money at partner organizations and sit back, USAID must take a more direct and collaborative approach with local CSOs that gives the power of implementation to the local actors.