Fund Promotes Balkan Democracy

The Balkan Trust for Democracy helped to fund "Start Negotiating!", a project spearheaded by the Centre for Development of Civil Society "MilenijuM" that enables university students from Kosovo, Macedonia, and Serbia to exchange views on political and intercultural matters. Photo by: Balkan Trust for Democracy

A total of $3 million per year for more than 100 projects - that appears to be the average grant-making track record of the Balkan Trust for Democracy.

Since its inception in 2003, BTD has released $17.9 million to support 661 projects that promote democracy, good governance and regional cooperation in Southeastern Europe. The specific beneficiary countries are Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Moldova, Romania and Serbia.

BTD gave $2.8 million for 108 projects in 2007-2008, and $3.3 million for 125 grants the following fiscal year. Of the funding granted in 2007-2008, non-governmental organizations received 63 percent. BTD also partners with indigenous civic groups, media organizations, think tanks, governments and educational institutions.

The trust began with $30 million in donations from the German Marshal Fund of the United States, U.S. Agency for International Development and Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. Many other donors have offered support since, including the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Tipping Point Foundation, Compagnia di San Paolo, Robert Bosch Foundation, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, as well as the foreign affairs ministries of Denmark and Greece. BTD's head office is located in Belgrade, Serbia.

An advisory board with representatives from the region oversees the grant-making process. The trust taps local experts and partner donor officials to review proposals.

BTD accepts proposals and awards grants throughout the year, and receives around 30 proposals per month. Grants range from $5,000 to $75,000, with most falling between $15,000 and $25,000. Awards of more than $25,000 require approval by the German Marshal Fund's board of trustees. Annual renewal of grants is possible.

The trust has no fixed national priorities and instead focuses on addressing the needs of beneficiary nations.

"For example, this year we focused our support in Montenegro on transparency and anti-corruption work," said BTD Senior Program Manager Gordana Delic.

She added that at the regional level, the trust mainly supports youth-related efforts, particularly to prevent brain drain, and reconciliation work in post-conflict areas such as Bosnia and Kosovo.

But the trust is specific about the types of activities it prefers to fund.

"Everything that helps people become active citizens, to take part in decision-making can be of potential interest to BTD," Delic said. "But this can be many different things, and thus we have to look into the very specifics of the projects we receive to assess their possible merit."

BTD is likewise clear as to what it does not back - scholarly research, academic fellowships and scholarships, one-off events, travel, humanitarian aid or charity work, repatriation, religious activities, microfinance schemes, business development initiatives, Web site creation and maintenance, and the arts or sciences.

Given BTD's aims, grant applicants should consider addressing the following issues when preparing their proposals: political reform, civic education, government performance monitoring, and ensuring an active citizenry. Projects may, for instance, use innovative mechanisms for citizen participation, such as youth parliaments, forums and municipal boards, and promote the inclusion of vulnerable groups like Roma.

Applicants should also note BTD's expectations of projects: They should be feasible and innovative.

"First of all, proposals should be realistic - they should offer to do something that is realistic to achieve," Delic said. "We often get many proposals that offer to do wonders; this is not tangible."

She added that proposals "have to be clear and specific in what and how they want to achieve" their objectives, and "they should be based in broad partnerships."

Delic stressed that BTD does not equate innovation with coming up with an entirely new method or product.

"For example, the BTD supported a project in Montenegro where an organization uses nonformal education to work with young people in the judiciary on issues related to the European Union and [its] enlargement," she said. "This fills a gap in the formal education of these young people where the EU was underrepresented, and this knowledge is now critically important."

Using other novel approaches to education may catch BTD's eye, too, Delic indicated.

"Education systems in the region have never used simulations; they rely on memorization and repetition of facts," she explained. "For example, students learn about the European Parliament, but they have no idea what that means, how it functions. So one of our grantees from Nis [a city in southern Serbia] did a project which used simulation work to teach students how the EU parliament and other EU institutions work. The project was very successful and was subsequently replicated in the wider region."

About the author

  • Risto Karajkov

    Risto Karajkov is a doctoral student in development at the University of Bologna, Italy. His thesis focuses on foreign aid to the Balkans. Risto has 10 years of experience as a development practitioner in that region, and he writes frequently about international development, foreign aid, and the work of NGOs, including for Devex. Risto runs Consulting Macedonia, a young development and management consultancy.