Civic activism in south-west Serbia

TransConflict, in conjunction with the National Democratic Institute (NDI), are working to improve the position of young people in south-west Serbia, in particular the municipalities of Novi Pazar, Priboj, Prijepolje, Raška and Sjenica.

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To raise awareness and understanding of the importance of civic participation and civic initiatives, TransConflict and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) have launched a training-for-trainers programme on civic activism for young people from 5 municipalities in south-west Serbia – Novi Pazar, Priboj, Prijepolje, Raška and Sjenica, respectively.

Conceived as a long-term process which necessitates continuous education and practical implementation of the acquired knowledge and skills, the programme will consist of four comprehensive training modules and will engage 18 young representatives of Local Youth Offices, political parties and civil society organisations.

The training programme will also include a series of discussions on a variety issues pertaining to civic activism with representatives of local self-governments, civil society organisations and international organisations actively working in the region.

In-line with the programme’s objectives, the first discussion – entitled “The position of young people in South-West Serbia” – was organised on 9th November, in Novi Pazar. Ms. Mirjana Kosić, executive director of TransConflict Serbia, and Ms. Zorica Vojinović, NDI senior programme coordinator, presented the programme and familiarised the participants with its key objectives and importance for the future development and strengthening of democratic processes in Serbia.

This panel discussion served as an important opportunity for the participants to critically analyse and define the position of young people in their respective municipalities, to identify the problems and obstacles they are faced with in their personal and professional development (with a strong emphasis on education), and to propose potential solutions.

Two representatives of local government – Mr. Edin Gudžević, a member of Novi Pazar City Council and Coordinator for Sports, Youth and Tourism, and Mr. Džemaludin Paučinac, coordinator of Novi Pazar Local Youth Office – also took part in the discussion and presented strategic plans and concrete actions undertaken by the municipality of Novi Pazar with the aim of improving the position of young people.

Though each of these municipalities are characterised by specific contextual traits, they also share a number of similar problems – such as high unemployment amongst young people, a lack of opportunities for professional development, and feelings of social and cultural exclusion, etc. – which, the discussion concluded, need to resolves through joint action.

When asked to describe and identify the most prevalent obstacles, almost all agreed that there was a great deal of apathy and lack of self-initiative on the part of young people, combined with a general sense of helplessness. The participants also stated that whilst opportunities for employment are scarce – even when certain tailoured initiatives are implemented to incite youth activism, innovation and entrepreneurship – they are largely ignored due to lethargy and a perceived lack of competence. For instance, a recent call for the development of youth entrepreneurship released by the Novi Pazar Local Youth Office had to be re-published several times and its deadline extended in order to secure at least a few applications. In the end, most of the project proposals did not fulfil the criteria and the imitative had to be cancelled.

It was, therefore, concluded that instead of constantly blaming state authorities for unemployment, poverty and the generally unfavourable social situation in south-west Serbia region, young people have to themselves take the initiative and demonstrate that they can be active and prompt positive changes in their respective local communities.

Accordingly, the panel discussion was accompanied by the first training session on ‘Activism in Communities’, whereby the trainers introduced the participants with a glossary of civic activism and explained the key tenets of successful activism through concrete examples of successfully conducted actions.

The first training module consisted of a series of comprehensive exercises designed to develop those skills necessary for strategic planning in non-governmental organisations, plus key methods used in strategic planning – such as SWOT analysis, circles of influence, vision and mission development and the SMART method, etc. In addition, the participants were introduced to the techniques of emphatic listening, networking and cooperation, which they immediately exercised through work in small groups.

On the final day of the training, the participants – who were divided into groups of two – prepared for a simulation of mini-trainings on given themes, which were presented in front of the group and the trainers. All participants received feedback on their performance, with comments and suggestions as to how to improve their presentations and what to focus on in the future.

The training module was delivered by highly experienced trainers, Ms. Agnes Asodi Ćurčić and Ms. Marija Perić, whom TransConflict would like to thank for their commitment, professionalism and dedication.

The level of interaction and cooperation attained already during the first training module has revealed the remarkable potential and capacity for the more intensive engagement of young people in south-west Serbia.

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