ACT for a Stronger Civil Society


The space for active civil society in Serbia is shrinking. Helvetas and its partner Civic Initiatives are supporting civil society organizations throughout Serbia to increase the trust and engagement of citizens in the decision-making processes to create a better society.

  • Project Name
    For an Active Civil Society Together - ACT
  • Project Phase
    2019 to 2023
  • Funding
    This project is an SDC mandate.
  • Thematic focus
    Voice, Inclusion & Cohesion

The Space for Civil Society in Serbia Is Shrinking

Serbia is currently at the crucial stage in its political and socio-economic development. Since 2001, it has been implementing reforms aimed at international and European re-integration and development. After a phase that was marked by economic growth, poverty reduction and prosperity of the population, the progress halted in 2008 due to the global economic crisis. This placed Serbia in a new challenging position in terms of further reforms and development processes.

The quality of democratic governance at both national and local levels has been steadily declining over the past years. This includes decline in media freedom and the rule of law. Today, the role and position of the civil society in Serbia is shaped by two opposing trends: the EU integration process that is enabling greater influence of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) on Serbia’s development priorities; and the national political scene, set by the last few Serbian governments, which is gradually narrowing the democratic space for civic engagement.

Building a more democratic, transparent and inclusive society that is involved in a dialogue on reforms are among key priorities of Serbia’s European integrations. Civil society plays a strong role in strengthening ties between CSOs and citizens to enhance their participation in public dialogue on the development reforms and to ensure that their voices are heard, especially outside the country’s capital of Belgrade. With that goal, Switzerland uses its long history in participative democracy and citizens’ participation at the local level and supports the civil society organizations in Serbia.

© Helvetas
© Helvetas
© Helvetas
© Helvetas
© Helvetas
© Helvetas

Strengthening the Role of CSOs for a Democratic Society 

Through the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation – SDC, the Swiss Government supports the program:  ‘For an Active Civil Society Together – ACT’, implemented by a consortium of Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation and Civic Initiatives, Belgrade. The goal of project ACT is to contribute to an active civil society for the benefit of all people and higher engagement of the citizens in decision-making processes, particularly at the local level.

Through project ACT, Helvetas and its partners focus on strengthening the legitimacy and credibility of civil society, by building back roots to the people they represent, overcoming fragmentation and strengthening their internal governance. We support CSOs actively advocating for civil rights, good governance, gender, monitoring the implementation of laws and policies, decentralisation and social inclusion.

«We unfortunately live in times where democratic values are being questioned and the space for civil society is shrinking in a number of European countries, including Serbia. The recent downgrading of Serbia by Freedom House to a partially free country and the deteriorating civil society environment noted by the CSO Sustainability Index are evidence of this trend. In our eyes, these developments make it even more necessary to support civil society as well as to protect the space they are working in.»

H.E. Ambassador Philippe Guex, Ambassador of Switzerland to Serbia and to Montenegro.

We provide CSOs in Serbia with customized support to strengthen their constituency base and networking capacities. This enables them to effectively advocate and deliver quality services in line with the citizens’ needs.

In addition, the program provides formal and informal CSO networks with capacity building and meeting spaces, formulates advocacy strategies and implements advocacy actions with broad mobilization of citizens, leading to an enhanced influence of citizens on public policy and decision-making processes. We support CSOs and LSGs (Local Self-Government units) to establish effective local partnerships for improved services to citizens.

Through these efforts, we aim to increase trust within the citizens in CSOs and LSGs, strengthening the link between civil society organizations and their constituencies, which will lead to the increased engagement of the citizens in decision-making and policy-setting and, ultimately, to creating an active civil society.

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