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BALKAN NETWORK FOR LOCAL DEMOCRACY

Western Balkans Fund is happy to share another success story from the 3rd Call for Proposals grantee Balkan Network for Local Democracy (BLND) whose regional perspective is at the core of its work followed with the approach on partnership building and exchange of good practices at a regional level. BLND is one of the regional instruments founded by ALDA – the European Agency for Local Democracy and the Local Democracy Agencies (LDAs) of the Western Balkans, aiming to enhance regional cooperation and dialogue in the Western Balkans. The project implemented by BLND titled “CulTours” aims to bring the attention to the shared cultural heritage of the region, as well as promoting sustainable local tourism, CulTours is a perfect example of how we can promote tourism beyond national borders. – said Ivana Petrovska, Director of the BLND

Regional cooperation is not new to BLND and its founders since they have been working together for over 20 years, promoting good governance and active citizenship in the Western Balkans. Co-operation among the LDAs started as early as in 1993 when the first ones were established in Serbia and Croatia, and later in other countries, whilst experience gained through collaborative project development and implementation led to creation of strong linkages between LDA team members, associates and volunteers – both on in- country, cross-border and regional level. Moreover, founders of BNLD have been active in the region for over 20 years, what made them interact with various stakeholders from civil society, local authorities to private sector that enables them have deep relationship with the communities and have a full regional scope and to develop effective connections even in the most remote areas. Therefore, BNLD network members cherish a strong orientation towards getting the EU integration process closer to citizens in local communities thus sharing the knowledge and working together on creating a community of good practice in participative, inclusive local development approaches, good governance principles and monitoring the implementation of public policies – said Stanka Parac, President of BNLD.

The pressing issue of climate change and the aftermath of the COVID19 pandemic are perceived as opportunities to promote slow travel and neighboring destinations. BLND believes that by incentivizing local tourism could serve as sustainable, successful response to the global crisis. Even though traveling seems very abstract goal in this difficult times of social isolation, it is even more necessary to think of proposing a regional touristic offer for visiting what is in our vicinity. Promoting regional cooperation and local economic development through exploring, deepened understanding and valorization of shared cultural heritage (and in particular when it comes to young generation) is one of the possible solution to ongoing socio- economic crisis – said Ivana Petrovska, Director of the BLND Partnership is one of the key elements of the BNLD network, and they provide the project with a valuable insight on the current situation in their respective areas of interest. LDA Mostar, LDA Montenegro, LDA Kosovo* and LDA South East Serbia bring their in-depth knowledge of their territory and local cultural heritage, which is relevant for the creation of the touristic itineraries we want to develop with CulTours -said Stanka Parac, President of the BNLD. Believe in the long-term partnership made ALDA and LDAs come together and create one network. Taking into consideration the functional internal governance structure at the network’s level, the motivation of the project team and the vision to work in this field, we believe that the creation of the BLND will contribute to the development of follow-up initiatives and deepen the collaboration among the team as well as development of new partnerships and ideas – said Ivana Petrovska, Director of the BLND. WBF support to BLND is not only a financial support, it represents a recognition to our efforts to make our first steps as regional stakeholder. We see this partnership with WBF as stepping stone to further our regional positioning as an issue based regional CSO network whose primary goal is to promote the culture of regional co-operation and dialogue – said Ivana Petrovska, Director of the BLND. WBF support validates the BLND’s role as regional stakeholder and a reliable partner to WBF. Besides the financial support to promote shared cultural heritage in the Western Balkans, we believe this will be an excellent opportunity to define and expand our mission in the region by working side by side with one of the leading stakeholders of the area – said Ivana Petrovska, Director of the BLND. According to BLND representatives the regional cooperation needs both community approach and political boost.In order to succeed, there is a need for both bottom-up and top-down approach, thus ensuring both local and regional ownership over the process of making the factual change happen.The cooperation in the region can be invigorated through the support to different stakeholders: economic actors, civil society, local populations. While, political approach should be much more focused in emphasizing the potential beyond the national borders and focus in translating concrete programs for connectivity and cooperation – said Ivana Petrovska, Director of the BLND. Local tourism is at the core of CulTours that aims at initiating a conversation about the promotion and valorization of the immense cultural patrimony of the region, which is still relatively unknown by Western Europeans. However, BLND is committed to bring long-term experience in local activities to the service of regional interests.BNLD approach to advocacy initiatives is more result based reports/ publications and policy recommendations in the areas of youth participation, mobility, education and employment as well as in promoting the shared cultural heritage, and regional reconciliation dialogue. Additional mechanisms that helps BLND advocate is its web platform including social media campaigning and are still in process of the development of advocacy tools with other regional thematic CSO networks.