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Kosovo’s civil society landscape illuminated

By - 10.11.2016

New report examines Kosovo’s civil society.

On November 6, the Kosovar Civil Society Foundation (KCSF) released its regular bi-annual report into Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in Kosovo: The Kosovar Civil Society Index 2016. With this report, KCSF intends to show the role of CSOs in Kosovo; their impact and their transparency — something which many CSOs themselves seek on a daily basis from public institutions.

There are 8,500 registered CSOs in Kosovo, of which 1,500 are active. The report gives a detailed look into the landscape of Kosovo’s civil society sector, their challenges, their objectives and their financing. Here are some of the major findings.

Objectives, successes and drawbacks

According to the study, the three fields that CSOs are seen as most active in are transparency and accountability, the rule of law, and democratization, with gender equality and the European Integration also mentioned as prominent fields.

The impact of CSOs has been particularly effective in the area of democratization. Taulant Hoxha is a research and advocacy director at KCSF and the author of the study. He explained to K2.0 that “despite a difficult political, economic and social situation in Kosovo, civil society has managed to become an important factor in the democratization of the country.”

Hoxha believes that CSOs have achieved this through a few main methods. “First, by pressuring for transparency and the accountability of public institutions,” he told K2.0. “But also by contributing expertise from specialized CSOs in different fields. They also raise important societal causes by working with citizen groups from local CSOs, engaging with citizens to solve their daily problems.”

This democratization is displayed by the amount of CSOs in Kosovo engaged in public consultations; 51 percent of existing CSOs have been invited by public institutions for public consultation, while another 23 percent of CSOs have been invited regularly.

"The civic sector is highly active in its request for transparency and accountability, rule of law, gender equality and the European Integration process.”

Taulant Hoxha

However, despite this high level of consultation, according to the study CSOs in Kosovo do not have much of an influence in the decision-making process; 61 percent have a limited influence, 27 percent have an average impact, while 8 percent have no influence at all. Only 3 percent have a high influence.

The study also reveals that due to low levels of citizen engagement in Kosovo’s civil society (i.e. only 2.9 percent of the citizens are members of a CSOs), few CSOs have direct links with larger groups of citizens.

However, there are still voices that claim that the impact of civil society cannot be underestimated. “Without any executive competences, the impact of civil society is also dependent on the level functioning of the state in general,” said Hoxha. “Nevertheless, the civic sector is highly active in its request for transparency and accountability, rule of law, gender equality and the European Integration process.”

Financial obstacles

The biggest challenge hindering the work of CSOs in Kosovo is a dependence on external funding, leading to a lack of budget and staff.

Hoxha explained that, according to the study, “more than 60 percent of the sector is comprised of CSOs with no or little funding and with few employees.” He added that many CSOs operate on a fully voluntary basis and that the civil society sector has many more volunteers than employees. Of the 927 CSOs in Kosovo that hired staff in 2015, 66.25 percent of them had less than four employees. 28.16 percent had 5-25 employees, while only 5.61 percent had 26 employees or over.

The study also found that 60 percent of CSOs operate with an annual budget of less than 10,000 euros. CSOs with larger budgets are much rarer; just 15 percent have a budget of 100-500,000 euros and only five percent have more than 500,000 euros available annually.

International funds cover most CSOs’ budgets, large or small. For every 100 euros spent by CSOs in Kosovo, 99 euros come from international donors.

Internal transparency

When asked about the transparency of civil society in Kosovo, Hoxha said: Most of these CSOs that have significant funds and a number of employees have internal regulations and external financial audits.”

Hoxha told K2.0 that “the level of tax compliance of CSOs with financial transactions and employees is very high, indicating low tax evasion in the civil society sector.” He clarified that “this means that the sector does quite well in regards to fulfilling its legal requirements, which in many cases (i.e. external financial audits) are also exceeded.”

The 2016 edition of the Kosovar Civil Society Index paints a picture of Kosovo’s civil society as one that faces various financial and logistical challenges but seems to be playing a strong role in the democratization process in Kosovo and setting high standards in regards to transparency.K

Feature Image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.