EBRD Annual Meeting 2014: Civil Society Programme

By Olga Rosca
@olgarosca

The EBRD invests primarily in the private sector to stimulate entrepreneurship and foster transition towards open-market economies. The Bank also works with governments in the countries where it invests, promoting reforms and the legal framework needed to transform economies.

Alongside businesses and governments, civil society organisations play a crucial role in the transition process.

“Over the last twenty years civil society has become an important partner in advancing political, economic and social transformation,” said Biljana Radonjić Ker-Lindsay, Head of the EBRD’s Civil Society Engagement Unit, ahead of the EBRD Annual Meeting and Business Forum in Warsaw on 14-15 May 2014.

“Some civil society organisations have valuable local knowledge; others have relevant technical expertise. They contribute to the sustainability of investment projects by articulating the views of local communities and developing innovative solutions to local problems.

“Their oversight role is also important in keeping governments and businesses accountable. This makes civil society an indispensable ‘piece of the puzzle’ in advancing towards inclusive market-based economies.”

Recognising civil society as an important actor in change, the EBRD’s Civil Society Engagement Unit held a dedicated discussion panel entitled “Civil Society as a Partner in Transition”. The event was part of the Civil Society Programme that runs alongside the EBRD Annual Meeting.

The panel, moderated by Ioana Avădani of Romania’s Centre for Independent Journalism, brought together experts and practitioners from the private, public and civil society sectors to share views on how the three sectors can make a difference and accomplish more than they could on their own.

The Danone Group, a well-known food-producer representing the private sector on the panel, shared experience of creating a business model that generates social and environmental value in a sustainable way.

According to Jean-Christophe Laugée, Director of Danone’s Social Innovation and Ecosystem Fund, the company sees the economic and social environment in which it operates as an ecosystem. Through the Fund, Danone supports partners in this ecosystem – small agricultural producers, suppliers and distributors – to effect powerful social changes that also help reinforce the company.

But how does a huge corporation like Danone build trust with farmers who own only two cows, Mr Laugée asked the audience. “We work with NGOs – they have the expertise and enjoy trust,” he said, answering his own question.

Mr Laugée indicated that Danone had undergone a transition of its own, moving away from charity and beyond corporate social responsibility towards a more inclusive business.

Mirella Panek Owsiañska, Managing Director at Poland’s Responsible Business Forum commented that private sector and civil society have bridged a number of gaps. “Businesses have become more responsible and the non-profit sector more professional. As they come closer, it has become easier to cooperate.”

Ivana Ćirković, Director of the Serbian government’s Office for Cooperation with Civil Society, said: “Civil society used to struggle against authoritarian states and fight for democracy. Now the two partners sit at the same table to create a better society.”

She noted that governments have recognised civil society organisations (CSOs) as powerful partners in policy-making and must now create enabling conditions for CSOs to reach their objectives, including at the grassroots level.

Larisa Manastirli, who heads the Bank’s office in Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic, shared the EBRD’s own story of engaging business, government and civil society organisations to produce a significant impact on the quality of people’s lives.

First, the EBRD established a financing facility, KyrSeff, consisting of credit lines to a number of Kyrgyz banks which on-lend to businesses and households willing to undertake energy efficiency improvements.

Meanwhile, the Bank has also engaged with the authorities to create regulatory conditions that will allow housing associations, groups of residents and condominiums to borrow from banks when they wish to invest in energy-saving measures.

Lastly, the EBRD has partnered with a Bratislava-based NGO to build the capacity of Kyrgyz organisation Camp Alatoo, helping it to become an NGO leader in energy efficiency expertise.

“With this pilot project we have supported vocational training for people installing energy efficiency equipment. Now, with the knowledge and skills gained they are able to raise awareness of energy-saving measures and of the financing that the EBRD has made available through its partner banks,” explained Ms Manastirli.

Civil Society as a Partner in Transition

Thursday 15 May, 9.15-10.30

Moderator

  • Ioana Avădani, Executive Director of the Centre for Independent Journalism in Bucharest

Confirmed Panellists

  • Ivana Ćirković, Director of the Office for Cooperation with Civil Society, Government of the Republic of Serbia
  • Mirella Panek Owsiañska, Managing Director of the Responsible Business Forum, Poland
  • Jean-Christophe Laugée, Director, Social Innovation and Ecosystem, Danone
  • Larisa Manastirli, Head of EBRD Resident Office in Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic

The panel “Civil Society as a Partner in Transition” was part of the Civil Society Programme at the EBRD Annual Meeting. The programme brought together a wide range of civil society organisations to discuss the EBRD’s policies and investment projects – as well as political and socio-economic development in the EBRD region – with the Bank’s staff, senior management, the President and the Board of Directors.