EBRD Annual Meeting 2015: Civil Society

By Olga Rosca
@olgarosca

EBRD Annual Meeting 2015: Civil Society

Youth unemployment, social enterprises, closer partnerships with civil society, tackling climate change and road safety were among the topics discussed as part of the Civil Society Programme held by the EBRD alongside its 2015 Annual Meeting and Business Forum in Tbilisi.
 
Demonstrating the EBRD’s commitment to engaging with civil society in the countries where it invests, the two-day programme provided a platform for dialogue between a record number of civil society representatives – a total of 145 participants from 18 countries – and the EBRD’s staff and senior management.
 

 

Head of the EBRD’s Civil Society Engagement Unit Biljana Radonjic Ker-Lindsay speaks about the Bank’s new pilot initiative to partner with civil society organisations (CSOs) to build civil society’s capacity in the countries where it invests.

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The 2015 EBRD Civil Society Programme marked a shift in the EBRD’s engagement with civil society from dialogue to ever closer cooperation and partnership.
 
Its Civil Society Engagement Unit presented the initial results of its new pilot initiative whereby it partnered with civil society organisations (CSOs) to build civil society’s capacity in the countries where it invests.
 
Speaking at a panel about how international organisations and international financial institutions engage with civil society, the head of the EBRD’s Civil Society Engagement Unit Biljana Radonjic Ker-Lindsay said: “Our Civil Society Capacity Building Framework is an innovative vehicle which allows us to go beyond dialogue and consultations into transferring skills and knowledge and enhancing capacity of local civil society stakeholders. This makes our engagement even more effective.”
 
“What makes the EBRD’s CSO Framework unique is the fact that we foster cooperation between the EBRD, the private sector companies that we work with and CSOs,” she added. “In this way we leverage the strengths of each sector to help reenergise transition and encourage a broader change in countries where we invest.”
 
To date, the EBRD has piloted partnerships with CSOs in the areas of sustainable use of energy and resources, governance and investment climate, as well as economic inclusion.
 
Economic inclusion of youth was a key topic discussed as part of the programme. A dedicated panel on youth employment brought together representatives of the private sector, development organisations, civil society and the EBRD’s own experts.
 
Panellists agreed that the skills mismatch in the labour market is a major challenge for businesses across the EBRD regions. They stressed that investing in the development of young people’s professional skills could bring significant economic return for private sector companies while helping them better adapt to a changing global environment.
 
“Businesses need access to finance, but they also need access to human capital and should be prepared to pay for it,” said Salvatore Nigro, of the Education For Employment, an NGO acting as an intermediary between leading private sector companies and young people.
 
The panel concluded that private sector employers, schools and universities as well as civil society should join forces to address the problem: employers should be clearer on what skills they require, those in the education system should work more closely with employers to be able to adapt faster to the needs of labour market, while civil society can promote youth employment through work-based learning initiatives.
 
One way of tackling youth unemployment is through social entrepreneurship – another topic discussed as part of the programme.
 
Dario Vins, Social Business Adviser at the Mozaik Foundation from Bosnia and Herzegovina, said social enterprises face the same challenges as small and medium-sized enterprises in various countries. “Just as SMEs, they lack access to finance,” he said, adding that IFIs can help build up a market by designing debt and equity investments for social enterprises.
 
In addition, participants in the CSO programme discussed climate change in the global development agenda and the role of the EBRD in mobilising the private sector finance while engaging with civil society to raise awareness and promote partnerships to address the problem.
 
The programme also featured a panel discussion on road safety organised by the CSO Eastern Alliance for Safe and Sustainable Transport (EASST) and selected from 16 CSO proposals.
 
This year the EBRD invited partners to suggest topics for the programme and encouraged CSOs, in Tbilisi or elsewhere, to join the conversation via social media using the hashtag #EBRDopen.
 
As usual, the programme provided civil society participants with opportunities for dialogue with EBRD management on specific investment projects and policy dialogue activities, as well as with the Board of Directors and the President on the EBRD’s key strategic directions.