Three-year EU programme supported initiatives to raise social welfare standards through innovative instruments.
Thirty projects focused on improving community-based social services, decreasing and preventing school drop-out, and boosting social enterprise initiatives made great use of over €5 million in funding and community support from the European Union as part of its efforts to develop social welfare regulatory mechanisms in Serbia.
“We supported standardised services such as home and day care, but a significant part of the work was the piloting of innovative services,” Team Leader Andreja Tonc explained. “We supported cooperation among different sectors in services provision – for example, combining efforts in residential support services and day care with assistance to people with mental health issues and disabilities – and enterprises creating employment for vulnerable groups. We strengthened community-based services such the concept of ‘village teams’, where services providers are from the same villages as the beneficiaries, and developed local-level systems for monitoring and early detection of needs such as a the creation of a database of children that contains information on potential dropout risks.”
Launched in 2017 and only recently ended, the EU project was designed to contribute to smart, sustainable and inclusive growth for Serbia by building a more knowledgeable and skilled labour force, improving social protection policies and promoting the social inclusion of vulnerable populations.
In consortium with Proman and KPMG, NIRAS supported the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs (MoLEVSA) in developing expertise and know-how in running a grant scheme targeted at projects and community-based initiatives that promote social inclusion. Over three years, through trainings, working meetings, peer-to-peer support, the development of supporting tools and manuals, and a help-desk service, the team helped the Ministry build capacity in gathering and analysing projects outcomes.
The team promoted the grant scheme and the EU support through a communications outreach programme including a website, newsletter, workshops and a national conference. A Help Desk was established to guide grant beneficiaries through the implementation process and reporting; trainings and ad-hoc support were offered on how to best apply the grants to achieve sustainable impact. A Visibility Guide was also developed for grant recipients along with advice on developing their own individual communications plans, events and websites.
“We also supported peer-to-peer learning through close to 60 meetings among the beneficiaries,” Andreja said. “Such capacity building opportunity is very effective since it stimulates exchange of information and experience at equal level and similar experience.”
The driving force of efforts were targeted at developing social protection services at the community level with tangible outcomes for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups in Serbia. For example, in the municipality of Zvezdara, which has a large Roma population, one grant recipient project works with primary school children who have left school, are at risk of drop-out, or are not enrolled at an appropriate age. Taking a multi-sectoral approach, grant-funded measures were aimed at children (individual classes), parents (procurement of school equipment, responsible parenting training, vocational training), the Roma community (information sessions), and experts such as professional services for schools.
Another grant recipient, the social enterprise Bagel Bejgl, expanded its operations to enable increased skills training of hard-to-employ women such as victims of trafficking and gender-based violence as well as asylum seekers, making them more employable. The Centre for Dementia in Kragujevac was also supported, allowing it to establish a dementia counseling service for informal caregivers, an SOS telephone line and a website. The project also renovated and furnished space for short-term accommodation of persons with dementia.
These were only a few examples of the 30 projects – targeting community-based social services, decreasing early school leaving and prevention of drop-out, and social enterprise initiatives – that were awarded a total value of EUR €6,126,705.37 with grant beneficiary’s contribution. Persons with disabilities, the elderly, persons with mental health problems, children and youth, and other vulnerable groups, such as the Roma community comprised the key target audience of the grants.
Another important element of the EU project was technical assistance in building and piloting innovative instruments to improve social welfare service standards as well as development of the National Social Protection Development Strategy. Workshops and stakeholder consultations were held with representatives implementing social welfare projects, as well as government representatives, experts in the field, and international donors, to identify the potential for innovation and ways to improve the legislative and strategy framework.
An impact assessment was conducted of the grant scheme including the criteria for the identification of relevant, effective and replicable practices, initiatives and services to evaluate the experiences of the grantees. The goal was to use the study as an empirical base for putting in place social welfare policy and legal frameworks as well as for the identification of relevant and effective practices, initiatives and services that could be replicated across Serbia.
Download a brochure outlining the projects results.