Empowering citizens Engaging governments Rebuilding communities


Empowering citizens Engaging governments Rebuilding communities

International Relief & Development in Serbia and Montenegro 2001–2007


Copyright © by International Relief & Development (IRD) 2011 All rights reserved. Cover photos: top, aqueduct in Bar, Montenegro, where IRD implemented street lighting and water supply projects; bottom, girl at community festival in Mionica, Serbia. The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of the US Agency for International Development or of the US government. IRD is a nonprofit humanitarian, stabilization, and development organization whose mission is to reduce the suffering of the world’s most vulnerable groups and provide the tools and resources needed to increase their self-sufficiency. Design, editing, and production by Communications Development Incorporated, Washington, DC, and Peter Grundy Art & Design, London, UK. 



Foreword   v Empowering citizens, engaging governments, rebuilding communities    1 Chapter 1 Establishing a framework   4 The CRDA mission: A partnership with citizens to rebuild their communities    6 Five different regions, five different agencies, one overall goal    7 An early investment in strong social relationships    9 The IRD model: Sustainability through citizen empowerment and integrated project implementation    11 Early work in Serbia: A foundation for trust, and a willingness to accept risk    12 Overcoming early challenges: A flexible approach to adversity    16 From “chaos and disarray” to successful, sustainable results    17 Chapter 2 Empowering citizens   20 Community committees: The heart of the mobilization effort    21 Establishing relationships by building confidence    23 A mutual sense of ownership between citizens and government    24 A question of “attitudes and perceptions”    25 Moving from enhanced participation to economic revitalization    26 The shift to CRDA-E: A controversial but necessary move    27 Chapter 3 Encouraging integrated implementation   30 Bringing citizens, government, and the private sector together    31 Unleashing Serbia’s “great potential” in agribusiness    33 The case of Arilje: A blueprint for cooperative, sustainable growth    35 Entrepreneurial spirit and opportunity: “That’s how an industry starts”    37 In Montenegro, underscoring the importance of public-private partnerships    39 The value of being open to “flexible interpretation”    40 CRDA and CRDA-E: Separate programs, interrelated processes    42 Chapter 4 Identifying the successes   46 Three key operational themes: Trust, training, and flexibility    48 Boxes 1 IRD’s work in Serbia and Montenegro    7 2 Where IRD worked   8 3 CRDA’s design pillars   10 4 The right approach at the right time    13 Figure 1 IRD’s implementation model   11 



When we founded International Relief and Development in 1998, no one involved could imagine the full extent of the joy and sadness and challenges and successes that we would face in the coming years. The joy of seeing someone’s life transformed by the kind of basic infrastructure service, such as clean drinking water, that too many of us take for granted. Or the sadness of realizing that no matter how much work and effort and funding goes into a program, it’s never enough to reach everyone that needs our help. And our successes, while plentiful and encouraging, have kept us humble and focused due to the enormity of the challenges and obstacles that our staffers around the world continue to overcome, such as life-threatening risks in destabilized and impoverished regions. Our organizational philosophy begins and ends with an unwavering commitment to those staffers and to the creative and thorough work they do, whether it’s outlining engineering specifications or going over grant applications. IRD, of course, is just one of many organizations striving to implement development services and self-sufficiency programs across the world. We are but one of hundreds of like-minded groups, willing to take on certain risks to reduce the suffering of the world’s most vulnerable groups and to provide the necessary tools and resources to transform at-risk populations into stabilized communities. But we pride ourselves on working in regions of the world that present significant social, political, and technical challenges and in locations that require flexible, unique approaches to relief and development. In slightly more than a decade, we have grown from a small organization still finding our footing into a global network of passionate workers providing nearly $500 million

annually in development assistance to Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East. In a way, this remarkable journey started in the war-torn region of former Yugoslavia. Through the Community Revitalization through Democratic Action (CRDA) program in Serbia and Montenegro, which we began implementing in 2001, IRD worked with community groups to renew civil society, rehabilitate the local infrastructure, and enhance local economies. Later on, that program transitioned to one with an exclusive focus on generating more jobs and stabilizing the longterm economic development activities of two countries still reeling from years of war, poverty, and institutional failings. In Serbia the program contributed more financial resources to communities, individuals, and small enterprises than any other donor program. And in both countries, we empowered citizens to learn new skills that opened the door for expanded industry, closer citizen-government ties, and a renewed sense of hope for community stability. Associations and cooperatives formed under CRDA are still operating, expanding, and earning income. And new medical equipment, maternity wards, and hospitals are now used to diagnose and treat women’s health conditions. These efforts would not have been realized without the tireless effort and innovative thinking of IRD’s staff. More important, these efforts would not have been realized without the trust, support, and assistance of the local communities in Serbia and Montenegro. From our beginning, IRD understood the importance of dedicated staffers giving their time, energy, and resources to the local community so that everyone, jointly, could reap the rich rewards


Empowering Citizens, Engaging Governments, Rebuilding Communities

of civic renewal. With this report, we want to revisit the CRDA program in Serbia and Montenegro, not as a technical document or a program report, but as an unfiltered look at the work done by our staffers to implement a ground-breaking assistance program that did so much more than simply deliver goods. It fundamentally altered lives, and it helped stabilize uncertain communities through tireless

teaching and training, and through unparalled personal investments in local social structures that laid the foundation for IRD’s increasing commitment to community-based stabilization.

Dr. Arthur B. Keys Jr. 


Empowering citizens, engaging governments, rebuilding communities

Community festival hosted by IRD in Mionica, Serbia. 


“Real development work is a long-term process, but you have to start somewhere. It’s almost like cultivating new blueberries. Be patient and attentive but aggressive, and something valuable will grow.”
In July 2001, the US Agency for International Development awarded International Relief & Development a cooperative agreement to implement its Community Revitalization through Democratic Action (CRDA) program in Serbia. Planned as a five-year, $40 million community mobilization initiative, the program was redesigned in its third year to emphasize economic development and job creation, rebranded as Community Development through Democratic Action-Economy (CRDA-E), and extended by one year. IRD began operations in Serbia on July 15, 2001, and completed its work on July 14, 2007. CRDA was subsequently established in Montenegro in May 2002, ending on August 31, 2007. In both regions, project activity centered on basic infrastructure; economic and agricultural development; health, social, and environment assistance; grassroots democracy building; and civil society and coalition building. During the course of the programs, IRD used community mobilization techniques to build a high level of trust and mutual respect with citizens, which led to effective partnerships between local communities, their local governments, and the private sector. IRD’s approach underscored the value in establishing relationships with citizens and civic leaders as a first step to a successful assistance intervention. Through these relationships, IRD was able to instill a culture of citizen empowerment throughout Serbian society. Through active community participation and grassroots democratic action, a more vibrant, trained, and educated society emerged. This enhanced capacity for civic cooperation enabled IRD to promote longer lasting economic development through an integrated method of project implementation that demonstrated the value of public and private partnerships to all segments of society. IRD’s approach brought immediate and long-term improvement in people’s living conditions, financial outlook, and capacity for self-sustainment. Multiple program assessments found that IRD had been extremely successful in revitalizing


Empowering Citizens, Engaging Governments, Rebuilding Communities

communities and generating tangible local economic impacts through CRDA (and CRDA-E, which will be an assumed component of the overall CRDA design and mission in many instances of this program review). The long-lasting results in Serbia and Montenegro included a strong economic boost for small and medium enterprises, a better understanding of markets, a willingness among local populations to work together and stronger confidence in local government. The mission was not without difficulties, but the final results exceeded the original expectations. This review is not intended to analyze CRDA or assess the measures of success through a comprehensive review of 1,600 projects. Instead, it is intended to look at how IRD, a young organization at the time, went through the process of implementing a project grounded in the concepts community mobilization and reached economic and social sustainability. IRD’s approach in Serbia, recounted through the eyes of many of its staffers, succeeded in large part because the still-maturing organization was willing to be flexible, take risks, and stay centered on a guiding principle that civilian organizations are the most effective mechanisms to lead real, lasting socioeconomic change in communities. The approach continued to evolve and eventually led to larger development missions in even more troubled

regions around the world. But for IRD, the process began in Serbia. This review revisits IRD’s work in Serbia and Montenegro, not as a performance assessment but as a method of examining the approach, informed primarily by the processes and the people who carried them out, divided into three overarching stages: • Establishing a framework: Chosen as one of five agencies to implement a broad democratic assistance program, IRD drew on its previous experience in the region and its organizational philosophy to overcome early challenges. • Empowering citizens: Through regular town hall meetings, community committees, an aggressive projects calendar, and an emphasis on productive government relations, IRD enabled thousands of local residents to take an active participatory role in their communities’ social and economic futures. • Encouraging integrated implementation: By facilitating crucial development links between citizens, local governments, and the private sector, IRD helped foster an entrepreneurial spirit that yielded new jobs, new businesses, new industries, and long-term economic development plans where none had existed before.

Establishing a framework

US Ambassador to Serbia, Cameron Munter (center), visits reconstruction of Belgrade Youth Center, Spring 2008. 


“IRD was young, small and ready to do whatever was needed. We didn’t have the burdens of red tape or bureaucracy. We were all kind of learning. And we took risks that others weren’t willing to take.”
In the long list detailing the 589 community revitalization and development projects undertaken as part of International Relief & Development’s CRDA and CRDA-E programs in Montenegro, project LED/AG-145 looks relatively inconspicuous, like any number of other small local initiatives. Described as “the procurement of equipment of mulching film laying,” its final cost was $18,840.06, a miniscule part of the $50 million spent on projects during the programs’ five-year span. But cost is a measurement, and value is a concept. And the value of LED/AG-145 to a few farmers in Malesija outweighed its cost. Malesija, one of the largest agricultural areas in Montenegro, is located about 10 kilometers from the capital city of Podgorica, toward the Albanian border. In the spring of 2006, most farmers were mainly growing vegetables on individual properties that were divided into rather small plots. The economics of the situation meant single producers were unable to get the necessary equipment for efficient land cultivation. In order to work together, some farmers formed the Association of Agricultural Producers and, with the aid of local economic planners, went to IRD with a request—support for buying a tractor with an attachment for mulching, and other related equipment. In turn, all members of the association would share the new machinery, and they would set up a rolling fund for maintenance and future purchases, a fund subsidized in part by increased revenues from more efficient and productive farming. The association successfully mobilized support and received additional financial backing from local partners, ranging from private companies to public offices, such as the Municipality of Podgorica as well as the Ministry of Agriculture. Individual citizens, the private sector, and government leaders all worked together to ensure that this project happened. IRD facilitated the process and contributed just more than 50 percent to the cost of the project in dollars from USAID, which was funding the CRDA and CRDA-E programs.


Empowering Citizens, Engaging Governments, Rebuilding Communities

Two years later, in 2008, the programs had ended in Montenegro. By then, there were different projects, different groups, and different uses of international dollars. But that tractor, which mechanized a most basic process, was operational and its work ongoing. Margie Ferris-Morris, a consultant from the United States, was traveling through Montenegro and Serbia, conducting research to compile a program assessment of CRDA and CRDA-E. During her trip, she spoke to business owners, government officials, and individual citizens—including two farmers, whom she described as “large, strong, and typically proud” men. These farmers openly shared the story of how they benefited professionally and financially from an agricultural project that brought them new equipment. Sitting across a table from Ferris-Morris, the two men mistook her for an IRD or USAID worker and thanked her passionately and repeatedly for helping them. The whole time they were doing so, they had tears in their eyes, because they were so grateful for the project that, in their words, had “changed their lives.” The project was LED/AG-145, and even though its final line item is noted in a spreadsheet as less than $19,000, its ongoing value is measured in different and powerful ways: by grown men moved to tears, by a successful model of public and private partnership, and by the effective implementation of program designed to do on a large scale exactly what LED/AG-145 did on a small scale—encourage citizens to take an active role in the decisionmaking processes that shape their social and economic futures.

Montenegro, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Years of war and international isolation had devastated the Serbian economy, leading to food shortages, infrastructure collapses, and soaring unemployment. The promise of a more prosperous future that followed the fall of Soviet communism and subsequent breakup of socialist Yugoslavia quickly dissipated as the region fell into social and economic crisis. Through USAID, the US government intervened with a goal of offering more than financial assistance. Three intervention programs were planned to promote participatory democracy and reinvigorate the Serbian economy (box 1). The $14 million Serbian Enterprise Development Project focused on relatively small, targeted subsectors to increase employment and exports. The $30 million Serbia Local Government Reform Project aimed slightly higher, working with municipalities to restore confidence in local government and strengthen service delivery. In particular, efforts were focused on municipalities that had opposed the policies of President Slobodan Milosevic and suffered the harshest penalties by the central government as a result. But the primary program to be implemented was also the most ambitious. The $200 million CRDA initiative, a grassroots development program aimed at promoting citizen participation within and among communities to address critical economic and social revitalization needs. CRDA projects were to be citizen-driven and range from basic infrastructure to job creation. Organized communities with active participants and democratized decisionmaking were the key component, and the method by which USAID hoped to broaden CRDA’s impact beyond a traditional “transition” program. The program design itself was not new, but it had not been attempted on a scale this large or with goals this sweeping: the simultaneous rebuilding of community infrastructure and revitalization of regional economies, through the prism of democracy assistance, over six years. CRDA had its roots in Lebanon, where a community-based

The CRDA mission: A partnership with citizens to rebuild their communities
In 2001, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) put out a request for applications seeking nongovernmental organizations capable of implementing the Community Revitalization through Democratic Action (CRDA) program in Serbia, or as it was then known along with

Establishing a framework


Box 1
IRD in Serbia

IRD’s work in Serbia and Montenegro

CRDA and CRDA-E funded 1,024 projects totaling $40.4 million in obligated funds. Matching contributions from local municipalities and communities, which initially were mandated by USAID at 25 percent, rose to an average of 39 percent by the end of the program. IRD’s cost-share contribution was $556,000 in goods donated by Latter-Day Saint Charities for internally displaced persons, refugees, and other vulnerable people. Together, both programs reached 5.5 million beneficiaries, generated more than $34 million in additional income, increased agricultural sales by $8.7 million, and strengthened or enabled approximately 11,000 associations, cooperatives, institutions, farms, small businesses, and other service providers. IRD in Montenegro CRDA and CRDA-E funded 589 projects totaling $21.7 million in obligated funds. The mandated level for in-kind contributions was 25 percent, but as was also the case in Serbia, local contributions far exceeded the requirement, rising to an average of 42 percent. Additionally, IRD contributed in-kind contributions valued at $4.8 million (primarily in the form of medical supplies), donated from the World Bank, Northwest Medical Teams, Gleanings of the World, the Latter-Day Saint Charities, and Project CURE. The programs reached more than 600,000 beneficiaries and generated $10.8 million in short-term and sustainable income.

decisionmaking program aimed to rebuild homes, restore basic infrastructure, and boost economic activity in rural areas following years of civil war and slow civil regeneration. Similar programs had been implemented on a smaller scale in other troubled areas, such as Jordan and El Salvador. With the CRDA program, USAID envisioned the creation of a network of locally formed citizen committees, which would be responsible for identifying and prioritizing community needs, mobilizing community and other resources, and monitoring (and contributing to) the implementation of projects. In conjunction with the separate government strengthening program, CRDA was to “promote increased citizen involvement in municipal affairs by involving them directly in decisions regarding resource allocation and sustainability of community services.” Implementing organizations were required to facilitate community organization, provide technical assistance and training, ensure the viability of projects, and, where possible, “encourage cooperation between communities and government to promote sustainability of projects.”

While certainly an assistance program, CRDA aimed for much higher goals of promoting democratic practices at local levels to rebuild communities. Individuals were given power to direct the (preferred) usage of development funds, but they were also required to make a 25 percent matching contribution to individual project costs. At the time of the CRDA design, community-based, “bottomup” approaches to development assistance had come to be seen as more likely to sustain longterm success than the traditional “top-down” method of working through government structures to direct aid.

Five different regions, five different agencies, one overall goal
IRD was one of five nongovernmental organizations chosen by USAID to implement the CRDA program in Serbia starting in the summer of 2001. Through these five implementing partners, CRDA was active in about 450 communities, 100 municipalities, and 130 “clusters,” or groups of communities. The country was divided geographically, with each


Empowering Citizens, Engaging Governments, Rebuilding Communities

agency responsible for carrying out CRDA’s aims in its assigned region. IRD was assigned a region in western Serbia. (IRD began the CRDA program in Montenegro the following year.) Within those regions, different municipalities participated in CRDA in different ways (box 2). Although each organization tasked with carrying out the CRDA design received guidance and expected outcomes from USAID, methods of implementation were not uniform. Numerous factors contributed Box 2
Where IRD worked

to this variety, including the sociopolitical context of each of the five geographical regions, as well as different institutional priorities within the structure of separately managed organizations. Recognizing this divide is noteworthy, because each of the agencies in Serbia and Montenegro operated autonomously. With different geographical regions facing different needs and challenges, each organization followed its own plan, handled its own staffing, created its own success, and

At the start of the program, IRD introduced CRDA to all 25 municipalities in its assigned region in western Serbia. Local officials, citizens, and NGOs were invited to apply to the program, propose composition of community committees, and identify their initial project priorities. In September 2001, IRD selected 60 communities in 13 municipalities based on demonstrated need, progressive, pro-democracy attitudes, community cooperation, interest in cooperating with surrounding communities, and inclusion of women and minorities in public matters. Those 13 municipalities were Arilje, Bajina Basta, Krupanj, Loznica, Mionica, Pozega, Ruma, Sabac, Sremska Mitrovica, Ub, Uzice, Valjevo, and Vladimirci. (Additional work was carried out in Cajetina and Kosjeric.)

IRD in western Serbia












Once the program shifted focus to CRDA-E, IRD decided to make funds available to private sector stakeholders (such as businesses and agriculture producers) in all 25 municipalities, though six were singled out for the pilot local economic development project that was a cornerstone of the CRDA-E phase. Those municipalities were Arilje, Cajetina, Sabac, Vladimirci, Krupanj, and Uzice. In Montenegro, IRD implemented the program with one other organization, the Community Housing Foundation. IRD’s assigned region covered the southern and coastal municipalities of Bar, Budva, Cetinje, Herceg Novi, Kotor, Podgorica, Tivat, and Ulcinj.




IRD in Montenegro











Establishing a framework


endured its own obstacles. In addition, the program underwent a fundamental shift in direction in 2005, moving from community revitalization toward an almost exclusive focus on economic development, and each implementing partner responded to the new parameters in different ways. As a result of these variables, attempting to obtain an accurate comparative analysis of CRDA partners is unrealistic. However, the cumulative results of the program among all partners speak to its success. Citizens, businesses, and local government officials throughout Serbia learned how to analyze economic data, compare their capacities to market demands, improve the quality of their products, define and implement development strategies, and conceive and operationalize projects to jump-start a moribund economy. Just as important, the local populations throughout Serbia and Montenegro demonstrated their own commitment to making CRDA work through counterpart contributions that exceeded 50 percent of project costs. According to USAID, more than 4 million residents in Serbia benefited (about 60 percent of population in 2005) and more than $80 million in additional income was generated. Independent assessments back up the numbers. A third-party evaluation conducted for USAID in 2008 found that CRDA had been “extremely successful” in revitalizing communities and generating immediate and tangible local economic opportunity in Serbia. Collected data showed a renewed confidence throughout the country in local government and an increase in exports and fulltime employment. Years after the CRDA program officially ended, local business development districts were thriving, and agricultural cooperatives established under the program were still growing. Some aspects of CRDA were more successful than others, and different evaluations reached slightly different conclusions on the long-term impact of the program on more intangible indicators, such as feelings of trust and empowerment.

When awarded the CRDA grant, IRD was a young organization with a small staff and few international interventions to its credit. Founded in 1998 by Dr. Arthur B. Keys Jr., IRD quickly grew into a truly global relief organization, distributing more than $1.75 billion in humanitarian assistance across four continents within 10 years.

An early investment in strong social relationships
Even though it’s not etched as a motto on a plaque or recited by staffers as a talking point, there is a fundamental belief in the value of development and humanitarian assistance that exists throughout IRD. This belief, which informs the organization’s proposals, policies, and direction, is that civilian organizations, not the military or top-down government institutions, offer the best chance for a rebuilding region to succeed in the long term through the establishment of personal, sustainable ties to community. Whether viewed as concept, idea, argument, or thesis statement, this belief has served as IRD’s guiding principle as an assistance organization. It’s a straightforward approach that certainly at no point was proprietary intelligence for IRD. But just because the approach is widely considered doesn’t make it universally accepted. While any organization committed to the goal of implementing development programs must adhere to an internal logic that is some exact or slight variation of this principle, IRD’s commitment to the value of interpersonal relationships and trust was central to the organization’s success in Serbia and Montenegro. For a small operation with less staff and resources than other like-minded organizations, IRD relied heavily on its social capital in the target communities. The investment in relationships and the commitment to establishing long-term public-private working models was key to IRD’s eventual success with CRDA, because it allowed IRD to survive an uneven beginning as well as abrupt mandates from the donor that stretched the organization’s capacity.


Empowering Citizens, Engaging Governments, Rebuilding Communities

Box 3

CRDA’s design pillars

In the beginning, CRDA had one overarching mission—to bridge the gap in relations between citizen and local government organizations in addressing the economic and social revitalization of community life. Implementing partners were given the discretion to create their own plans to best organize local communities, though each organization needed to address certain “pillars” designated by USAID: • Community mobilization. • Infrastructure and environment. • Economic revitalization. For IRD, community mobilization and development were at the core of its CRDA implementation model, with community groups heavily involved in the project identification and design of many of the infrastructure, environment, and economy initiatives. IRD trained community members in all aspects of project facilitation, including strategic planning, advocacy, participatory evaluation, grant application processes, and more. As a result, IRD and its CRDA communities were able to jointly identify and prepare community infrastructure projects such as repairing hospitals, schools, and playgrounds; improving water supply and distribution systems; modernizing waste collection and disposal systems; repairing roads; and building new public facilities such as libraries. The CRDA communities also were heavily involved in identifying economic revitalization projects, which focused on advisory services, training, and grants for agricultural producers and small businesses. Even when the program transitioned to a singular focus on economic development, IRD preserved citizen participation in the decisionmaking process.

USAID outlined the program design and established goals, but as previously noted, each implementing agency devised its own operational agenda for CRDA (see box 3). This reality was due in part to the geographical realities on the ground (such as the varying socioeconomic and cultural contexts of each region), and in part to the practical reality that no two (or more) organizations would follow the exact same course, even if the end goals are the same. Keeping this reality in mind when assessing IRD’s role with CRDA is important, because a positive assessment of one methodology is not an indictment of any other. By looking at IRD’s individual approach and its own measures of success, important lessons can be learned about the effectiveness of results that are not easily measured by performance indicators alone. IRD’s approach in Serbia and Montenegro reinforced the notion that financial support alone will not make an intervention successful. It also reinforced the late-20th century evolution in assistance theory that sound development policy

takes time and is more sustainable if it’s built on a foundation of mutual trust between those supplying the aid and those receiving it. According to J. Brian Atwood, a former USAID administrator (1992–98), the idea should be to “develop a long-term, enduring relationship that will produce development change and results over time. The success of the host country equals success of the development mission.” Establishing a thorough, in-country network of trust between individuals and among groups is of paramount importance to laying the groundwork for social and economic sustainability. At the core of IRD’s model for implementing CRDA was investing and reinvesting in local communities’ social capital—what sociologist Robert Putnam referred to as “the collective value of all social networks and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other.” Many IRD staffers, when recalling the early days of the project, repeatedly referred to trust they

Establishing a framework


established with residents, a mutual bond forged in the chaos of the “quick-start” mandate that USAID decreed after the implementing partners had already drawn up CRDA designs and strengthened by the program’s somewhat difficult transition to CRDA-E. The trust was built in the most basic ways, by listening, assisting, and following through on projects, but also in other ways. IRD, as a small organization, relied heavily on local populations to fill key staffing positions, from junior program officers to chief engineers. By many accounts, there was a real distrust of nongovernmental organizations in Serbia at the time, so IRD’s reliance on local personnel played an important legitimizing role. IRD had already established a presence among some of Serbia’s most vulnerable populations, having carried out previous humanitarian work when no other nongovernmental organizations were around. By making mutual trust central to its implementation philosophy, IRD was able to maintain a consistent approach throughout the program, even when the targeted outcomes dramatically shifted. It was also able to achieve what one development expert Figure 1
IRD’s implementation model

referred to as the “golden goose”: realized, sustainable outcomes on a combined economic and social level. Almost a decade after CRDA began, local economic development districts, business cooperatives, youth participation groups, and tourist destinations are among the handful of sustainable projects overseen and developed by IRD. The model that IRD used in implementing CRDA—and later, CRDA-E—becomes especially relevant in light of that socioeconomic sustainability.

The IRD model: Sustainability through citizen empowerment and integrated project implementation
While proper credit should be given to the project design and to the donor, one prominent USAID official at the time dismissed sustainability as a conceptual goal for CRDA, saying that immediate assistance, not sustainable projects, was the mission: “The program will be sustainable if the people want it to be sustainable.” Given the severely limited capacities of people in the rural and economically depressed regions of Serbia targeted by CRDA, leaving sustainable outcomes— and, in turn, positive long-lasting impacts—up to

Economic and social sustainability



Citizen empowerment

Social capital

Integrated implementation


Empowering Citizens, Engaging Governments, Rebuilding Communities

“the people” was tantamount to throwing a life preserver with no line attached. With its own limited capacities, IRD certainly did not set out to ensure that a certain number of projects would yield enduring outcomes. But the emphasis that IRD placed on developing relationships within the communities and among government officials enabled it to connect with the targeted Serbian population in a way that allowed real development, not just politically expedient data outcomes, to take root. The process, as it turned out, was basic. As a civilian organization charged with implementing projects funded by an external donor, IRD could have seen its role easily reduced to “middle man.” Instead, the organization, which already had a small but established presence in Serbia, relied heavily on creating and leveraging its social capital within the community, which fueled what can be described as a procedural model dependent on two equally important components—citizen empowerment and integrated project implementation. By creating the enabling environment for the citizenry to take control of its future with CRDA, IRD gained the trust and respect necessary to implement economic and socially sustainable projects with CRDA-E. IRD met or exceeded almost every program target outlined in Serbia and Montenegro, sometimes by a large margin, while the unmet targets were more a matter of diminished, rather than failed, outcomes. (In Montenegro, for instance, IRD chose not to meet a target of 80 working community groups and instead settled on 60, because the higher target was deemed imprudent.) From a basic measurement of inputs and outputs, IRD’s work in Serbia and Montenegro easily exceeded the results initially promised to USAID. IRD pledged that 350 community improvement projects would be implemented and 27,000 new jobs created. In Serbia, those numbers ballooned to 754 projects and more than 50,000 permanent or temporary jobs.

IRD’s success in Serbia and Montenegro is notable for a number of reasons, but two are worth further exploration: the organization’s relative youth at the time it was operating in Serbia—which allowed for a nimble operational approach that was repeatedly cited by staffers as a benefit—and its consistent commitment to engaging local governments alongside citizens. By taking care to establish trust with all program stakeholders, IRD could facilitate an enabling environment for citizens, government, and the private sector to establish their own levels of trust with each other by jointly planning for their social and economic futures. Without the constraint of following its own precedents, IRD took the community mobilization foundation of the CRDA design and achieved a goal viewed by many of its practitioners as a luxury— sustainable outcomes, ranging from business improvement districts in different municipalities to regularly scheduled cancer screenings in local hospitals. IRD’s flexibility and openness to risk exemplified its Serbian operation and helped propel IRD to larger development and assistance work. In a way, IRD and its operational philosophy were in the right place—as a growth-oriented, bureaucratically lean civilian organization—at the right time— when the US political climate for development and democracy assistance called for exactly what IRD could provide (box 4).

Early work in Serbia: A foundation for trust, and a willingness to accept risk
Of the five implementing partners in Serbia, IRD began the CRDA program with the least experience and shortest history of service—in most cases, by decades. American Development Foundation, working in northern Serbia, was established in 1980. Mercy Corps, working in south central Serbia, was founded one year earlier in 1979. The other two partners came into Serbia with even more established credentials. ACDI/VOCA was created by the 1997 merger of Agricultural

Establishing a framework


Box 4

The right approach at the right time

NATO’s 78-day bombing campaign of Serbia in 1999, led by the United States, offers crucial context for the discussion of CRDA. The Balkan military action, a response to the ethnic violence raging in Serbia, bookended the two most notable US military interventions of Bill Clinton’s early presidential tenure—Haiti, where he deployed the military to restore President Jean Bertrande-Aristide to power, and Somalia, where he expanded the role of the military from an initial humanitarian aid support operation to a much broader mission that, according to UN Resolution 814, sought the “re-establishment of national and regional institutions and civil administration in the entire country,” the “disarmament” of warring factions, and “economic rehabilitation.” The phrase “nation building” was not explicitly stated, but the intent was clear. When the United States announced plans to withdraw from Somalia just more than six months after the passage of that resolution (and after a US military operation in Mogadishu led to the deaths of 18 American soldiers and hundreds of Somalis), critics had a rallying cry around the bodies of dead Americans, the military should not be in the business of creating civil societies. In his presidential memoir, Clinton called the Haiti intervention “strong evidence of the wisdom” of multilateral responses to areas in crisis, adding that such operations “reduce resentment against the United States, and build invaluable habits of cooperation.” Although Clinton was writing of intergovernmental cooperation, the concept is applicable to civilian cooperation, since it was the recognition of military limitations in the 1990s that arguably led to the growing presence of nongovernmental organizations in world trouble spots. From Clinton’s first year in office, his administration sought to strengthen the role of the US military as a peacekeeping force at a time, as the Washington Post reported, “of unprecedented growth in demands for UN intervention, and amid serious problems with major operations in Somalia and the Balkans.” According to the Pentagon, the United Nations in 1990 had about 10,000 peacekeepers deployed at an annual cost of $819 million. By 2003, there were more than 80,000 UN peacekeepers deployed worldwide with annual bills exceeding $3.6 billion. A new world order was indeed taking shape, but in many cases, modernization was being undercut by unstable or corrupt institutions, uneducated and uncertain populations, diminished infrastructures, and a general lack of governmental capacity. At the same time, USAID had seen its staff, budget, and influence greatly diminished. From its beginning in the Kennedy administration, USAID was seen as the backbone of America’s international development initiatives. But in the post-Cold War era, global development goals were de‑emphasized by Congress, and USAID had undergone heavy cutbacks. In 1997, Clinton signed a presidential directive to create a program for educating and training personnel—military and civilian—in peacekeeping missions, or as the directive stated, “complex contingency operations.” Recognizing the growing need for a nonmilitary response to a “rising number of territorial disputes, armed ethnic conflicts, and civil wars” that destabilize regions, the administration sought to create a federal process that would promote joint military and civilian cooperation. The acknowledgment of the need for a new approach was explicit: Many aspects of complex emergencies may not be best addressed through military measures. Furthermore, given the level of US interests at stake in most of these situations, we recognize that US forces should not be deployed in an operation indefinitely. It is essential that the necessary resources be provided to ensure that we are prepared to respond in a robust, effective manner. To foster a durable peace or stability in these situations and to maximize the effect of judicious military deployments, the civilian components of an operation must be integrated closely with the military components. (continued)


Empowering Citizens, Engaging Governments, Rebuilding Communities

Box 4

The right approach at the right time (continued)

A Pentagon-financed study two years later found that the US government had done little to carry out the plan, however. “The spirit and intent [of the directive] is not being followed,” the report concluded. Eventually, this concept would evolve in Afghanistan as Provincial Reconstruction Teams, or PRTs—units consisting of military officers and civilians tasked with the joint facilitation of reconstruction and stabilization efforts. But mostly, the “spirit and intent” of civilian organizations taking a leading role in fostering stability fell to civilian organizations themselves. Understanding the context of official federal policy, political rhetoric, and the increasing need for UN-type assistance at the turn of the century is important in examining the role of a nongovernmental organization, like IRD, in implementing a program like CRDA. Success in revitalizing the civic core of an unstable society was increasingly recognized as fundamental for truly effective intervention, but many development experts felt the international community overall was unprepared to respond effectively to newer post-Cold War challenges. With a growing consensus that militarized operations were ineffective mechanisms for development, nongovernmental organizations became more important in delivering humanitarian, development, and, in many cases, democratic assistance. It was within this political and social context that IRD, founded and guided by the same general operating principle of civil society development, entered Serbia.

Cooperative Development International, established in 1963, and Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance, established in 1970. CHF International, working in the east, began working in international development in 1962, though it dates to the early 1950s. IRD, just three years old at the time of the CRDA contract grant, had managed an aggregate of $65 million in government grants and cooperative agreements. CRDA, by contrast, was an estimated $40 million award. But IRD had two distinct advantages that helped offset its youthfulness, an established presence on the ground and a willingness to take risk. IRD had been operational in Serbia for more than a year before CRDA began, first implementing a US State Department humanitarian assistance grant before securing a cooperative agreement for USAID’s AltNet program. Also a humanitarian project, AltNet was conceived as an “alternative distribution network” for food and nonfood commodities. At the time, the Yugoslav Red Cross controlled all shipments and distributions of humanitarian goods entering and distributed within Yugoslavia, and there were several documented cases of abuse

or misallocation of assistance to the military or government personnel. AltNet’s goal was to ensure international aid was getting to the people. AltNet’s result, however, was of greater impact, as it turned into the rare example of a program that made an effective transition from the provision of humanitarian assistance to the development of economic security. In its second year, the project officially became a grants program, but IRD discovered a civic awareness from the very beginning that led to AltNet’s rapid and organic evolution. While AltNet was substantially smaller than CRDA (with a budget just under $2.5 million), its structural framework was very similar. AltNet relied on municipal advisory councils, or MACs, which closely resembled the community development committees called for in CRDA. With the councils, IRD already had community-based organizations established in 16 municipalities throughout Serbia. Those organizations consisted of 10–15 individuals, representative of different parts of the community, who served as collective screening and selection committees

Establishing a framework


for the distribution of humanitarian aid. By the time IRD sought a role in CRDA, less than one year after the start of AltNet, many MACs had already implemented projects to address income generation and gender and minority needs. IRD recognized the small scale of these accomplishments but also the importance of the inroads made in establishing community ties, both with local committee members and local political officials who became involved with the program. “The initial projects were a great success,” said Vladan Ilic, a local resident hired by IRD as an AltNet finance manager. “You couldn’t even buy fuel; it was all smuggled. The local Red Cross couldn’t be trusted. AltNet opened doors for IRD everywhere.” AltNet began in September 2000 and ran through September 2003, so more of the program existed as a companion to CRDA than as a predecessor. But AltNet yielded substantial results, 567,000 persons benefited from humanitarian aid and grants totaling $537,000 created about 2,100 new jobs, according to final numbers. But the social impact was greater than the accounting outcomes. Representatives to the advisory councils, interviewed as the program was winding down, stated that the immediate assistance provided by the US government through IRD just days after the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic “had a lasting impact with regard to IRD’s and USAID’s credibility in target municipalities.” Within the first six months of the program, IRD staffers had built close relationships with local citizens and, more important, served as a public face for the delivery of food and other items. Local politicians, who in the targeted areas all stood in opposition to Milosevic, could use the advisory council structure to share their views with citizens. And the citizens were given an opportunity to coordinate and share information between all stakeholders, the first organized experience that most members of the municipal groups had in the post-Milosevic era.

Practically all of this community immersion took place within those first six months, before AltNet began to transition into a grants program but when it was still considered a humanitarian relief program. IRD established an identity among the Serb population not only as a results-oriented nonprofit, but as an active partner with motivated Serb locals and as a facilitating bridge between citizens and government officials. IRD’s flexibility in adjusting to the priorities of some of the advisory councils helped establish credibility on the ground, a crucial component of future success. “IRD was young, small and ready to do whatever was necessary,” Ilic said, adding that unlike other organizations, IRD “didn’t have the same burdens of red tape or bureaucracy. We were all kind of learning. And we took risks that others weren’t willing to take.” IRD’s presence in Serbia actually predated AltNet by a few months. Operating from a US State Department grant, IRD was distributing assistance supplies through local church networks and municipal councils in areas outside the “control” of the Yugoslav Red Cross, which was being run by Slobodan Milosevic’s wife, Mirjana Markovic. At the time that USAID announced AltNet in August 2000, the Milosevic regime made it known that any American organization attempting to implement humanitarian programs outside Red Cross oversight would be branded as a terrorist group and expelled from the country—a threat not to be taken lightly. Milosevic biographer Slavoljub Djukic wrote that “there is not a single woman in Serbian history people have been so afraid of.” In a 1999 profile, USA Today reported that even members of Milosevic’s staff feared her. After careful consideration and consultation with political leaders in the 9 municipalities where they were operational and the 15 proposed AltNet municipalities, IRD decided that local needs outweighed the risks and chose to submit a proposal for the program. At the time, the only distribution


Empowering Citizens, Engaging Governments, Rebuilding Communities

of humanitarian aid outside of IRD’s work and that of the Yugoslav Red Cross, of course, came from USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives program, eventually folded into AltNet. Fortunately for IRD, the gamble paid off—the Milosevic regime was deposed days before the program officially began. IRD’s early involvement in Serbia clearly helped lay the groundwork for the enhanced credibility and trust that were fundamental to CRDA’s success. To make any program work, “you simply have to have a presence on the ground,” said Tijana Dabic, an IRD program officer at the time. “And you have to be flexible.” That flexibility—a recurring theme throughout the organization’s work in Serbia—also served IRD well during the uneven beginning stages of CRDA and, eventually, during the program’s CRDA-E transition.

IRD contracted with United Methodist Committee on Relief. IRD relied on UMCOR, at the time a much more experienced relief organization, for personnel help and operational measures in getting the community groups organized. In addition, IRD partnered with three local NGOs to provide information and support to interested community groups. Much of IRD’s initial success is attributable to the help it received from those three partners—Osvit in the Sabac region, the Valjevo Human Rights Committee, and the Uzice Center for Human Rights and Democracy. As IRD was trying to balance meeting its early objectives with concurrently trying to recruit staff and establish field offices, the NGO partners provided crucial assistance in organizing the quarterly community meetings and helping potential grantees prepare proposals. The assistance from these groups was vital, but the organizational structure became denser. In addition to UMCOR, IRD hired another organization to help develop its Infrastructure and Environment program. Camp Dresser & McKee (CDM) International, a third member of the IRD consortium, was tasked with planning and implementing the first stage of CRDA’s infrastructure and environmental component. This was completed with the technical and human resources support of Voding 92, a Serbian engineering consulting company. But the organizational structure in Serbia was complex. Due to the project’s heavy emphasis on project grants, clear and consistent financial procedures were of the utmost importance. Insufficiencies in these areas became an acute pressure point between UMCOR and IRD, and, to a certain extent, between IRD field operations and headquarters. During the first two years, 438 projects were implemented with IRD and subcontractors, requiring harmonization that was largely missing between USAID, IRD, and UMCOR, which was not involved with CRDA after those first two years. There were “noticeable problems at the operational level,” according to one staffer, problems

Overcoming early challenges: A flexible approach to adversity
IRD had established a presence in Serbia with its AltNet program, but CRDA was much larger, with more diverse activities. For a young organization like IRD, the first two years of implementation were a challenge. Its administrative, financial, and management procedures evolved primarily by trial and error, as IRD headquarters in Washington, DC, was becoming established. IRD conducted an internal assessment two years into the program to figure out a more efficient way forward as delays and procedural troubles mounted. As one of IRD’s staffers bluntly put it, “CRDA was in trouble.” Frank Pavich, a veteran development worker of more than three decades who had joined IRD headquarters, said the early problems were primarily organizational. “There were two groups—community mobilization and everything else,” he said. “And they didn’t get along.” There were actually more than two groups. To get the community mobilization program off the ground,

Establishing a framework


that could be partly attributed to the organization’s infancy but also to the early pressure from USAID to meet quick-start demands. “A quick start-up is always problematic; it just takes a while to gain a common frame of reference,” Pavich said. The push for a rapid start strained IRD’s capacity from the very beginning, because it was an unexpected mandate that had not been part of the cooperative agreement with USAID. None of the implementing partners had built a quick start-up into their work plans, but at the CRDA opening program conference in July 2001, USAID asked all five organizations to get 60 community committees in operation and initiate at least one project in each selected community within the first 90 days of the program. Despite the logistical difficulties of compressing organizational tactics and detailed project planning into such a short timeframe, IRD met the requirements. And although post-program evaluations showed that USAID did succeed in its goals of capturing immediate attention and establishing CRDA’s credibility, the edict strained relations between the donor and IRD further by revealing a philosophical divide between assistance workers in the field and office administrators. “That’s not development,” one staffer said when asked about the push for quick starts. “That’s political development. Learning about planning and management, that takes a while. But that’s what works.” Much of IRD’s early success in handling this rapid start-up can be attributed to the support it received from its three local NGO partners, which helped IRD concentrate on the specific project objectives while concurrently recruiting staff and establishing its Belgrade and field offices. Again, IRD’s flexible approach and the close working relationships already established with local organizations played an integral role in equalizing what could have been a vastly uneven playing field for such a young organization.

From “chaos and disarray” to successful, sustainable results
Obstacles are not unique to any implementing agency going into a troubled region. But as a growing organization, IRD had a lot riding on Serbia. On a moral level, there was the commitment to efficiently use USAID’s multimillion dollar investment to improve life for the Serbian people. On an institutional level, there was the need to show effective results to the donor as well as to the international community. In its technical proposal, IRD vowed that it and “its partners and the community development committees we create will leave behind significant and sustainable change throughout the region.” For a more established NGO, that kind of unwavering promise could be dismissed as proposal-writing boilerplate. But for a relative upstart, there was little flexibility to fall short of stated goals. The early operational setbacks were not contained to Serbia. In fact, the situation in Montenegro might have been worse. IRD began the CRDA program in Montenegro in May 2002, almost one year later than the program began in Serbia, a delay due to additional time needed for approval. The political situation was very unstable at the time, and as Robert Harris, IRD’s director of operations explained, “The European Union was not happy with Montenegro. So it took more effort.” The effort was widespread. Harris came on as IRD’s chief of party after the first year, part of an early organizational restructuring. “We had a series of targets we were failing to meet,” Harris said. “And we had to meet them.” But the complexity of the situation in Montenegro played as much of a role as any other factor in the troubled start. The changing political landscape in the region meant there was actually more than one mayor vying for political support in some of the eight municipalities in which IRD was working. Montenegro presented one additional operational hurdle. IRD’s main office was in the capital city of


Empowering Citizens, Engaging Governments, Rebuilding Communities

Podgorica, but the main work was being done in the coastal municipalities. Though not very large, Montenegro has regular community town halls and meetings with contractors, mayors, and other municipal officials that forced staffers to make frequent roundtrip journeys of up to 200 kilometers— a time-consuming process that ate into valuable work hours, Harris said. Eventually, IRD decentralized its staffing structure to place more workers in individual municipalities. In a 2003 study analyzing the “local realities” that were posing a challenge to CRDA, researcher Jeff Merritt specifically noted this issue. “Problems experienced during CRDA’s initial implementation in Montenegro appeared largely based in lack of time rather than merely inadequate planning,” Merritt wrote. Harris said a valuable lesson, no matter how basic it may seem, was learned: Ground logistics simply can’t be overlooked. As IRD eventually set up even larger implementation programs in more geographically diverse and conflict-afflicted regions like Iraq and Afghanistan, this early lesson proved invaluable. More early problems existed, some not confined to a border. More than one IRD staffer recalled perceptible tension with USAID in the first two years of CRDA, a reality Merritt acknowledged as well: “Relationships between USAID offices in Podgorica and Belgrade appear tense, and as a result, links between CRDA activities in Serbia and Montenegro have been very limited.” Although the programs in both countries operated autonomously, USAID’s Montenegro budget remained linked to Serbia, creating blurred lines of authority between IRD and the donor and contributing to accelerated bureaucratic resentment. Meanwhile, even as USAID was pushing for its rapid start—a mandate that had already created a philosophical backlash among many implementing administrators on the ground—reporting requirements had yet to be finalized, and not all required indicators were clarified.

There’s a saying in baseball that the season can’t be won in the first few weeks, but it can be lost. Over time, a solid team and sound strategy will produce results as long as rash decisions or overreactions to early troubles are avoided. IRD faced such a scenario with CRDA. The difficult beginning, a result of so many disparate and competing factors, could have easily worsened and endangered not only IRD’s role in CRDA but IRD’s standing in the development and assistance community. That didn’t happen. Measurement outcomes for USAID were either met or exceeded, and the CRDA design and implementation garnered widespread recognition as a forward-looking success. So what happened? How did IRD go from an organization in early “chaos and disarray,” as one staff member said, to one capable of bringing Balkan farmers to tears, or designing project programs that the other partners would adopt on a national scale? As the program matured and processes naturally evolved, valuable lessons about almost every aspect of mounting an assistance program were learned and documented in detail for final project reports. IRD’s uneven beginning and subsequent recovery created a reputation, at least among the staff, of an organization willing to take risks— “Because we were small enough that we didn’t have another choice,” according to Pavich—and an organization keenly aware of how its size could become an advantage. A small operation could be more nimble in responding to the inevitable crises of a large assistance program, but it could also establish its credentials quicker and easier in a region that was openly distrustful of NGOs. By design, CRDA allowed for each implementing agency to craft its own methodology as long as the primary goals of enhanced community participation and improved economics and infrastructure were met. That predetermined flexibility in design carried over, according to staffers, to the field, where IRD perceived long-term impact

Establishing a framework


and sustainability as critical parts of its CRDA methodology. IRD’s nimbleness also allowed it to move swiftly and decisively when the program abruptly shifted focus in 2004 to concentrate on economic

growth and job creation rather than community mobilization­ — a shift that created great hardship but ultimately allowed IRD in Serbia to succeed with its full assistance model, from empowering citizens to integrating implementation to a legacy of social and economic sustainability.

Empowering citizens

Newly reconstructed green market in Mionica, Serbia. 


“To meet the in-kind requirement, people would knock on doors, asking for contributions for the fund to rebuild their sewer system. And they would get the donations. People got that involved.”
Community committees: The heart of the mobilization effort
At the dawn of the 21st century, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) was not yet eight years old and had even less time than that remaining. Composed of Serbia and Montenegro, FRY existed as a byproduct of the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, a socialist federal republic that during the Cold War served as a social and economic bridge between West and East, capitalism and socialism, and Soviet-style and American-style governance. The Yugoslav people lived under conditions that were not as harsh as in many communist nations. Most farms in Yugoslavia remained privately owned (though still responsive to state collectives), and local government was based on mesna zajednica (MZ; “local community”), a unique system of self-management that, in theory, imbued workers with political clout not possible in the more centralized Soviet system. The legacies of socialism, repression, war, and economic insecurity loomed large, but the region actually was fertile ground for a program like CRDA due to this system. MZs resided at the lowest level of Yugoslavia’s complex delegate system, which represented labor, sociopolitical organizations, and local citizens. Policymakers established the system in the 1950s as a way of transferring economic management from the state to the workers. The organization of socialist self-management was elaborated further in the 1974 constitution. Theorists have debated whether this system increased centralized government power through greater structural control or actually gave “power to the people” as Yugoslavia claimed. What is known, however, is that approximately 500 different MZs served as the base layer of a complicated hierarchical system of representation and that these groups were composed of local citizens, from larger villages to remote rural areas. The amount of actual governing power these groups had over time mattered less in relation to establishing CRDA than the fact that generations of Yugoslav men and women had a direct


Empowering Citizens, Engaging Governments, Rebuilding Communities

point of reference for active citizen participation processes. Dejan Bratuljevic, who worked as IRD’s chief engineer in Montenegro, said the historical context of the Yugoslav system was critical in helping citizens relate to and embrace IRD’s community mobilization model more quickly than might otherwise be expected, even if that model did sow a little confusion. “We would explain the community committees, and they would say, ‘Are these Americans really bringing us something we had in the 1970s?’” Bratuljevic said. “They had to understand the committees were not the same as the MZs.” The term “community committee” initially was unpalatable to the target municipalities because it reminded them of the years of socialism and communist rule. But these committees were at the heart of CRDA’s community mobilization effort, and committee training “was the cornerstone of successful CRDA and CRDA-E implementation during the program’s six-year run,” according to USAID’s final assessment. IRD used training to introduce and build consultation, cooperation, and strategic planning capacity, and to improve the personal and professional skills of the committee members. The committees did not have final project approval, but their input was substantial. They acted as both leaders and representatives for their communities. Community mobilization was part of the CRDA design, but the implementing partners had the flexibility to organize and mobilize citizens as they saw fit. Based on their own set of criteria, IRD selected 60 communities in 13 Western Serbian municipalities to participate in CRDA. The selected communities generally had populations between 8,000 and 15,000 people, so to best serve everyone, IRD established committees consisting of 8–12 members within each CRDA community. This representational structure formed the core of IRD’s approach to building democratic practices, because the citizens were allowed to choose their

own committee members. As expected, committees routinely included people who had already established themselves as local activists, but staffers in both Serbia and Montenegro recalled the diverse professional mixture of the committees. (Gender was another matter; IRD actively sought to increase women’s participation in the committees, which in many communities was nonexistent.) “The members were from all industries—farmers, businessmen, college students, accountants,” said Igor Samac, who was one of IRD’s community mobilization program officers. Because of the region’s unique brand of socialism, “there was already community involvement before IRD showed up,” Samac said, adding that most of his challenges as a program officer involved managing and tempering expectations, and helping headstrong locals learn how to compromise. “You might have leaders of three tribes showing up all wanting three different roads for their area of land, and they all couldn’t have it.” A common criticism and concern of communitydriven aid projects is their inherent vulnerability to elite capture, or the idea that local elites will exert improper influence or control over the distribution of aid resources. Since the community committee members did not have final say over the projects that were funded but instead had to essentially compete among each other for grants (with IRD as the final arbiter), the most vocal citizens often steered the debate or were successful in winning projects, but the nature of the process never guaranteed an outcome. IRD’s transparency in issuing awards helped motivate individuals or groups to learn crucial technical skills, such as the most effective way to write grant proposals, or how to identify project indicators, or how to structure an evaluative monitoring process. The “loudest or most stubborn” tribal leader wouldn’t be the one to get his road, Samac said, adding that inevitably, “one group would be more

Empowering citizens


engaged in the process of getting the right permits, documents, and signatures.” The community committees were not only structured to engage citizens in economic and political decisionmaking; they were designed to empower individuals to mobilize their own constituencies and to learn the basic principles of market economies by teaching competitive success skills. They also were a necessary administrative mechanism to handle the high level of community interest in the program, but they weren’t the only avenue to civic engagement. IRD held quarterly town hall meetings, open to all citizens, in each of the 60 CRDA communities. Hundreds of citizens participated in these forums to discuss needs, debate priorities, and offer feedback on proposed or ongoing projects. The community mobilization team would then integrate the information collected at these meetings into community committee training and development activities. A public information education strategy and program helped CRDA community members reach out to regional and local media in order to focus attention on different project and raise awareness of the work being done. The eventual shift to economic development priorities gave the implementation program more focus and more tangible, enduring outcomes, but multiple CRDA assessments noted that overall citizen participation and enthusiasm were never higher than during this more open, flexible phase of the program.

the committees focused too much energy on prioritizing and selecting projects and developing proposals at the expense of “establishing their own identities.” After the CRDA funding ended, different assessment reports found little visible evidence of ongoing, organized community committees. However, the community committees were never meant to be sustainable. They were created to enhance community cooperation in identifying priorities by democratic methods and to make quick, visible community improvements to encourage further projects and build trust in the process. In this way, the program accomplished exactly what was intended, and more, due in large part to the quick-start strategy pushed by USAID. Even though IRD was going into Serbia with established support among many citizens, those rapid results raised awareness among wary and apprehensive communities of what the program was capable of accomplishing. “For building confidence, it was important,” Dejan Bratuljevic said. “People started believing in what we were doing. In the beginning, many people had a lack of confidence. Not due to the US government, but just due to unfulfilled promises of previous local government representatives.” Most IRD staffers at the time roundly criticized USAID’s requirements, and it’s hard to argue with those criticisms when considered from the perspective of field workers and what they were asked to do—organize groups, identify initiatives, and undertake 60 projects in 90 days in the economically depressed, mostly rural areas of a country still recovering from decades of war, isolation, and despotic leadership. Not to mention that the United States–led NATO bombing of the region was still fresh in many minds. The initial 60 projects were exclusively related to the infrastructure improvements considered to be key to the communities’ economic recovery and further growth. These projects included repairing

Establishing relationships by building confidence
A notable criticism of the CRDA design is that while it was very successful in encouraging citizen participation, it did not offer a pathway by itself to self-sustaining, participatory practices. One final report on IRD’s activities noted that


Empowering Citizens, Engaging Governments, Rebuilding Communities

schools, hospitals, kindergartens, and playgrounds; providing schools with computers and Internet connections; purchasing medical and school equipment; and making improvements to electrical and water supply systems. Bratuljevic said he could see the attitudes of many people change right away, as local citizens could see “tangible results” for the money being spent, rather than assuming those dollars would “disappear for bribes.” A post-program, internal staff assessment of IRD’s operation in Serbia showed some of the attitudes relating to the quick start changed too, as it became regarded as a successful method of solidifying local trust. And it shouldn’t be overlooked that IRD staffed up its operation not by airlifting in an American assistance army but by investing in the local community by hiring a number of Serbians and Balkan-region natives. Hiring local staff is a common practice for any NGO going into a development mission, but in IRD’s case, the local staff was more primary than supplementary. Here again, as a result, citizens took note of the program as they were buying into it. “Some people actually apologized for their earlier behavior,” Bratuljevic said, “for not believing this work was going to happen.” For her post-program assessment of CRDA, Margie Ferris-Morris interviewed dozens of local citizens within the first year of the project’s completion. Most respondents made note of both challenges and rewards in working with fellow citizens to address community needs. They reported satisfaction in interacting with groups they wouldn’t normally have met, as well as in being part of change that brought new hope to their communities. Respondents ranked the skills training provided by IRD at the top of their lists of benefits with current and future value. “IRD staff’s relationships with community committee members helped build trust and change attitudes toward community needs and ways to approach them,” Ferris-Morris wrote. “Former staff

members have gone on to fill important positions that contribute to the betterment of Serbian society and development.”

A mutual sense of ownership between citizens and government
The CRDA design called for community mobilization and active citizen participation in a way that unquestionably targeted private citizens. But from the very beginning of the program, IRD engaged local government officials in the process. Even though CRDA was a famously “bottom-up” design, the cooperation IRD facilitated between local government structures and citizens proved to be a crucial component of the program’s long-term viability for a few reasons. Once the program transitioned to its economic development phase, public-private partnerships were crucial to supporting the kinds of investment projects that yielded sustainable income generation. But also, the heavy involvement of municipal governments created a dual sense of ownership over the community improvements. In a way, the IRD model not only helped empower citizens to take more control over their socioeconomic futures, it also helped empower local government leaders to act in good faith knowing that a safety net—in this case, IRD’s support—was there. The idea of ownership, whether among individuals or government organizations, was a powerful tool for enabling a sense of citizen empowerment. IRD based its selection of CRDA municipalities on which local governments would agree to work together with citizens, provide project planning technical expertise, co-fund priority projects, and maintain projects once they were completed. The promise to continue supporting projects beyond their completion was a particular point of emphasis for IRD in choosing where it would focus its attention, since, as one development worker said, “it seems like government structures are never really required to maintain the work we do, and the donor

Empowering citizens


is more concerned with seeing a new road than caring what happens to that road. A project is only sustainable if someone’s responsible.” The program emphasized a sense of ownership and personal (at both the individual and government levels) investment in two primary ways, through a matching contribution for projects and a “pass-on” requirement built into its competitive grants program. For each grant awarded, IRD added a social repayment, or pass-on condition, which required the grantee to return a service to the CRDA community. An integral part of the grant application process, the pass-on component was agreed upon by the grantee and the CRDA community representatives prior to the award being issued, because the value of the proposed “repayment” would affect IRD’s assessment of the strength of the application. While pass-ons fostered a greater sense of personal responsibility, the donor-mandated matching contributions created a literal investment in the work being done for citizens and governments. Numerous IRD staffers credited this requirement, which called for a 25 percent in-kind contribution from communities and municipalities for all projects, with raising the stakes of citizen participation. In addition to identifying and prioritizing projects, local communities and governments also took a financial stake in their outcome. By the end of the program, the contribution levels had consistently outpaced the minimum requirement. In Serbia, the average match was 39 percent; in Montenegro, it was 42 percent. In some cases, in some of the poorer regions, monetary value was assigned to labor costs, as many citizens wanted to get involved by doing some of the project work themselves. “This happened not because we were pushing it, but just because it happened,” said Robert Harris, IRD’s chief of party in Montenegro. “To meet the in-kind requirement, people would knock on doors, asking for contributions for the fund to rebuild their

sewer system, for instance. And they would get the donations. People got that involved.” In fact, a lot of people got involved. Two years into the program, USAID and a Belgrade-based research firm conducted a survey of citizens’ knowledge of CRDA and CC activities in three regions. The team polled 7,000 people and obtained a representative sample of both rural and urban communities (it also polled control groups). The results showed that more than 50 percent of communities in Western Serbia had participated in projects to improve conditions in their communities, 10 percent of them directly related to CRDA, and 20 percent of the people actively engaged in community improvement projects worked through CRDA. And almost 20 percent of residents felt they had benefited directly or indirectly from the community committees or their activities.

A question of “attitudes and perceptions”
An independent team of consultants from the Mitchell Group conducted a visit to Serbia in 2008 to assess the program for USAID. In that report, “Impact Evaluation of CRDA, SLGRP, and SEDP,” interviews with individual beneficiaries of the program confirmed that community mobilization efforts “had been a revolutionary and uplifting experience for most. Almost universally, participants said they had not realized their power as ordinary citizens to effect change locally and influence decision-making in their municipalities.” The assessment team found the program’s effects were more powerful in smaller towns and villages, where local citizens had a role in facilitating modest but vital improvements to basic services. And even though the community committees were not established to be sustainable structures and had for the most part ceased to exist, some groups had refashioned themselves as local nonprofit interest groups. In other cases, former committee members had set up fledgling consulting firms to offer their services to local municipalities or smaller external


Empowering Citizens, Engaging Governments, Rebuilding Communities

assistance donors. But increasing citizen participation as an end goal can go only so far. Clinton Doggett, a member of that assessment team who would later join USAID as a project development officer, said that it was “abundantly clear” that CRDA had helped citizens mobilize their energies and engage local government leaders to improve facilities and services and to boost incomes. But neither he nor the assessment team could extrapolate the findings to show an effect on the Serbian population at large, or to determine any actual lasting effects on citizen activism. Focus groups throughout Serbia revealed that “ordinary citizens” retained little influence in local decisionmaking. IRD staffers, in internal documentation from their own post-program assessment, noted that goals were achieved, but not systematically because the participation indicators set by USAID were too broad. And in many ways, the very design of the program created its own set of problems. Since CRDA was based on a network of citizen volunteers, the frequent changes in key players in the community groups often delayed or complicated projects and made retention of institutional knowledge about procedures and processes difficult to attain. According to Doggett, trying to measure citizen participation is like trying to measure “attitudes and perceptions” that will naturally vary with personal experiences or any number of other factors. Should enhanced participatory practices be seen as an enabler and not necessarily an individual goal? CRDA was intended to jump-start local communities into taking charge of their futures and empower individuals to engage with government leaders and each other. Had the program stayed true to its original design, with a primary focus on communitybased decisionmaking and citizen training and a lesser focus on economic revitalization, its impact still would have been noticeable, if somewhat less substantial. The transition to CRDA-E actually

created a more focused program that fully utilized the tools and systems that CRDA provided to citizens, from technical training to managing cooperative arrangements. It also underscored the importance of IRD’s model for actively engaging municipal leaders as well as citizens at an early stage.

Moving from enhanced participation to economic revitalization
CRDA’s first and second years focused on developing community capacities. The third and fourth years supported more integrated project planning and implementation. In fact, IRD had begun to facilitate a process to enhance the local government role in community affairs in the program’s second year. Accordingly, IRD scaled up activities from the community committees to cluster groups and municipal working groups. Cluster projects (some of which were earmarked by USAID) were projects designed to unite different age, ethnic, or gender groups to outline priority needs or address regional issues such as tourism. Municipal working groups were established to strengthen local government participation in assessing needs and providing expertise for project design. The municipal groups provided a more formalized manner in which to build on the cooperative efforts between citizens and local government. Consequently, municipal authorities voluntarily assigned engineers, health professionals, and others to support the CRDA program. The municipal groups were encouraged to identify cluster projects that benefited two or more CRDA communities working together, which maintained the focus on participatory processes but expanded the scale of projects to impact a larger group of beneficiaries. Most of the project work tied to the municipal groups was related to infrastructure and environment needs, but the process itself was one of the earliest ways that IRD helped facilitate closer public-private dialogue for planning and development. That

Empowering citizens


dialogue was extremely beneficial as the economic revitalization component of CRDA became its primary mission. During the program’s first three years, IRD initiated more than 300 economic revitalization projects valued at close to $5 million. Although organized as a separate “pillar” in the CRDA design, early economic revitalization efforts still played an important role in improving Serbia’s infrastructure through public works projects and in fostering active community participation, since committees were heavily involved in economic project identification and design. But overall, there was not a great deal of linkage between the economic development component of CRDA and CRDA’s community development activities. The two components were generally implemented as entirely separate activities. Still, CRDA’s economic improvement mission allowed for numerous beneficiaries (more than 38,000 person months of employment were created as a result) and included a heavy emphasis on training, one-time microgrants, and somewhat limited small business assistance. There was a real need for focused training and technical assistance, and IRD emphasized such basics as financial management planning, bookkeeping, marketing, and taxation to all grantees, who were also required to submit regular progress reports. While most economic revitalization projects were not scalable macro projects, they made valuable contributions to building technical capacity and laying the groundwork for the program’s second phase. By 2004, two factors were at work that would lead to a radical change in CRDA: shifting US policy and the program’s own maturation.

Serbia’s agriculture and small business sectors— outdated equipment and technology, an underdeveloped banking sector, a lack of organized and effective cooperatives, a lack of entrepreneurial spirit, broken links with international and regional markets, and high unemployment, particularly in rural areas. But the program was designed as a community mobilization and citizen participation effort, so most targets were tied to those goals, and the economic element, by contrast, was rather small. But the national economies of Serbia and Montenegro were shrinking, and unemployment was rising. Given the very recent regional instabilities, US policymakers took notice. At the same time, the CRDA program had already begun to evolve and was seen as being ready for a more intensive economic emphasis that would address some of the aforementioned pressing constraints more completely. IRD had already begun to engage wider audiences through the cluster and municipal working groups that were resulting in larger projects with multiple stakeholders and regional impact rather than the smaller community-based projects of the program’s early days. Those projects were crucial to establishing IRD’s presence, but the newer projects carried more long-term potential. “It’s tough to change in the middle of a project,” said Slavenko Djokic, who was IRD’s director of operations and administration in Serbia. “But the way that the program started and evolved over time is a natural flow that any community project should have.” So with USAID money already flowing into the region and a nationwide implementation network already established through IRD and the other CRDA partners, the US ambassador’s office ordered a dramatic shift from mobilization efforts in order to refocus the program almost exclusively on economic development and income-generating job creation. In late 2004, USAID provided a set of

The shift to CRDA-E: A controversial but necessary move
CRDA economic revitalization initiatives focused on the most important constraints affecting


Empowering Citizens, Engaging Governments, Rebuilding Communities

guidelines, which outlined the new CRDA program approach and emphasis, and granted a one-year extension to allow adjustments to the citizen participation aspect of the program. The end result of this dramatic transformation is documented across numerous project reports, assessments, and evaluations as, overall, a positive game-changer, for both the program’s processes (the new CRDA-Economy program had more specific indicators) and its sustainability. While post-program assessment visits yielded few tangible signs of ongoing organized participatory practices, the visits did document numerous cooperative associations, trade groups, and government-backed business improvement districts, which Clinton Doggett labeled as “easily the most successful part of the whole program.” But in spite of CRDA-E’s eventual success, about which IRD staffers are in uniform agreement, the transition period itself proved to be extremely challenging and difficult. It led to a very prosperous period brimming with examples of sustainable economic assistance programs and development, but it also underscored the importance of IRD’s early emphasis in creating its own social capital through local relationships. “Community mobilization only goes so far,” Doggett said. “It’s not surprising at all that a major program was told to shift focus midstream. It happens all the time.” It hadn’t happened all the time in Serbia, however, and the shift created notable frustration and resentment within the local communities. IRD had to hold meetings with members of all CRDA communities, CRDA working groups, and local governments to discuss the new program emphasis and the need for even stronger cooperation among all stakeholders. But citizens expressed open frustration with the program because communities could no longer decide on projects based on group consensus regarding local need. Historical sensitivities also came into play; many residents saw the change as a

purposeful shift in power from citizens and back to local power structures, reminiscent of the region’s painful, authoritarian past. “It was difficult to explain to communities that things were changing,” said Tijana Dabic, an IRD program officer. “They had grown accustomed to having their favored projects, kind of ‘feel good’ work, done. These were things not necessarily linked to the creation of wealth.” With CRDA-E, the rather free-form method of group project identification and selection was replaced with a much more structured, competitive bid process. Since the program was narrower in scope, there was also less capital infusion, which meant fewer projects were approved. And the ones that were had to show economic viability. Dabic said the overlap between the types of CRDA and CRDA-E projects was less than 50 percent, so after three years of organizing and teaching citizens how to interact within the established framework, “all of a sudden, their parameters changed.” The parameters also changed for IRD. The new focus of the CRDA program required significant organizational changes within IRD Serbia, as well as the additional business and economic development expertise capable of carrying out the proposed program activities. These changes addressed the most critical aspects of program implementation, such as development and technical assistance training and improving product quality and competitiveness. Recognizing the limits of its own organizational capacity, IRD engaged Management Systems International as a subcontractor to help design and implement CRDA-E, a move that was lauded in post-program assessments and by IRD’s own staff. “At the time, we didn’t have the capacity for large-scale economic development at headquarters or among implementers in the field,” one staff member said. “We had to hire new staff, and get new expertise. That was not easily found. The new

Empowering citizens


program was good, but it felt like USAID didn’t consider the effort the change required.” The Mitchell Group’s “Impact Evaluation” report took notice of this in its final assessment. Changing the program’s emphasis “undoubtedly [had] a positive impact on economic development,” the report stated, but that impact came “at a considerable cost,” adding: This unilateral change amounted to a broken contract with the grassroots community organizations who were involved in CRDA. Since the relationships between the project and the communities it served were formed within the context of “America cares,” this change undoubtedly heightened the degree of cynicism by the involved community groups. This change also interrupted the CDC [Community Development Council] efforts to build trust at the local level, a prerequisite for later establishment of associations and cooperatives. During the transition period, IRD did what it could to maintain the principles of citizen participation and transparency, which was of particular importance in alleviating the concerns over local government leaders controlling the flow of assistance. In laying out the revised program, IRD took careful consideration to “preserve the aspect of citizen participation,” Djokic said, because it was the fundamental component of CRDA.

“We built a lot of expectations, and we had to convey to citizens that even though we were shifting direction, these [new] projects would have a long-term impact,” he said. “Overall, it’s much better to think about the long-term effects.” Interviews with businesses and local government officials at the end of the program revealed that the pilot Local Economic Development (LED) program that emerged from CRDA-E was well received and that its success, to a large degree, was due primarily to participants’ having enough confidence in IRD’s previous achievements to be willing to follow the organization’s lead. According to the program’s final report, IRD managed to preserve the citizen participation that had been gained during the CRDA phase because of the organization’s “heavy investments in increased community planning capacity, and building partnerships between citizens and local governments.” The joint planning projects undertaken by municipal working groups helped citizens and governments transition much easier into CRDA-E, which required more intensive public-private partnerships, and they laid the groundwork for the LED program, which set the stage for future regional cooperation and economic growth. The LED strategies, offices, and permanent staff, which are still in place, are the best examples of the sustainability IRD achieved in Serbia.

Encouraging integrated implementation

Construction workers repair a power line in the Macva region of Serbia. 


“We had farmers, we had local government, and we had technical people. That was the key to success. If you are missing any of these three links, you can expect problems.”
Bringing citizens, government, and the private sector together
Under CRDA-E, IRD narrowed its program focus to small and medium enterprise businesses, agricultural development, microgrants to vulnerable residents, and formal alliance-building among citizen groups and local governments. The objectives of the economy-focused phase included increased employment, improved economic environments, reduced barriers to business, increased incomes from tourism and agriculture industries, broadened stakeholder involvement, and cooperation in local economic development planning and activities. IRD provided technical assistance, equipment, and infrastructure support to nearly 9,000 associations, cooperatives, business clusters, privately owned businesses, and other local organizations. Overall, the scale of the revised program was smaller than it had been under CRDA. In the last two-plus years under CRDA-E, IRD implemented 93 projects in Serbia, valued at about $7 million (counting matching contributions), with another $400,000 in microgrant assistance to vulnerable families. Yet, the program’s scope—developing long-term business strategies, market links, and lasting public-private partnerships—was arguably larger, a concept best exemplified by IRD’s Local Economic Development pilot program. The LED project was developed to meet CRDA-E’s expanded goals of job creation and long-term growth, but the framework for the program was rooted in the municipal working groups IRD had already helped establish, and the World Bank’s well-known “Cities of Change” model. The objective was to establish an enabling environment for enhanced cooperation between private enterprise, citizens and municipal governments. Using the civil society base established under CRDA, the project was designed to build individual skills and government capacity equally. In April 2005, IRD selected six municipalities to implement the project: Arilje, Cajetina, Sabac, Vladimirci, Krupanj, and Uzice. IRD negotiated project agreements with each of the local governments, setting the ground rules for participation. Municipalities formed LED teams, which consisted


Empowering Citizens, Engaging Governments, Rebuilding Communities

of about 60 people and were intended to be a representative cross-section of local government, business, and community interests. According to IRD’s vision for the program, these three segments of society would form close working partnerships in order to establish a lasting economic development structure. Because then, each stakeholder in municipal development would have a vested interest in project outcomes. According to Richard Owens, a community stabilization and development specialist working with IRD, establishing a formal structure for those linkages is critical to long-term success, because even though different forms of public-private partnerships exist in many developing regions, the linkages are often informal, or traditional, meaning high-yield results are often elusive due to inconsistencies in project management and ownership. “That model is important because whenever it’s possible, you should establish, re-establish, and support direct and formal linkages between communities and local-level government,” Owens said. “What set CRDA apart is the way that it evolved by establishing [these] linkages early on to jointly develop priorities and programs.” The mayor of each municipality authorized the local teams to participate in a five-stage training program that followed the “Cities of Change” methodology, which is intended to teach citizens, business leaders, and government officials how to identify their economic comparative advantages and then build a strategy intended to maximize those advantages. Each municipality, then, had the flexibility to design a development plan around the needs identified as most pressing, and within a timeframe deemed most practical. As a result, a wide range of development priorities emerged in strategies that covered as little as five years or, in the case of Krupanj, stretched to 2016 and are still ongoing. Municipalities focused on both narrow projects (such as improving the access road to Stopica Cave, a major Catejina tourist attraction)

and broad-based initiatives (developing a small enterprise industrial zone in Vladimirici). By most accounts, the LED program was IRD’s most successful economic revitalization effort and one of the organization’s signature achievements in Serbia. The nature of its design—facilitating five-year and longer development strategies for the participating municipalities—offered great potential for the sustainable outcome that followed. As the project came to a close in 2006, all six municipalities asked IRD for assistance in institutionalizing the LED programs within their municipal administrations. Each local government agreed to create a permanent office and hire full-time staff to promote and assist their development strategies in order to achieve the goals that had been outlined. IRD provided additional training for the new staff and helped equip the offices. Of course, CRDA-E’s reach extended far beyond the LED program. Through close cooperation with the municipal working groups from all CRDA-E municipalities, IRD implemented numerous infrastructure projects, such as the rehabilitation of market districts and enhanced power grids, that boosted economic opportunity for a wide range of small business and agriculture producers. In addition, a cooperative effort between IRD and the regional Valjevo and Uzice Chambers of Commerce to better promote competitive markets resulted in stronger economic services for entire regions—not for CRDA participants alone. Increased technical assistance and training for entrepreneurs (and the agricultural production industry in particular) helped lay the groundwork for changed business approaches that greatly increased the range of beneficiaries. Entrepreneurs in the areas covered by the Valjevo and Uzice chambers were given more valuable help and support and, critically, more market opportunities. Through local cooperative measures established with CRDA-E, many Serbian businesses took part in a 2005 Moscow trade fair, at the time a unique

Encouraging integrated implementation


opportunity. Said one IRD staffer, “It was really unusual, after all the past experiences, to see a US-backed program supporting Serbian companies trying to establish business ties with potential Russian partners.” According to Slavenko Djokic, IRD took the lead among all implementing agencies in Serbia in setting up local economic development offices and formalizing the citizen-government-private sector partnership for strategic planning. Throughout IRD, there existed a strong belief in the effectiveness of that integrated, triangular framework, which was integral to the organization’s approach to most CRDA-E projects. Having already established the value of engagement between citizens and local government during the CRDA phase, IRD was well positioned not only to meet USAID’s revised program requirements, but to offer an integrated method of implementation that greatly enhanced the chances of long-term success. “Once these three groups got regularly involved, there was no trouble with the ownership of projects,” Djokic said.

concluded in 2007, internal IRD assessment found that the region retained great potential for even further development of modern agriculture, particularly fruit growing and processing. During CRDA, the agricultural projects were developed and selected by community action groups, and mostly focused on primary production for local markets. But during the CRDA-E phase, the agricultural projects were developed and selected at the municipal and regional levels and most often supported value-added production and processing, extension services in agriculture and modern breeding technologies for livestock. The results were less immediate than projects during CRDA, but the goals of creating a sustainable development structure were more complex. The agriculture projects initiated during CRDA-E were built on IRD’s lessons learned during the implementation of previous rural development activities, and this experience helped inform the LED municipalities as they designed their own long-term strategies. Yet, IRD’s local economic development work in Serbia exposed an internal market conflict: even though the region had real comparative advantages in agriculture, small business sectors, and skilled labor, many businesses lacked competitive products of sufficient quality and price to compete in the world’s market. However, the enthusiasm of a few individuals, combined with the organizational and operational efforts of IRD, resulted in some very positive examples of businesses and farmers upgrading their production by introducing international standards, effective marketing tools, and new technologies, and by embracing the vital link between citizens, government, and the private sector. In Krupanj and Kosjeric, such projects included the establishment of greenhouses and the transfer of new technologies to cooperatives involved in fruit growing. These co-ops carefully assessed market demands for fresh strawberries and dried plums throughout the year in both foreign and domestic

Unleashing Serbia’s “great potential” in agribusiness
The impact of CRDA-E on Serbia’s business and economic development was immediately substantial. The combination of microgrants, business development grants, training and technical assistance, and, of course, the LED program had a considerable social impact on the targeted municipalities, including economic infrastructure projects that boosted power grids, water facilities, and access roads—all considerable obstacles, when in disrepair, to business activity and sustained development. But agriculture and agribusiness projects comprised a substantial part of the CRDA-E portfolio, because they tended to have the greatest economic impact per dollar spent. Agribusiness projects also provided a very scalable value chain and offered high growth potential. Once CRDA-E


Empowering Citizens, Engaging Governments, Rebuilding Communities

markets, and recognized the need to upgrade the fruit production and convert to a more profitable growing technology. In the Macva region, which encompasses Krupanj, Sabac, Vlamimirci, and five other municipalities, pig breeders were able to improve the quality and quantity of pigs they produce and generate more than $200,000 in additional income due to vastly improved production equipment and stronger market links. For farmers in Macva, the historic center of hog raising in Serbia, pork production is the predominant agricultural activity. But high feeding costs, a poor genetic foundation for local herds, and a lack of organizational capacity were contributing to inefficiencies and stagnation. In coordination with IRD and local governments, breeders’ associations were established to provide a structured environment for education and technical assistance, which, when coupled with modernized feeding and insemination equipment, led to increased rural employment, the registration of dozens of new commercial farms, and substantially higher revenues. In many cases, small improvements such as better packaging might have been the only element needed for improved marketing and increased sales. In Bajina Basta, the beekeepers cooperative “Tara Bee,” which was founded during the CRDA phase, received beehives and honeycomb bases, but more important, the co-op received new packaging equipment and technical assistance from IRD to better market honey products at regional agricultural and food fairs. With increased exposure and sales, Tara Bee was selling products to large Serbian retail chains and discussing foreign exports by the close of CRDA-E. “There were good projects and trainings in these regions, with an aim to educate farmers about different kinds of advanced production and processing as well as advise farmers on the healthy aspects of production,” said Zarko Draganic, a senior officer for IRD’s agricultural and small

business programs. Draganic said the institutional support and training provided for processes as fundamental to business growth as market research helped convince local residents of IRD’s commitment to “helping them help themselves.” Almost 700 projects in Serbia and Montenegro fell exclusively under CRDA’s economic revitalization pillar or the CRDA-E program, ranging from largescale municipal projects to more focused microgrants. But in between those extremes emerged the kind of citizen-driven, entrepreneurial projects that helped define IRD’s role in creating sustainable development. Whether the goal was greenhouse farming or modernized pork production or better marketed honey, the common thread was individual entrepreneurship in need of communal resources. As a result, one of IRD’s enduring successes in Serbia was the role played by organization staff and the local economic development offices in facilitating the creation of effective, viable cooperatives. In a region with a disproportionately large number of small and medium-sized enterprises, the formation of working co-ops, when possible, was seen as important to the immediate success of economic projects and potentially critical to its long-term sustainability. Mobilizing communities to gather, meet, debate, and judge the value of certain projects against other projects is far different from convincing struggling farmers or singular craftsmen, most of whom were wary and scarred from decades of socialist rule, of the value in working together. “Farmers don’t like the name ‘cooperative,’” said Sandra Jelesijevic, who was IRD’s finance director in Serbia before moving on to become chief of party. Before CRDA, a cooperative had an entirely negative connotation, given Yugoslavia’s socialist past. So an early crucial task faced IRD staffers: they had to convince individuals, whether small farmers or lone manufacturers, of the potential benefits derived by working together through membership associations and production or marketing cooperatives.

Encouraging integrated implementation


According to Draganic, reaching communities in transition from socialism to a capitalist system and building individual trust and capacity were among IRD’s greatest challenges. “We had money and we had knowledge, and we were ready to offer support, but we had to convince them that the approach was serious.” Locals had to learn, Draganic said, that even though all grant applications and project work would be documented and that firm rules had to be followed, “everyone was equal. Everyone was allowed to apply.” This social investment in implementation paid off. In post-program reviews, a common theme among beneficiaries was the positive economic impact of technical assistance and training, particularly the assistance and training given to cooperative creation and development. In fact, most of the CRDAsupported cooperative businesses interviewed after the program’s completion considered the assistance and training provided to be as important as the actual grants they received for facilities and equipment. “Certainly the people had to overcome issues of trust and reliance,” said Slavenko Djokic, about citizens working with each other, though he could just as easily had been describing the local feelings toward IRD early on or toward local government leaders. CRDA faced a general climate of mistrust of all entities involved in business development, and despite the involvement of municipal leaders in many CRDA projects, the shift to CRDA-E seem to exacerbate those beliefs among many of the citizens involved in IRD project work. More than one IRD staffer recalled citizen concerns that CRDA-E gave local government “too much of a say” in projects and that the autonomy given to individuals under CRDA was being lost. But for many of the local economic development initiatives to succeed, government investment was necessary, and cooperative arrangements between citizen entrepreneurs were vital. Overall, IRD assisted in establishing or

reorganizing three dozen agriculture cooperatives, representing more than 2,000 rural farm households—an average rate of one new co-op every eight or nine weeks. From the very beginning of the CRDA program, IRD focused on building regional links to expand markets, leading study tours and providing grants for agricultural and trade fairs. Citing a lack of standardized best practices for businesses, IRD hired local experts to prepare easy-to-understand “how-to” manuals covering the use of new technologies, marketing strategies, investment, planning, and rules and regulations, as well as the different business options available to individuals, such as the cooperatives and associations that would become so integral to CRDA-E’s success. Despite the administrative transition from CRDA to CRDA-E and the procedural changes that transition required, the priorities placed on the aspects of economic development that were deemed most critical remained a consistent, common thread throughout the entire program. IRD’s ability to facilitate market links where very few had existed, while helping to fundamentally reshape individual attitudes about economic production processes, is one of the organization’s lasting impacts, a legacy being carried out from central Serbian blueberry fields to coastal olive groves in Montenegro.

The case of Arilje: A blueprint for cooperative, sustainable growth
In 2005, the Serbian cultivated berry sector was considered solid business, a “rare source of steady incomes and a driving force in agricultural economic growth for two decades,” as stated in a USAID value chain assessment. With more than 80,000 farms, 250 cold stores, and 100 processing factories at work, product sales for 2006 were estimated to top $170 million, with an overall export value of $150 million. Raspberries


Empowering Citizens, Engaging Governments, Rebuilding Communities

and blackberries, the leading export commodity after grains and sugar, drove the market. Strawberry production was small but growing. Blueberry production was nonexistent. An agriculture sector review published by the Serbian government in 2003 detailed the sector’s comparative advantage in European Union markets before summarily stating that berries are Serbia’s “most important export commodity, with an established presence in the markets of Western Europe due to its high quality and competitive price.” The report also foresaw “significant potential” to increase export earnings from berry fruits, though not necessarily from blueberries, which received no mention throughout the report. Over the next few years, however, raspberry production, which was the main economic activity for the majority of agriculture households in Arilje, became less profitable. “Stiff competition,” according to IRD, was the main factor, though painfully outdated equipment and, in turn, inefficient production played a role. So a group of enterprising growers began to look for an edge. As competition for raspberries was increasing in the regional market, so was demand for blueberries in foreign markets. In Serbia, the intensive production of blueberries had never existed; the few blueberries that were processed simply grew wild. The farmers saw an opportunity, and they began to act. The resulting success is an interesting case study in how the entire CRDA to CRDA-E process played out and offers a demonstrated value judgment in favor of the crucial link between citizens, government, and the private sector in a local economic development intervention. In August 2005, almost 50 agricultural households formed the “Ari-Nova” cooperative with a goal of working with public and private sectors on further development of fruit growing but with a primary focus on intensive production of blueberries. The following month, Arilje Mayor Zoran Micovic and IRD leaders officially signed

off on the project as part of a “CRDA Day” event. According to Djokic, the farmers realized that blueberry production presented an untapped but potentially lucrative business opportunity because the regional market was obvious and the growing environment (soil and climate) was extremely hospitable. Availability of product was the only real obstacle. Once organized, the farmers worked with the mayor’s office and the local economic development office to design the project, then applied to IRD and other donors for funding. “They captured all the necessary expertise they could get,” said Djokic, adding that IRD was quick to approve the project. Unfortunately, start-up wasn’t as quick. The primary costs covered by IRD grant money included the purchase and importation of 23,000 blueberry seedlings and staffing to cover the procedural aspects associated with any local economic development program—obtaining documentation, permits, and health certificates. The municipality of Arilje and the cooperative covered the additional initial investment of $50,000, for issues such as soil preparation, planting, fertilizers, and irrigation. Procurement and final approval took almost one year, however, between the various approvals and permits necessary from both the donor and local legislators. A potentially catastrophic setback was avoided when a truck transporting a shipment of seedlings was delayed at the border because local officers insisted the paperwork was not accurate. As the truck idled, unable to cross into Serbia, thousands of dollars in frozen seedlings neared ruin. According to Sandra Jelesijevic, Mayor Micovic “had good relationships” that allowed him to lobby for the truck’s clearance, so it helped immensely that IRD and the local economic development team had good relationships with the mayor. In that instance, how valuable were the links established between citizens, government, and the private sector? According to Jelesijevic, IRD’s finance director, almost $100,000 in eventual value would have been lost had the local government not been involved.

Encouraging integrated implementation


In their first harvesting season, the farmers generated more than $120,000 in income. Almost immediately, according to Djokic, the co-op began expanding, adding more fields, and eventually becoming a source destination for other groups’ market study tours, and a hub for blueberries in the region. And less than five years after the original project agreement was signed, an entire harvest from the Arilje blueberry fields was exported to markets outside of Serbia. “We had farmers, we had local government, and we had technical people—the agricultural business development service providers,” Djokic said. “That was the key to success of that project. If you are missing any of these three links, you can expect problems.” Of all the municipalities in Serbia in which IRD worked, Arilje was widely regarded by staffers as the most organized and most successful across both CRDA and CRDA-E. From the beginning of the program, Arilje became a leader in participation, training, project design, and implementation. The local government provided timely and matching contributions to CRDA projects and, according to IRD workers, was particularly creative with social projects involving youth and health care professionals. Arilje was hailed for its demonstrated track record of cooperation between government leaders and the business community. Through CRDA and CRDA-E, the government and private sector worked to improve irrigation systems, to expand existing berry production, to introduce new berry production, and to improve marketing of other fruits and juices, as well as lay the foundation for increased political and business cooperation with surrounding municipalities and the national government. Blueberry production is now a nationwide industry (with ongoing support from IRD, which continues to work on USAID’s Agribusiness program in Serbia). The Arilje Agricultural Innovation Center, which was established in 2006 through a public-private

partnership, produced a detailed assessment of the needs of blueberry producer organizations throughout Serbia. And in December 2008, a national association of blueberry producers held its founding assembly in the Cacak municipality to promote the production, processing and marketing of cultivated blueberries to international buyers. “If that was just the idea of one farmer, or two farmers,” Djokic said, referring to the original idea for blueberry production, “it would never have had that kind of success. But everyone was involved.”

Entrepreneurial spirit and opportunity: “That’s how an industry starts”
In Montenegro, IRD found similar success in bringing groups of entrepreneurs together to capitalize on their natural surroundings. Robert Harris, IRD’s chief of party in Montenegro, called the CRDAfueled regeneration of the local olive oil industry one of the program’s best examples of lasting impact. “I don’t know if it was the major success,” Harris said, “but we knew it was something that probably wasn’t going to stop, because people were making money at it.” With more than 450,000 olive trees thriving in its coastal climate, Montenegro at one time was the main supplier of olive oil for all of the former republics of Yugoslavia. But after years of war and turbulence, economic sanctions, and international isolation, the once-strong industry suffered from the same stagnation and decline that affected most sectors of the regional economy after the Yugoslav state collapsed. “There was nothing successful happening at all,” Harris said. Without viable trade channels or available capital, local farmers stopped investing in new equipment, and a potentially prosperous market shrank. For a decade, orchards were not consistently managed, harvesting was done manually by picking olives off the ground, and the products were sold


Empowering Citizens, Engaging Governments, Rebuilding Communities

individually in unlabeled containers. According to Harris, there were potentially profitable olive trees “all along the coast line, and no one to maintain them.” In 2002, IRD purchased mechanical harvesting equipment for the Olive Growers’ Association in Bar, which was the only municipality at the time with any semblance of existing olive oil production and the only one with an established association, though the group consisted of just a handful of growers. The farmers were not content to simply employ the new equipment to make their jobs easier; they wanted to essentially reinvest it. The association, as a group, rented or sold the machinery back to their members and other farmers under favorable terms, not to profit from the equipment but to build production capacity and boost their efficiency. “They’d get the money in, then they’d buy two more machines,” Harris said. “And then another two, and another two, until they all had the same machines and the same equipment. This group made a success of that in the first 12 months or so, and other growers up and down the coast took notice. They would say, ‘Yeah, we could do that.’” One group of olive orchard owners inspired by the Bar association’s success were farther north in the Boka Kotorska bay region. At the time, more than three-quarters of the 130,000 olive trees growing in the area were abandoned, overgrown by weeds and bushes, and had not been pruned or properly harvested in years. IRD helped jump-start the Association of Olive Growers in the Boka Bay with basic equipment to clean and restore the orchards and by assisting the local owners in setting up the same kind of revolving funds model so successfully employed in Bar. Identifying the project, organizing their groups, and procuring the equipment were the necessary first steps in revitalizing production and in most traditional project designs would be considered

successful outcomes by themselves. But as was often the case with IRD-backed projects during CRDA, additional teaching and training allowed capital assistance to turn into economic sustainability. Throughout the region, IRD aided in the construction of small factories for faster processing and packaging, which allowed the growers to export their product rather than only selling it at local farmers’ markets. “It was to Albania or Croatia or neighboring countries,” Harris said, “but it was a good business nevertheless.” The purchase of the manufacturing equipment was followed by additional technical assistance, training and education for olive growers to have the capacity to build sustainable businesses. A year after the project began in Bar, the Olive Growers Association received support in helping organize a traditional Bar olive fair, “Maslinijada,” an annual December festival where olive oil and citrus fruit manufacturers gather to promote their products to visitors and tourists. As coastal Montenegro has expanded its tourism efforts, the festival has become an even more important marketing tool for Bar. The Bar association members, along with growers from an additional association formed in Ulcinj, also attended olive growers conferences in Croatia, where they learned about more modern production trends and how the industry was operating in more developed countries, including Italy and Spain. By 2005, the president of the Bar association estimated that production of olives and olive oil in Bar had almost tripled in just three years. “What happened,” Harris said, in reference to IRD’s initial work with Bar’s local growers, “is that it generated thought.” They could see how they needed to work together, but they needed help to get started and guidance along the way. “They became bigger as a group than as independent workers. And that’s how an industry starts.”

Encouraging integrated implementation


In Montenegro, underscoring the importance of public-private partnerships
Along with agriculture, IRD identified tourism as a strong source of sustainable economic development after the transition to CRDA-E. Since a successful tourism industry requires close publicprivate partnerships and a strong commitment by local citizens to enhance and maintain destination sites, tourism also fits well within IRD’s operational mode of creating long-lasting links between governments, citizens, and the private sector. Serbia enjoyed a strong foundation of traditional tourist attractions, such as historic mountains and villages rife with attractive hiking, fishing, and sightseeing opportunities. Serious infrastructure problems encumbered the effort, however, and little progress was made. That wasn’t the case in Montenegro, however, where tourism was a more natural pathway to development, once the underlying foundation for publicprivate cooperation had been established. Although smaller in overall size and scope than the work being done in Serbia, IRD’s intervention in Montenegro became an even more tightly focused, targeted program after the transition to CRDA-E, when the operational focus was narrowed to essentially two economic sectors—agriculture and tourism. Harris said the final years of the program “had much less flexibility,” which occasionally led to the same citizen frustrations demonstrated in Serbia. Overall, though, the narrowed program yielded numerous economic success stories, such as olive oil production, for two primary reasons. First, both sectors were deeply embedded in the local culture and were already established to varying degrees. Second, the IRD team in Montenegro showed the same commitment to establishing strong citizen ties and being flexible to community desires as the team in Serbia showed. As in Serbia, the first years of CRDA in Monte­ negro were focused primarily on increasing citizen

participation in economic and political decisionmaking. The results were equally positive. Also mandated with a quick start by USAID (50 projects in the first 90 days, as opposed to Serbia’s 60/90 goal), IRD in Montenegro quickly established a presence through community action committees and by exceeding the quick-start project baseline. In less than five months, more than 70 projects were in operation. Most were basic infrastructure activities guided by the very active community groups and yielded the kind of quick wins traditionally preferred in assistance programs—road construction, improved schools, new sports fields, rural water systems installed. After starting with little publicity and only a handful of workers, IRD eventually had as many as 40 staffers in Montenegro. Citizen offices were offices were opened to allow locals to come in with ideas and requests for help on their own, and, as in Serbia, open town hall meetings were held every six to eight weeks. “There was a constant acknowledgment of who the beneficiaries were and trying to make sure we engage them as local leaders,” Harris said. “They were real people who had a real interest in what we were doing. The mothers were interested in making sure their kids got a good education. Entrepreneurs wanted to get their businesses up and running. These were real people, and that was a major success.” Several hundred people would regularly participate in the Montenegro town halls, and the size of the local community groups eventually had to be reduced from around 40 to a more manageable 12. Within the larger groups, citizens learned basic concepts of prioritization based on communal need. Early projects were often identified by group members writing their individual needs on index cards and placing them on a wall organized by such major topics as schools, farming, and roads; the topics with the most individual needs would receive the most attention.


Empowering Citizens, Engaging Governments, Rebuilding Communities

Once the committees were established, IRD worked with them to establish statutes, discuss procurement procedures, draft administration guidelines, and generally build the local capacity for what was, in essence, a microcosm of representative democracy­ — members of the 12-person working groups were chosen based on the vote of the larger community groups. “The main thing was building the community up,” Harris said, “to eventually make these decisions without our help. Which they did.” Alongside this enhanced community participation, IRD placed the same emphasis on early local government involvement in Montenegro as it did in Serbia, even though there were somewhat complicating factors. At the time, the Montenegro region was not necessarily dangerous, but the CRDA program took place in the country’s post-Milosevic, pre-independence time period, so its political hierarchy was very much in evolution. At the municipal level, this resulted in numerous players being involved in decisionmaking. “In some areas, we had to work with three, maybe four, different political parties just at the mayor’s levels,” Igor Samac, a member of IRD’s community mobilization team, recalled, referring to the various senior administrators, directors, and assistants that would be part of the local “executive” leadership. “Of course, some were easier to work with than others.” IRD staffers made a point of working with them all, however, as well as possible. In many cases, municipalities would have a single staff person inside the mayor’s cabinet assigned to work with NGOs specifically. “Most times, it would be easy for me to just give a call and set up a meeting,” Samac said. “And we could even go out for a drink. But not in all cases. Some were tougher.” But even in those instances, government officials were eager to be involved and take credit for municipal improvements, because IRD projects were yielding results that reflected well on local leadership. Instead of taking offense to what could be viewed as political opportunism, IRD worked harder to strengthen the government’s role as a stakeholder.

“We knew the process wasn’t just about keeping the donor happy, but keeping the mayors happy,” said Harris, who as IRD’s local chief of party would meet with every municipal mayor at least once a week. “We had a series of targets we were trying to meet. You had to win the mayor over.” The special care given to establishing strong personal relationships with citizens and government leaders made it much easier for IRD to open up direct lines of communication between both groups, which suffered from what Harris called a “huge amount of distress” between them, which was not surprising given the amorphous political structures at the time and the pressing infrastructure needs of rural citizens. But by the time the program transitioned to CRDA-E, Harris said IRD staffers were taking small groups of citizens to meet the local mayors, for joint project discussions. These dialogues eventually evolved into more structured economic development groups that continued to build up citizen and government capacity.

The value of being open to “flexible interpretation”
Whereas in Serbia the Local Economic Development (LED) project was piloted in six municipalities, CRDA-E was implemented in Montenegro through 12 all-volunteer Local Economic Development Planning Teams (LEDPTs) consisting of representatives of local government, private and public businesses, economic associations, agricultural or manufacturing cooperatives, and the community action committees. Four teams operated in Podgorica and one team in each of the other seven municipalities where IRD worked. An additional team was shared between the municipalities of Cetinje and Podgorica. Using the Participatory Appraisal of Competitive Advantage (PACA) training methodology, IRD was able to build quickly on the relationships already established to handle the transition to CRDA-E and refocus its mission to job creation, economic

Encouraging integrated implementation


infrastructure, and sustainable development. As a system, PACA is based on the mobilization of local actors for rapid results in areas identified as presenting the strongest opportunities for development. CRDA-E had a smaller budget and shorter timeframe than CRDA, but the integrated approach to citizen and government cooperation that IRD fostered from the start of the program was already yielding the results, in many cases, that USAID wanted to see with CRDA-E transition. In Montenegro, the retooled program focused on agriculture and tourism, but agricultural success stories such as the reenergized olive industry in Bar began as a CRDA project. And so did another successful initiative in Bar—restoration work in the town’s historic district, which is one of the region’s top tourist attractions. Stari Bar, or “Old Bar,” dates back to at least the 9th century, when the town was mentioned for the first time in Slavic documents under the name Bar. Situated on a hilltop overlooking the modern city of Bar, the old city is a vast archaeological and heritage site, a walled fortress of stone buildings, sculptures, streets, churches, and monuments mixing centuries of architectural styles—Roman, Gothic, Renaissance. Montenegro’s first literary work, the “Priest Dukljanin’s Chronicle,” was written there in the 12th century. The area also includes the historic Bar aqueduct, a massive structure resembling a stone bridge that, according to Bar’s tourism association, is the only one of its kind in the country. Already reconstructed once following a 1979 earthquake, the 17th century aqueduct is a point of pride for locals, who quickly targeted it as an infrastructure project under CRDA. “I would be able to work for days without stopping, because I loved that project so much,” said Dejan Bratuljevic, IRD’s chief engineer in Montenegro. IRD assisted in installing a new water supply system that would utilize the historic aqueduct, which is

operational and supplies Old Bar with its water. But residents wanted more CRDA money to go to reconstructing the medieval city, which is essentially an open-air museum and one of the largest collections of architectural ruins in Montenegro. But there was a problem; restoring a historical site did not fit the donor definition of a “quick-start.” “USAID didn’t like it in the beginning because they understood it wasn’t going to be a quick impact,” Bratuljevic said. “However, today, when you go there, you see the results of the project are still visible. It’s really a tourist oasis.” Despite donor pushback, IRD supported the local citizens’ desire to target Old Bar as a CRDA project, moving forward with a project that took 6–7 months but instilled a unique sense of cultural heritage and pride in the residents. Officially, the restoration project, in addition to the water supply extension, was to construct a public lighting system and install electrical wiring throughout Old Bar. But dealing with a historic region required extra work in terms of supervision, planning, and technical assistance, since preservation of unearthed artifacts, as well as standing structures was important, as was ensuring the integrity of the work site. Local artisans designed candelabras for the new lighting system, and residents pitched in to repair the cobblestone streets, which were disrupted in the process of laying cable. Counting the local in-kind contributions, the total value of both projects was approximately $85,000. According to Bratuljevic, the investment has more than paid for itself, even though it did not meet initial program requirements. “One thing we learned is that you have to have a flexible interpretation of what is important,” he said. “[This project] was high on the community priority list, but USAID didn’t like the long-term scope of it. There is so much talk of sustainability. . . . Well, here you go.” With the basic infrastructure improvement made, the municipal government invested more money


Empowering Citizens, Engaging Governments, Rebuilding Communities

in an ongoing restoration project, promoting Old Bar as a living museum, heritage site, and tourist destination, drawing visitors from around the world. Bratuljevic can verify this fact, because he witnessed firsthand on a return trip in September 2009. “I went there to see what was going on with the project,” he said. “And I saw so many Italians, and so many English people, and just so many tourists visiting the place. These years later, I was able to see the results of our work.”

momentum quickly, spreading throughout Serbia, reaching a much wider audience and underscoring the value in using local media and promotional resources to build awareness and foster increased community connectedness. After the initial project phases of CRDA, IRD increasingly sought to create public awareness through media promotion and by building in an outreach component in activities, often using professional educators and citizen advocates. In a 2004 USAID assessment, the IRD strategy of including a media component in all family planning and reproductive health activities was noted as “one of the best development practices in Serbia.” IRD implemented slightly more than 100 family planning and reproductive health projects, many of which targeted issues of an extremely personal nature but which were fundamental to address in a developing society trying to overcome years of stagnation and stunted growth in some basic social services. In early 2003, IRD conducted a case-bycase survey of the equipment in health centers across all of its CRDA municipalities in Serbia. The survey revealed a significant lack of modern medical equipment—local estimates at the time dated onethird of the equipment as being more than 20 years old—and found that much of it did not work at all. But IRD reasoned that equipment alone would not improve health services, and there was the additional issue of most Serbian medical institutions’ inability to meet the required 25 percent matching contributions. So new equipment was combined with extensive media and promotional efforts as well as sweeping educational and training efforts that yielded new doctor certifications in ultrasounds, laparoscopy, breast cancer screenings, gynecological procedures, and more. New medical equipment donations were announced in local media, while promotional brochures were distributed to encourage patients to come to health centers for screenings and checkups. Air time

CRDA and CRDA-E: Separate programs, interrelated processes
Much of the long-term benefit of the CRDA model, as it was theoretically outlined, lay in building working relationships between citizens and local governments, while the CRDA-E emphasis shifted to building the groundwork for sustainable economic growth by creating an integral role for the private sector. One of IRD’s great successes in implementation, however, comes from the way in which certain program activities spanned both CRDA and CRDA-E, incorporating multiple elements of each program design in order to reach deeper into the societal structure, beyond just the most motivated or business-oriented citizens. Cluster projects were designed to unite different age, ethnic, or gender groups to outline priority needs or address regional issues such as tourism. Initially, IRD funded projects for women, youth, and Roma that spanned computer training, health and education awareness, counseling, prevention of substance abuse, and other related social development issues. Much like CRDA’s community councils, cluster committees with elected representatives held regular meetings to address needs and concerns and shepherd projects. Initially, community participation was a challenge because locals felt they had less control over more abstract social issues (which do not necessarily show an immediate result) and had to be convinced of their importance. But a few of these projects gained

Encouraging integrated implementation


on local radio and television stations and afterhours availability of local doctors and nurses were considered to be part of the community’s matching contributions. As the success of projects became more visible, media sources that initially had to be convinced of the value of the messages increasingly covered CRDA. The promotional activities sought to do more than raise awareness; they also were intended to motivate individuals to action, often through community meetings, workshops, or medical examinations, which were available through CRDA-funded projects. Ljiljana Maksimovic, a psychologist from the Valjevo municipality hospital, initiated the “Save a Life” program, a promotional campaign to persuade 600 women to be screened for breast and cervical cancer. According to the World Health Organization, cancer is the second biggest killer of the Serbian population, responsible for more than 20,000 deaths annually. Among Serb women, the mortality rate for cervical cancer is three times higher than the European Union average, while breast cancer is the leading cause of death. Maksimovic and a team of 35 doctors, counselors, and citizens created the Save a Life program to combat these statistics, hoping to dispel the fear of cancer screening among women and to offset the lack of medical information and facilities available in Serbia’s more remote locations. After distributing media materials, brochures, and questionnaires, project leaders targeted 600 new screenings as a goal; within three months, approximately 3,500 women had been tested. Doctors volunteered extra time to meet the unexpected demand of examining up to 125 women per day. Ninety-nine percent of the women diagnosed with cancer were treated, and while Serbia’s cancer mortality rate remains higher than in most other European countries, cervical and breast cancer screenings are now regularly provided in hospitals—a powerful example of social sustainability, yet perhaps not even the most far-reaching one for IRD in Serbia.

Having demonstrated an ability to effectively produce results, IRD was able to reinvest some of the social capital it had established early on in CRDA in more potentially private and controversial projects, the eventual success of which demonstrated the ability of a mobilized citizenry to address some very serious social issues, such as domestic violence and safe sex among youth. The reality is that very little donor money was spent on projects targeting battered women in Serbia, but according to Margie Ferris-Morris, who studied the project, the people involved “did a wonderful job at addressing a major problem that wasn’t being talked about.” In 2003, few services existed in the area for counseling, support, and alternative housing for victims of domestic violence. Within a few years, local “SOS” centers had been established in nine municipalities and offered free counseling services, case managers, and mobile assistance teams. Regional safe houses were established in Uzice and Sabac, and IRD organized strategy meetings and conferences that pulled in representatives from all facets of society, including law enforcement, criminal justice, media, health, education, and social welfare sectors. These organized sessions laid the foundation for a network of coordinated community assistance programs. Eventually, IRD coordinated the efforts of the other CRDA implementing partners to extend the domestic violence projects of western Serbia into other regions of the country. IRD’s national leadership in the family planning and reproductive health sector extended beyond domestic violence programs. Expanding outside of western Serbia, IRD coordinated a nationwide CRDA program that standardized health education curriculum for all Serbian youth, based upon a network of trained youth peer educators. Peer education, which previously had been introduced in schools through adult lectures (mostly from medical professionals) on a very limited basis, was considered the best way to reach adolescents


Empowering Citizens, Engaging Governments, Rebuilding Communities

in discussing difficult, taboo topics. IRD’s project implementation emphasized ongoing training and supervision to improve the ability of youth educators to relay accurate information and to stay engaged in order to maintain frank and open lines of communication. The peer education program, modeled after the United Nations Population Fund’s Youth Peer training model, or Y-PEER, assumes that at the basic level, adolescents have limited or no knowledge of reproductive health issues and use trained peer educators to inform and motivate them. The next level trains peer educators systematically building knowledge, skills, and practical expertise as new young people join the peer education program. With basic knowledge and teaching skills, peer educators work with teachers and others to conduct workshops in schools. The most motivated and capable youth are encouraged to continue to a next level of engagement, preparing future trainers of peer educators and serving in a mentor capacity. United Nations research has found the openness and trust among youth to be very effective in conveying information and in modifying potentially risky sexual behavior. In 2003 in Valjevo, the first peer education project, a series of weekend workshops named “Safer Love,” was held throughout the school year; more than 1,800 students participated. The second peer education project, which took place in Arilje, attracted almost 1,000 students at its peak. Students joined the workshops on their own time, outside of school, and of their own volition. Over time, the skill of youth educators, their confidence, organizational abilities, and bonds grew among communities in Serbia and the certified trainers. In 2004, after IRD shared the peer education experience with the other CRDA partners, all five implementing agencies united their programs to support the development of a nationwide peer education program. The results were remarkable. With a cooperative regional network established, peer education programs began to thrive

throughout Serbia. Participation increased, and peer education became widely known, accepted, and even popular among the youth, despite the sensitive nature of the subject matter (summer 2004 training covered contraception, condom use, sexually transmitted diseases, and pregnancy). The municipalities of Sabac and Loznica joined the program, as did smaller municipalities of Krupanj and Ub. Eventually, peer educators from the different municipalities began to communicate with each other and share experiences on their own, without any intervention by IRD personnel. Y-PEER, of which Serbia is now a member, consists of more than 600 nonprofit organizations, schools, and governmental institutions, with a membership of more than 7,300 young people from 39 countries. Because IRD was limited to western Serbia in the CRDA program, supporting a national Y-PEER network became possible only with the development of the joint national strategy among all CRDA partners. To support the network, IRD encouraged cooperation among UNICEF, the United Nations Population Fund, USAID, and other local organizations to develop and adopt a national standard for youth peer education support and development. Throughout the existence of CRDA and the transition to CRDA-E, IRD’s support of women’s initiatives and domestic violence programs totaled just less than $250,000, of which local matching contributions paid almost one-third. The 109 family planning and reproductive health projects implemented between 2002 and 2007, under a USAID earmark, was valued at $2.5 million, though the donor cost of $1.7 million was just half that. From a financial standpoint, these social service initiatives constituted a very small part of the CRDA investment. Final CRDA assessments, meanwhile, primarily focus on the tangible impact of economic development, or the more overtly political components of community mobilization. In any consideration of IRD’s role as an implementing agency and the implementation methods used to reach the end goal of social and economic sustainability, these relatively small health

Encouraging integrated implementation


projects offer big examples of the practical application of a focused yet flexible methodology leading to real community empowerment. IRD did not have a health unit and had to rely on help from a staff member in Georgia for design and implementation of health projects. Communities clearly lacked expertise in health matters, forcing staff to work more directly with nongovernmental health organizations and hospitals. USAID would not spend money on baseline health information research, and Serbia’s poorly functioning management information system made it virtually impossible to measure health impacts. Moreover, IRD had to help convince communities that health—in particular, reproductive health, since it was a mandated earmark—was a community priority. Yet, the IRD-supported health initiatives in western Serbia grew to national proportions—with IRD

playing a key leadership role—while fully integrating the ideals of CRDA, through the use of active community groups identifying projects, incorporating local partners, and engaging all levels of society, including people who were hard to reach and potentially silent or disenfranchised. Valuable community partnerships were built among all citizens, professionals, and civic leaders, brought together by effective mobilization techniques and held together by effective implementation. Not only did the youth peer education program exceed original expectations by mobilizing local, regional, and national networks, it also illustrated the value of international donors working together in a strategic partnership. As veteran community development expert Frank Pavich said, “The unintended consequences sometimes are the most effective.”

Identifying the successes

A single mother from Arilje, Serbia, started an egg production business with an IRD grant. 


“This is what IRD is about. The unique ability to identify good local resources, communicate effectively, respect their backgrounds, and add value to what’s already there. That’s why we’ve been successful.”
Attributing the achievements of both the CRDA and CRDA-E programs to the inclusion of local governments is both an obvious observation and a slight understatement. Creating a more open dialogue between citizens and local power structures was a primary component of the original project design, and it certainly facilitated the successful implementation of hundreds of projects over six years. But simply including local government in the development process, while necessary, wasn’t by itself a magic bullet. Without the carefully considered interpersonal relationships and feelings of trust that IRD cultivated through hundreds of hours of community mobilization meetings and carefully applied training and assistance projects, the triangulated implementation model that IRD followed—and that led to sustainable businesses, cooperatives, and associations—would never have had the traction necessary to succeed. As IRD started to involve local governments in community activities through the municipal working groups in 2002, municipal representatives began to participate in community meetings and often provided technical expertise for project development as well as the matching funds for community-sponsored projects. During the early days of the project, IRD was able to build bridges among citizens, business leaders, and local governments through detailed project planning and broad collaboration. Once the program transitioned to its CRDA-E phase, and more structured working relationships for public-private partnerships were needed, IRD was able to quickly and efficiently engage the necessary stakeholders because the organization was so deeply embedded in the social capital network of the local communities. In fact, IRD had been so effective in its role as an enabling facilitator of community development that as the CRDA-E program entered its final stages, local officials often expressed worry about IRD’s pending departure. A “major concern for the ministers and others as we were winding down,” Robert Harris said, was “that we would not be


Empowering Citizens, Engaging Governments, Rebuilding Communities

there to help anymore. In some ways, they feared their shoulder to lean on would be gone.” Launched as a civil society development program, CRDA had three broad goals: to mobilize citizens to improve their quality of life, to promote economic development in local communities, and to build mutual trust between citizens and local government. IRD met these stated objectives and more, with an overall implementation program that left a legacy of social and economic sustainability in a number of ways, including: • Proven methodologies within the community’s social network for organized and systematic problem solving and prioritization. • Growth-oriented business cooperatives and associations with modern equipment, enhanced technical knowledge, and expanding market linkages. • Permanent, institutionalized local economic development offices within the government structure implementing long-term strategies jointly crafted by private citizens and public officials.

began looking to a few key, overarching operational themes that emerged from its work in Serbia and Montenegro: establishing trust, developing local skills, and being flexible to changing environments. Trust: Win hearts and minds Skepticism was prevalent regarding USAID’s quickstart requirement of 60 projects in 90 days. Logistically, it created stresses, strains, and hardships on IRD. But in terms of helping create an instant bond with the community, the edict paid off. The fact that the newly formed community committees debated and decided on initial project priorities created a sense of empowerment and action from the beginning. Starting so many projects so fast and with such vigor created prestige and a dramatic introduction for the CRDA program. Community members decided on a wide range of projects, from building roads and bridges to repairing health centers and pharmacies to brightening dark and dangerous areas with new lights. “Overall, [the process] worked pretty well in winning hearts and minds,” Dejan Bratuljevic said, adding that it was a very important part of the process to demonstrate that “you’re not trying to change someone; you’re just trying to help.” IRD staff identified gaining the trust of citizens and communicating effectively with them as perhaps the most significant outcome of the program’s evolution from CRDA through CRDA-E. IRD was in a unique position in Serbia in that the organization had invested time and resources in local assistance programs even before CRDA, when there were few avenues for external aid and when suspicion of outside NGOs was extremely high. With CRDA, IRD was able to expand its reach without compromising the network of relationships it had already worked to establish. The organization also took special care to hire local staff based on technical expertise and knowledge of their own communities, preferably with previous civil society experience. CRDA has been able

Three key operational themes: Trust, training, and flexibility
CRDA was a solid assistance model for Serbia, and it helped accomplish the US government’s goal of re-establishing Serbia’s relationship with the international community after years of isolation and sanctions. At the same time, IRD proved to be an extremely effective implementing partner, continuing restoration and agricultural development work in Serbia after the CRDA-E phase officially ended and becoming the only CRDA implementer to have maintained a consistent presence in the country since then. As IRD quickly expanded its assistance portfolio into Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and other troubled regions of the world, the organization

Identifying the successes


to hire strong national professional staff. This national staff is key to CRDA Serbia services to communities. The quick-start projects provided an immediate credibility boost for CRDA, but IRD carefully cultivated relationships with citizens over the duration of the program by showing a willingness to support community priorities, a commitment to a transparent and disciplined administrative process (in awarding grants, procuring equipment, and hiring staff), a knowledgeable engagement with local government procedures, and a dedication to teaching and training. The effort to form close working relationships paid off. “In Vladimirci, some officials had the intention of naming a street after us,” Zarko Draganic said. “It was an existing street, and they were going to rename it after USAID and IRD. It didn’t happen in the end, but that’s the kind of connection we had established, based on changes that positively affected the local community and visible results we all made through implementing various CRDA projects.” Training: Develop a skills base None of IRD’s achievements would have been possible without a fully invested and dedicated staff that recognized the importance of leveraging local resources and, when necessary, showed a willingness to learn and develop their own skills alongside local citizens. At times, IRD staff participated in strategic planning, facilitation, project development, budgeting, monitoring, and reporting techniques and procedures. When the program transitioned to CRDA-E, there was a common acceptance among IRD staffers that additional resources would be necessary to help design the program in the most effective manner. A common theme that emerged during assessment interviews with numerous CRDA beneficiaries was the overall positive economic impact of IRD’s

dedication to technical assistance and training, particularly in relation to the creation and development of cooperatives. IRD staffers attached a similar sense of value to training and technical assistance, emphasizing the importance of having experienced, carefully recruited consultants and experts available to provide help and advice for all aspects of the program. CRDA-E’s emphasis on business and agriculture, naturally dependent more on local partners (business owners and managers, farmers, and business and agricultural associations) than those involved in CRDA, necessitated additional training aimed at these new stakeholders in order to educate them on CRDA-E goals, processes, and methodologies. In fact, CRDA-E had to develop new methodologies to work with the new partners. As one IRD staffer said, there were a “small number of qualified people” in the country to begin with, because Serbia was having difficulty retaining skilled and educated workers due to its stagnant economy. Throughout the entire program, IRD consistently targeted regional resources that could be used to strengthen projects and provide quality training. Consequently, scores of local residents were given opportunities to gain employment skills through structured guidance and procedures. According to Bratuljevic, the attention IRD gave to developing a local technical skills base is easy to overlook but was actually a crucial component to rebuilding the social and economic infrastructure. For local contractors, for instance, mentoring conferences were organized to cover tendering procedures, processing and payments, bidding methods, and more. As a result, “an entire subset of local workers” became more skillful at competing in the international market. “They learned how to actually invoice.” Technical assistance and training wasn’t always perfect—one final assessment found follow-up training to be lacking on some projects—but research showed that in almost all cases, citizens


Empowering Citizens, Engaging Governments, Rebuilding Communities

and government officials responded positively to the training provided, from basic communication skills for community group leaders to technical assistance on medical equipment. This kind of training has a lasting effect, even when it’s not considered a necessary project outcome. “This is what IRD is about,” Bratuljevic said. “The unique ability to identify good local resources, communicate effectively, respect their backgrounds, and add value to what’s already there. That’s why we’ve been successful.” Flexibility: Act fast and adapt to the environment From the very beginning, IRD had to adapt quickly in its planning. Although the organization was already established on the ground in Serbia, IRD had to immediately recast the office and staff structure based on the geographic region assigned by USAID. Plans in the proposal called for one field office, but western Serbia is a diverse, sprawling area, so three offices were deemed necessary. CRDA opened offices in Sabac, Valjevo, and Uzice, in addition to the administrative office in Belgrade. The quick-start mandate at the outset of the program, which was not part of USAID’s program RFA, had the potential to be a major disruptive force for the program before it even began. Required to hit the ground running, IRD had little time for staff recruitment, hiring, training, or locating offices. Again drawing on its past experience, IRD called on three nongovernmental organizations that were partners during the earlier AltNet program to help get established. The NGOs’ knowledge of local communities, existing societal structures, and citizen networks allowed IRD to begin CRDA immediately, to meet the donor demands, and to lay the groundwork for a reputation among locals of getting things done quickly and efficiently. The transition to CRDA-E brought another major program shift, as IRD had to rapidly respond

to new US policy while not undermining its own citizen participation efforts or damaging the trust established with citizens. As previously stated, this task was not easy as staffers were forced to explain the benefits of the new policy to a skeptical public. “Almost overnight, you had to switch from initial projects benefiting entire communities to targeted assistance to certain groups,” Tijana Dabic said. Regardless of the long-term value of the switch, she said, from a perspective of workers and citizens on the ground, “initially it was difficult to swallow. Luckily, we were a flexible organization.” Repeatedly, IRD staffers recounted the organization’s dexterity in its ability to respond to large external challenges such as revised donor requirements or political instability, as well as smaller operational hurdles such as sudden changes in community committee team leaders. At a “lessons learned” workshop conducted for Serbia staffers at the program’s conclusion, “flexible, responsive structure” was cited as the primary key internal factor supporting IRD’s process, followed by “young and flexible staff.” An organization can only be young once, and IRD has rapidly matured in the years since undertaking CRDA. The lack of an established bureaucracy or immovable institutional processes played to IRD’s advantage in Serbia, which underlined the importance of remaining nimble when entering into highly unstable situations. “Traditional development programs were not very flexible,” said Richard Owens, praising the “flexibility and evolutionary nature” of CRDA, because the open program design allowed IRD to “do what they were good at—show the people they were working with them and not dictating to them.” But Owens added that flexibility cuts both ways, and a flexible program design, no matter how beneficial to the community, is likely to fail in an organization that is too rigid.

Identifying the successes


“You have to have a little more tolerance for failure,” he said, and “you have to be willing to adapt to your environment. Not all organizations are adept at dealing with flexibility.” *    *    * IRD’s legacy lives on in Serbia’s continued community involvement in local government, economic development, health, and social issues. The community mobilization program provided the foundation for enhanced citizen participation, project development, and advocacy in the political and economic decision-making process. The program clearly established a base of proactive citizens and gave them the capacity to act for the best interests of the communities. Equally important, of course, was the degree of cooperation established between citizens, local government, and the private sector, primarily during the later years of the program, but present throughout. IRD

sought to assist an emerging civil society network and movement throughout Serbia and Montenegro by engaging with all citizens, private or public, on a personal level, empowering them to act according to their own abilities and initiative. The cumulative result is a blueprint for further assistance, development, and revitalization programs in which lasting socioeconomic measures can be attained through a patient, honest, and committed investment in a region’s social capital network, by winning hearts and minds to establish mutual trust, by providing the necessary skills and guidance to foster long-term success, and by demonstrating a commitment to the long-term welfare of the citizenry. “We worked so closely with so many different groups,” Dabic said. “Everyone still knows our people and what we did. We are still received well wherever we go.”

This publication, the rst in the IRD series Case Studies in Community Stabilization, details the organization’s implementing role in post-con ict Serbia and Montenegro during the 2001–2007 period. The US Agency for International Development community mobilization and economic revitalization programs, CRDA and CRDA-E, brought multifaceted social assistance, economic and agricultural development, and basic infrastructure to a wartorn region with an uncertain future. The report sheds light on the nature of the work undertaken by IRD’s staff, the unique challenges encountered in the theater, the enduring successes of the programs, and lessons that IRD has carried into its ongoing work.

International Relief & Development 1621 North Kent Street. Fourth Floor Arlington, VA 22209 703-248-0161 • 703-248-0194 fax www.ird.org

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful