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The Olof Palme International Center has a long term commitment to support sustainable change and a democratic development in the Western Balkans. We currently have programmes in Albania, Kosovo and Serbia based on a regional strategy covering the period 2016-2020.

The focus of our programme is on strengthening citizen participation and the legitimacy of civil society organisations. In coming years we will work with a special focus on labour rights bringing the programme closer to the core operations of the Palme Center and its member organisations, while at the same time maintaining earlier thematic areas such as gender equality, transparency, citizen mobilization.

The challenges of corruption, poverty, unemployment, gender inequality, lack of respect for labour rights, citizens generalized lack of trust in, and the often low levels of legitimacy and weak capacity of, civil society organisations; all constitute threats to democratic development and stability in the region. They are crucial components of a functioning democratic society that respects the rights of its citizens as well as for a sustained, integrated and secure development.

The following vision and mission guide our work 2016-2020.


Political and social processes in the region are transparent and participatory, reflecting the rights and interests of empowered and organized citizens that hold decision makers accountable.


To strengthen the capacity and legitimacy of civil society organisations and support activities that ensure the participatory nature of political processes and the accountability of local and national official duty bearers. Civil society organisations will encourage activism and mobilize citizens on issues related to corruption, labour rights, gender equality, and the empowerment of underrepresented groups in their work toward social justice.

Previous experience

The results achieved so far in the programme provides a good basis for continued engagement and has broad reach. Civil society is facilitating participation and engaging in dialogue with local and national authorities, advocating for reforms and monitoring performance of local and national governments. Our partners have developed mechanisms for civic participation at both the local and national level, institutionalizing them in some cases. This is true for participatory budgeting processes in Albania and Kosovo, and local forums combating corruption in Serbia. Through advocacy campaigns, several changes in legislation and public structures has been achieved. For instance, in Albania this has led to changes in the legislation governing women’s representation, policies aimed to improve the situation for young people, and the overall status of the civil society sector. In Serbia, partner propositions have been included in the government’s strategy for fighting corruption and in Kosovo partners have been organized to influence the national strategy on culture. The focus on real and substantive change in society is at the heart of the cooperation and guides the implementation of existing and future operations.

Thematic focus

Labour rights

As part of the Swedish labour movement, Palme Center has a close link to the trade union movement and considers the universal labour rights, defined in the ILO Conventions, as a vital pillar in the protection and promoting of human rights. Trade unions are part of civil society and in comparison to other CSOs/NGOs globally they represent the civil society organizations with most numbers of members and they have a great potential to influence political agendas.

Trade unions in the region are frequently portrayed as hostile, separate interests creating a generalized negative public perception. These conditions prevent trade unions and limit their ability to assume the role as key players in enforcing labour rights. At the same time organized labour also suffers from a number of internal weaknesses, partly because of historical ties to the state, inner divisions and fragmented representation in the work place.

The programme therefore includes an increased focus on strengthening the legitimacy of trade unions and other CSO s working for increased access to decent work and the rights of workers.

The stronger focus on labour rights is based on current socio-economic challenges in the region. The increasing cooperation with the EU will put additional pressure on the economy and the labour market and increase the need for strengthening legitimate and representative organisations working on labour and socioeconomic rights. We are seeking partnerships with trade unions, research institutes and NGOs to act together for the achievement of decent work. Developing mechanisms for collective bargaining and facilitating the role of trade unions protecting the rights of workers need to be addressed.

Organised citizens in civil society

The Palme Center is committed to the process of supporting creative forms of organising to strengthen and reignite citizens and civil society, to strengthen the watch-dogging and monitoring role of civil society and to influence decisions-makers. We support partners working on citizens’ participation and strengthening the legitimacy of civil society organisations, further emphasizing the importance of activism, movement building and membership.

Gender equality

Gender equality is a cross–cutting issue in the programme. The Palme Center will ask that partners mainstream and integrate gender in all project initiatives and activities. This is related to popular participation and increasing women’s activism to advocate and lobby for their rights, as well as contributing to gender equality in the world of work. Emphasis will be placed on measures that lead to more equal distribution of power and recourses between the genders. The protection and promotion of women workers’ rights will be integral part of the programme.


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