IRIS Network in cooperation with SOLIDAR is organizing the Round Table “CSOs PROVIDING SOCIAL SERVICES IN THE WESTERN BALKANS: CHALLENGES & OPPORTUNITIES”, dedicated to challenges and opportunities for CSOs providing social services in the Western Balkans, which are related to overcoming current refugee crisis and the latest political and economic pressures inside the European Union that provoked a slowdown of the Enlargement process.

Civil society organizations (CSOs) need to find ways to revamp the Enlargement process and its social dimension in order to enhance economic, social and territorial cohesion. In particular the innovative capacities of CSOs providing social services needs to be strengthened and they need to be supported to strengthen their capacity and directly engage local and regional beneficiaries in decisions around the ‘EU Social Acquis’. These are the main objectives of the EU funded project “Improving the provision of Social Service Delivery in South Eastern Europe through the empowerment of national and regional CSOs” led by ASB-SEE that will be presented at this round table.

The Round Table will bring together policy makers and members of the civil society the possibility to discuss main challenges and opportunities for CSOs providing social services in the Western Balkans as well as the best solutions to make sure that Enlargement process is a catalyzer for social progress and enhancement of socio-economic rights.

More information on the even could be found here.


IRIS Network has conducted the Small Grant Facility (SGF) Programme, through which 13 local initiatives for long-term improvement of social services provision and delivery were supported in Bosnia and Herzegovina, FYR Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia. Grants in amount up to € 5,000.00 were awarded to IRIS Network members in order to strengthen their organizational, communicational and advocating capacities as well as to assist the grantees in delivery of appropriate services for various vulnerable groups in their countries.

The assessment criteria of the Programme were based the following objectives:

» Main goals of the project proposals had to include the development of sustainable mechanisms of standardization and quality improvement of existing social services and/or creation of the framework for appropriate services delivery where that is missing.

» Active participation of the representatives of target beneficiary groups and the public in foreseen activities and discussions was required, as well as their involvement in the process of local polices development. Local and grass root advocacy initiatives were prioritized.

» Analysis, advocacy and monitoring of social sector reforms at regional and local levels were even a precondition for applying. The grantees also had to be located in the target countries, publicly recognized and independent from the government.

All of the projects have been implemented for six months. Is that period long enough to create and insure the actual changes in the social environment? Find out in the following bulletin.

Traineeship in UK awarded to IRIS Network candidate Gonxhe Kandri

In the framework of the EU-funded project “Improving the provision of Social Service Delivery in South Eastern Europe through the empowerment of national and regional CSOs”, IRIS Network in cooperation with Solidar has selected the candidate for participation in four weeks long Professional Staff Traineeship Programme in United Kingdom. The candidate is provided with the opportunity to participate in activities of the Volunteering Matters – UK national charity organization, located in Ipswich.

The traineeship is awarded to Gonxhe Kandri who is working in NGO Partnere per Femijet, IRIS Network partner in Albania. As a social worker with a degree in social science, obtained at the University of Tirana, she based her work experience on the projects which aim to promote well-being of the children and other vulnerable groups, such as young adults with disabilities or migrant women in Albania. She has more than seven years of experience in managing and monitoring child focused projects and activities, as well as in cooperation with institutions, especially in education, health and child protection sector.

Kandri’s internship in the Volunteering Matters’ offices has started on 10th of August. After just two weeks of practice, it is visible that the Program has overcome her expectations.

“This placement gives me the opportunity to understand different cultures and traditions, in the context of gender based violence (GBV) or domestic abuse. I am becoming familiar with different ways of addressing the needs of women from different countries and services which are provided for them here, in UK”, Kandri says.

Since the first day of the Proffesional Training, Kandri is working with the WASSUP group. The WASSUP, which is abbreviations for “W.omen A.gainst S.exual exploitation and violence S.peak UP”, is the peer-led group of 17 women aged 17-25, which offers creative and innovative support and service provision for BME young women who have suffered from/ are exiting/ are at risk of child sexual exploitation or violence.

“As part of my role, I’m doing a piece of research with the young and adult women who have suffered from GBV and until now I have done three interviews with them. I have five more interviews to do after which I will write a report. Also I have done a desk review about legal framework on GBV and studies related to this issue”, Kandri explains. She can anticipate the contribution of the internship to her future work in Albania.

“In UK there are many different services which can be used to support victims of domestic violence and the existence of better understating of their needs is notable. All of the services are synchronized – something which is missing in Albania. We are still struggling in need of addressing domestic violence in a proper way” she said.

The Volunteering Matters is the leading charity organization in UK, active in policy and practice. It is also an experienced NGO at European level – since 1990s it is member and the host of the Secretariat for Volonteurope, the key European volunteer network, based on promotion of volunteering, active citizenship and social justice.

Gonxhe Kandri is holding a poster which is representing the victim of violence against woman while the participants are commenting the picture.

Gonxhe Kandri is holding a poster which is representing the victim of violence against woman, while other participants are commenting the picture.

Traineeship in France awarded to IRIS Network candidate Megi Kushi

Professional Staff Traineeship Programme in organization of IRIS Network and SOLIDAR has officially started few weeks ago in the premises of Ligue de l’enseignement des Pyrénées atlantiques at the mountain center ‘Le Cardet à Gourette’ in France. Traineeship is involving participant in the organization and development of different activities, non-formal learning and animation with children and teenagers, among whom persons with intellectual disabilities.

After they carefully reviewed numerous applications received, the IRIS Network in cooperation with SOLIDAR confirmed participation of Megi Kushi. Let us meet her and hear the impressions of the Training.

Megi Kushi, coming from Albania, is young intern at the National Association Education for Life-SHKEJ, one of the IRIS Network member organizations. She has Master Degree in Organizational Psychology and, even though she is just 23 years old, has quite an experience in the field of social service provision and working with vulnerable groups gained through formal and non-formal education and trainings. Over the last few years she had been working with children in need – groups of Roma and Egyptian children in Albania, as well as with children with autism. Beside Albanian, she fluently speaks English and French.

Within Professional Staff Training Programme, Kushi got the opportunity to improve skills related to her psychological work-profile: She has useful conversations with the children, helps them to feel comfortable and develop their interests in social interaction, based on healthy roots of self-esteem.

“I learnt how efforts of the team are the key in organizing multidisciplinary areas that are focused on the well-being of children. I also noticed the importance of motivation as the staff priority. Cardet centre represents this perfectly”, said Kushi.

Mountain Cardet centre, which is hosting ongoing Professional Training, hosts open school – discovery classes for children during holidays. The school is providing different activities whose topics range from discovering the environment to sport and human activities, all connected to the mountain. “Children can enjoy the company of each other, explore themselves and the nature surrounding them and become engaged with life rules”, explained Kushi.

In addition, Kushi mentioned that she learns a lot spontaneously, through the work routine, the discipline and the responsibility that the mission of Cardet is accomplishing with the children. She hopes of using most of skills and knowledge gained through this Training in her future work, after she gets back to Albania.

IRIS Network members attended SOLIDAR Training Academy

SOLIDAR Training Academy “INTEGRATION, INTERCULTURAL DIALOGUE AND PEACEFUL COEXISTENCE – Addressing challenges and opportunities in the social services, education and training sector”, which took a place in International Training Center ILO in Turin, has been officially closed last Friday. The training brought together representatives of 13 Civil Society Organizations from different European countries.

During three days of training, participants were discussing on the current challenges their NGOs are facing to, improved their skills in intercultural dialogue and laid the groundwork for future cooperation. Main topics covered migrant issue and cultural diversities by defining strengths and weaknesses of different social environments, as well as external opportunities and threats which are recognizable through activism of represented organizations. Participant also had the opportunity to share good practices with colleagues from other organizations and to improve skills in the field of promotion of their work through using modern social media approach.

Among the participants, the training was attended by representatives of IRIS Network from Serbia and Albania.

IRIS Network is the new SOLIDAR member

As the result of cooperation with SOLIDAR, on 15 June at General Assembly, IRIS Network entered the membership of this European network of NGOs working to advance social justice in Europe and worldwide.

During 4 years of cooperation SOLIDAR supported IRIS Network trough capacity building, policy and advocacy activities. Few of our many common activities are: organizing traineeship and fellowship programs for IRIS members, participation on panel discussions within the European round tables which became voice of IRIS in EU, as well as monitoring the progress of the integration of the Western Balkan states in fields such are: employment policies, education and lifelong learning, anti-discrimination policies, active citizenship and social economy. IRIS members are participating in SOLIDAR Academy as well as in other programs and projects of common interest.

SOLIDAR has 60 member organisations based in 27 countries (22 of which are EU countries) – national NGOs in Europe, as well as some non-EU and EU-wide organizations. SOLIDAR voices the concerns of its member organisations to the EU and international institutions by carrying out active lobbying, project management and coordination, policy monitoring and awareness-raising across its different policy areas.

The network is brought together by its shared values of solidarity, equality and participation.

SOLIDAR was founded in 1948 to encourage international cooperation between social aid organisations connected to the labour movement. First know as International Workers’ Aid the organisation set up its headquarters in Brussels in 1995 and was renamed SOLIDAR.

They don’t just believe in, they make tomorrow better

Association “Will for Life” of the people with cerebral palsy and infantile paralysis from Velika Plana is providing fifteen beneficiaries with work ability with a job and skills that are valued on the labour market. This assistance comes through the Project „Equal Chances“, funded via Small Grants Programme of IRIS Network. We visited Centre in Velika Plana, so to feel impressions of activists and beneficiaries involved in programme.

Centres of hope and support

We were welcomed by President of the Association “Will for Life” Radovan Radulovic and the activist Duska Stupar, who took us around the Centre and showed the premises. Day Care Centre “Lane”, which exists since 2012, consists of Day Care Centre for children with disabilities and Work Centre for adults with disabilities. Also, the Association has at disposal Club “Heart into the hands” for disabled, provided by Municipality of Velika Plana.

 Beside primary objectives such as providing daily services for disabled, premises of the Centre are also used as a space for workshops, educative and entertainment programs. Under the Project “Equal Chances”, Work Centre was fully equipped and then used for training, during which the beneficiaries learnt how to produce decorative items. Recently finalized training course, which lasted 21 days, had involved 15 of the Centre’s beneficiaries with work ability into the process of self-actualization which is, according to Duska’s words, essentially important for their social inclusion.

 “Through the training, selected participants have gained elementary knowledge skills needed for decorative items’ production. The training also raised their self-confidence and ability to be employed, which is essentially important for them. We made selection based on work capacity assessment. Selected fifteen have learnt how to produce decorative candles, other souvenirs, clocks, magnets in different forms, icons, keychains and Easter baskets”, Duska is explaining to us while we’re sitting in the backyard. Wide, covered in greenery, surrounded by conifers – the backyard is place for playing and resting after workshops for all of Centre’s beneficiaries.

 Valued on the labour market

 We had a chance to see impressive collection of already produced items, stored in Work Centre, but also to observe the creation process – two of beneficiaries were very kind and presented their work to us. Process of decorative candles’ creation, for example, requires a lot of their focus, but it’s creative and makes them more independent.

 All items are being sold on the street stall in the centre of Velika Plana, once a month. This makes their creators economic beneficiaries, which is of high importance. As Radovan has explained, people with cerebral palsy are extremely vulnerable group, because of narrow working abilities which cause poverty.

 “’Equal chances’ is a huge step forward for people with disabilities, because the project is actively encouraging and involving them in working process. First of all, the step forward means raising the average of social inclusion of disabled. Secondly, the project insures direct economic benefit for them and their families – by selling items”, Radovan said.

 Long term benefits of the project

As it was considered in discussion with Radovan and Duska – the social changes, which are to improve life conditions for people with cerebral palsy, are coming slowly and require a lot of efforts. It is important to underline that project brings long term benefit to people who are facing these difficulties – those who passed the training course can use improved skills long after completion of the project, which makes positive influence on their lives and economic status.

 “Thanks to Small Grant Programme of IRIS Network we finally could equip the Work Centre, which created opportunities for job trainings, increasing the number of employed disabled people and stronger engagement in overcoming poverty in the community of people with disabilities”, said Radovan. He added that “Equal Chances” project strengthens relations between the Association “Will for Life” and local authorities – this partnership will insure permanent employment for some of Centre’s beneficiaries in future.

It wasn’t easy when it comes to leave-talking, but we left under the impression of optimism. We left beneficiaries in working atmosfere – the future we want to create together is becoming presence.


Protection for 700 women and children in Una – Sana Canton

Round table “The role and importance of local partnerships in promoting non-violent behaviour” brought together representatives of relevant institutions and organizations in a field of prevention of domestic violence and violence against women in Una – Sana Canton in Bosnia. Organized by the IRIS Network’s members – Zene sa Une and Foundation LARA from Bijeljina under the project “Local partnership for preventing and combating violence against women”, event has addressed the challenges which all relevant stakeholders are facing to in the status quo – women and children who are (potential) victims on the one hand and social service delivery centres, on the other.

Discussion reflected a necessity of implementing changes in domestic violence law, improving the protocol for handling the cases of violence and strengthening cooperation between local government and CSOs. Also, the representatives of Ministry for Health of USC, Office for free law help providing of USC, Coordination Committee for gender equalities of USC and non-government organizations have agreed on lack of their communication in the past and expressed strong will to collaborate in a future.

Via project “Local partnership for preventing and combating violence against women” approximately 700 women from USC, including real and potential victims, are to be protected. Protection is possible thanks to awareness raising campaigns aimed at prevention of violence against women; strengthening cooperation between key institutions; improving skills and capacities of the organizations which are providing social services for woman. All of these goals are integrated in project’s actions implemented by Zene sa Une and Foundation LARA. Project is funded through Small Grants Programme of IRIS Network.

Violence against woman is still a huge problem worldwide, especially in patriarchal societies. Balkan countries, unfortunately, pretty much reflect this claim. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, violence against women together with domestic violence is one of the major societal challenges, recently transferred from private into public sphere. Victims are numerous and statistics are incomplete.

Call for applicants – traineeship programme in France

IRIS Network in cooperation with SOLIDAR is presenting a Professional Staff Training Programme in CSO Ligue de l’enseignement des Pyrénées atlantiques in France. Application is open to staff members of CSOs providing social services in the Western Balkans, that are part of the IRIS Network.

Training Programme will allow one selected candidate to spend 4 weeks in premises of Ligue de l’enseignement des Pyrénées atlantiques at the mountain center ‘Le Cardet à Gourette’ in France, where she/he will be involved in the organisation and development of leisure activities, non-formal learning and animation with children and teenagers, among which persons with intellectual disabilities.

Deadline for applying is 31 May 2016.

More information can be found here.

When it concerns them – they have a say

First group meetings of activists in Perrënjas and Librazhd, organized by IRIS Network member Partnerë për Fëmijët, have marked the successful beginning of the implementation of the project “Strengthening Citizenship and Advocacy with Persons with Disabilities” in Albania. Meetings have connected young people with disabilities, their parents and family members with representatives of local authorities and relevant institutions involved in delivering social services to disabled.

Project implementation is ongoing in two municipalities with high rate of people with disabilities – Perrënjas (app. 600 among 27000 inhabitants) and Librazhd (app. 950 in a community of 50000 citizens). Within the project, Partnerë për Fëmijët is investing efforts to motivate and educate youth with disabilities to advocate their rights and teaching how to institutionalize their participation.

Project activities are directly engaging 125 beneficiaries. They are learning how to develop conduct surveys, analyse data and develop priority action plan, lobbying to relevant institutions ensuring adequate social policies and practice. Approximately 1500 youth with disabilities are to be indirect beneficiaries.

Being a young person with disability in Albania means narrowed opportunities for a decent future and lack of social integration. Ineffective institutions and social stigma leave youth with disabilities and their parents in non-optimistic chances for improving life conditions. The necessary support for this vulnerable group of youths as well as to authorities in integrating people with disabilities, comes through project. The mission of the project is to provide young people who are struggling with different types of disablement with proper social services, based on their expressed needs.

The project “Strengthening Citizenship and Advocacy with Persons with Disabilities” is one of 12 projects financially supported by IRIS Network through small grants programme “Improving the provision of Social Service Delivery in South Eastern Europe through the empowerment of national and regional CSO networks”.