On October 15, 2003, the Croatian Parliament enacted the Law on the National Foundation for Civil Society Development (“Law”). The enactment of the Law marks a critical step forward for the development of civil society and the financial sustainability of non-governmental, not-for-profit organizations (NGOs) in Croatia. Croatia’s National Foundation for Civil Society Development (“Foundation”) promises to become one of the most innovative examples of NGO/government partnership in the CEE region.
According to the Law, the Foundation is established as a public law, not-for-profit entity whose mission is to serve and strengthen civil society in Croatia. The Foundation will support innovative programs as developed by NGOs and informal, community-based initiatives. With financing from state budget funds, Croatian lottery funds, private donations, income from economic activities and certain other sources, the Foundation will work to promote the sustainability of the sector, cross-sectoral cooperation, civic initiatives, philanthropy, and voluntarism. Core activities will include: (1) education and publications, (2) grant giving, and (3) public awareness campaigns. The Foundation will be governed by a management board consisting of both government and civil society representatives; indeed, the majority of the board positions are reserved for civil society representatives.
The enactment of the Foundation Law is the culmination of an 18-month process led by Cvjetana Plavsa-Matic, Head of the Government Office for Cooperation with NGOs. The establishment of the Foundation is a critical step toward improving the system of public financing for NGOs in Croatia. It marks a shift from a highly centralized system, in which the Government Office for Cooperation with NGOs played the critical role, into a more de-centralized system.
The new model of public financing for NGOs, in which the Foundation will play an integral part – envisages an increased role from multiple stakeholders, including the respective ministries, thus ensuring a more equitable distribution of responsibility among government stakeholders. Accordingly, while the ministries will be responsible for the funding of and cooperation with NGOs within their own jurisdiction, the Foundation will focus on supporting grass-roots initiatives and programs that do not necessarily fall within the competence area of any particular ministry. To ensure that grant-making decisions, whether made by the National Foundation, the ministries, or the local governments, are made according to established standards of transparency, a Code of Good Practices for Grant Making has been prepared and submitted to Parliament, with ICNL assistance.
The establishment of the Foundation will not result in the termination of the Government Office for Cooperation, but rather in the resumption of its original role. Serving as a liaison between the Government and civil society, the Office will create a database of NGO programs that are being funded by the Government, will educate civil servants on issues relating to civil society, will monitor the implementation of the compact between the Government and NGOs at all levels, and will initiate further changes in legislation relating to NGOs.
ICNL, in collaboration with Mladen Ivanovic of the Croatian Law Center, played a critical role in assisting Ms. Plavsa-Matic to ensure that the Law on the National Foundation for Civil Society Development properly addressed issues of establishment, internal governance and property management. ICNL is grateful to USAID for its support on this project and its support for ICNL’s ongoing work in Croatia.