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Lejla Šehić Relić is executive director of the Croatian Volunteer Centre Osijek, Euclid’s newest member organisation.

What is VCOS?

Volunteer Centre Osijek is an organisation dedicated to developing civil society and volunteerism in Croatia. We believe that a strong and diverse third sector will have a positive effect on the society as a whole, as it has the power to strengthen democratic values, promote psychological wellbeing of individuals and has the potential to mobilise human resources for the common good. We envision a society in which citizens are motivated to work towards positive changes in their communities and thus contribute to the quality of their lives and others’.

Key strategies of work include building infrastructure to develop volunteerism and civil society, capacity building of individuals and organisations, and social inclusion of marginalised and vulnerable groups. We also engage in influencing public policies and build networks and alliances across local, national and European levels.

What are some of the challenges and features of the third sector in Croatia?

After more than two decades of progressive development of civil society in Croatia, supported financially and technically from abroad in the 90s, Croatian CSOs remain strongly dependent on national and European funding. This reliance on public funding creates risks and challenges related to political agendas, such as budget cuts yet simultaneously an increase in responsibilities, a lack of interest of the business sector to support and independent civil society, and a growing fragmentation and polarisation of CSOs.

There is a positive side to this story as well: we see a high potential in creating a ‘new’ civil society, with more grass root movements, emerging social entrepreneurs and new types of EU funding.

Why did VCOS join Euclid Network?

 We became a member of Euclid Network recently after joining the EU3leader project, which aims to develop a European framework of entrepreneurial competences for third sector leaders. VCOS is a fellow in the project which means that we take part in 4 international capacity building workshops, with other fellows from Spain, UK, Austria and Italy. Those capacity-building workshops aim at testing the transversal skills of leaders and gather materials for pilot trainings. All this is to ensure that the project outcomes are accessible and valuable for the sector.

We see Euclid Network as a platform for learning, sharing and creating partnerships in the field of social development, leadership, innovation and social entrepreneurship. It is also an opportunity to increase our international visibility and advocacy efforts on European level.

Why is cross-border networking important to you personally?

In addition to strengthened EU-institutions, Europe would benefit from a strong and well-connected civil society. Building networks and coalitions is crucial and I strongly believe that it will contribute to balanced and sustainable growth based on solidarity. The opportunity to connect with other European organisations was a major driver for us to join Euclid Network.

What is your advice to those wanting to work with Croatian partners?

A significant number of CSOs in Croatia have substantial experience working in different areas of social development. Many of them are very active in different international networks and can act as a valuable partner in the international context.

What are you excited about in 2018?

Volunteer Centre Osijek is now in the process of planning our strategic development and we are excited to introduce some redesigned and some new pathways to inspire and support an open democratic society based on active citizens’ participation, solidarity, cohesion and mutual trust. One of our major focuses in 2018 will be on international cooperation in bringing innovative programmes and methodologies to Croatia.

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