The civil society sector has a key role in the implementation of the UN Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development
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The Regional Conference “Development Cooperation in Times of Changing Paradigms” was held between the 20th and 22nd of March 2018 in Sofia, Bulgaria. The Conference was organized by the Bulgarian Platform for International Development and brought together more than 80 representatives of the civil society in the Black Sea Region and the Western Balkans, as well as European and national institutions, business representatives and UN agencies as part of the main stakeholders regarding the SDGs.

The main aim of the Conference was to foster possibilities for cooperation in the field of development policies and raising the engagement regarding the role of the EU in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals in the Union and in third countries.

The opening session included Monika Panayotova, Deputy Minister for the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU. She pointed out ongoing cooperation with civil society as one of the ways to ensure political legitimacy. According to her the greatest challenges before youth in the world are climate change and peacekeeping and regional cooperation is of utmost importance, so that we can effectively battle them. Assoc. Prof. Dr. Mihail Okoliyski, World Health Organization Representative for Bulgaria also took part in the opening.

In the panel dedicated to the relationship between the 17 SDGs in Agenda 2030 and the role of the EU in development cooperation, Ognyan Champoev, head of department “International Development Cooperation”, “UN and Development Cooperation” Directorate in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Bulgaria, pointed out the importance of having measures for dealing with humanitarian crises not only on behalf of the EU and the UN, but on national policy level.

Seamus Jeffreson, Director of CONCORD Europe (European NGO Confederation for Relief and Development), underlined that the Sustainable Development Goals need to be coherent and they shouldn’t stand in each other’s way. According to him, finance shouldn’t be at the center of attention, but the way the different Goals interact with each other and the policies fighting social inequalities. He pointed out the EU migration policy as an example for an incoherent policy. Jeffreson defined the successful system for effective development as one, where all players, civil society included, are involved in the decision making by public consultations on budget distribution. He also brought attention to the need for involving civil society in legislative processes, since right now we observe an opposite tendency.

The Conference focused more closely on the progress made on national level regarding the fields related to Goal 3 – Good Health, Goal 4 – Quality Education, Goal 5 – Gender Equality and Goal 16 – Peace and Justice from Agenda 2030. This is why the event included a discussion among CSOs and business representatives regarding the role of the corporate sector in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and examples for good practices for its effective engagement in the process on national and international level.

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The event focused also on discussing the role of the civil society in development cooperation in the region. The panel was opened by Adela Rusu, Executive Director for The Romanian NDGO Platform (FOND), who outlined the challenges in the work of the civil sector. She pointed out the difficulties regarding the access to finances from the budget for cooperation and development on a national level, as well as the shrinkage of civil society, which according to her is most obvious with the pressure on certain NGOs and the ineffectiveness of public consultations.

Radosveta Stamenkova, Executive Director for BFPA (Bulgarian Family Planning and Sexual Health Association) presented the projects and work of the organization regarding improvement of health education, innovation and expertise, and work with vulnerable groups in particular. Ms Stamenkova brought the attention to the Association’s partner in the face of the National Network of Health Mediators, which is starting to spread its activities in Macedonia, Serbia and other countries from the region and is expected to grow to an international network of health mediators.

The Special Representative for External Affairs and Resources of SOS Children’s Villages International Mr Richard Pichler also participated in the panel and stressed that civil society organizations need to be involved in the process of policy making because of their proximity with the target groups and their motivation and approach they use in order for the rights of vulnerable and marginalized groups to be protected.

The conference concluded with group work in the areas of Goal 3 – Good Health and Well-being, Goal 4 – Quality education, Goal 5 – Gender Equality, which aimed to highlight the progress up until now, to identify the challenges and possibilities for future cooperation and joint action among all stakeholders in achieving the 2030 Agenda. Among the identified challenges was the lack of an allocated budget for the achievement the Goals and the collection of statistics, which hinders the monitoring of the progress on the set indicators. The participants highlighted the need for more precise, coordinated and effective actions in the area of development.

As a result of the forum we can summarize that for the implementation of the 17 UN Sustainable development goals measures need to be undertaken not only at a central level, but also at regional and local level too, ensuring the active mutual cooperation between the UN and the European Union, as well as between the EU and the individual countries. Civil society has a key role in promoting and achieving the Goals and it would not be possible to achieve them fully without the active participation of nongovernmental organizations in policy development and implementation in these areas.

The Bulgarian Platform for International Development also hosted and took part in a meeting of CONCORD HUB 2, which took place in the same time in Sofia. Being a member of CONCORD (European confederation of Relief and Development NGOs), BPID provided the opportunity for representatives from other national platforms and networks for development from Central Europe to build connections and discuss potential forms of cooperation with partner organization from the Western Balkans and the Black Sea Region.

The event is part of the activities under the project “Civil Dialogue for Development”, implemented by BPID, in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria, funded by the EU and related to the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU.