Violeta Jovanović, Executive Director of the National Alliance for Local Economic Development, NALED

Decade of Dialogue For a Better Serbia

10 years of supporting reforms in Serbia

The idea of creating NALED came from the visionary Steven Rosenberg, former director of USAID’s MEGA programme, which encouraged the development of municipalities and introduced the concept of local economic development to Serbia in a big way.

NALED thus emerged as an innovative development platform for supporting the development at the local level, and at the time probably nobody expected that it would survive and, as an amalgam of Serbian defiance and American pragmatism, become a kind of benchmark in terms of the sustainability of organisations created under the auspices of international donors.

Thanks to its extremely unusual name and concept, the organisation aroused interest from the very beginning, but also encountered misunderstanding about what is and what it serves, as well as disbelief that it would be successful because it brings together under one roof those who normally aren’t together – businesses, municipalities and citizens, and do so on the basis of the shared task of improving the business environment in Serbia.

The initiative was supported with enthusiasm in its first wave by the then U.S. Ambassador and President of Serbia, who signed a declaration on the establishment of NALED in March 2006, with the MEGA programme serving as an incubator and providing support to devise courses of action, form an office and create a management board, all with the aim of strengthening the organisation and enabling it to recognise its niche in the differentiated market of business associations.

It was no longer possible to put off the obligation of making the organisation independent, and so as of January 2008, ready or not, it began to operate independently on the market, in a rented space in Belgrade’s Skadarlija Street, with around thirty members, most of who are remain active and loyal to the NALED idea today.

The heterogeneous membership of NALED unerringly places in focus the most current topics of economic life in Serbia and the seeking of practical solutions that go through the filter of the private, public and civil sectors

It seemed to me then, as the first and only employee, that NALED was mission impossible, and that I was the conductor of an orchestra that had to sound harmonious and trained, although it had no musicians and no instruments. But what we did have was a powerful idea and a unique concept of cooperation between the public and private sectors that clearly leads us to a vision of a different Serbia. We ignored the inevitable suspicion of the environment and placed ourselves in the service of the public interest, in order for the NALED formula to come to life in practice.

Our programme and reform priorities are the common denominator of all of our members, which is reflected in the strength of NALED, as heterogeneous membership unerringly places in focus the most current topics of economic life in Serbia and the seeking of practical solutions that are never one-sided and which go through the filter of the private, public and civil sectors.

We want Serbia to be a better place to live and work, and we do not hesitate to get to grips with the most demanding systemic deficits in the business environment, in order to help in realising that goal. And I would say that this is where we are different. We’re not barren critics, rather agile and constructive partners who are ready to straighten their back and help solve major problems at the local and national levels. That’s why it is a special privilege for me that I am the coach of the NALED team and that I lead our team to new medals in the contest for a better business environment.

Introducing electronic building permits, shortening procedures for maternity leave and eliminating unnecessary bureaucracy in 70 other proceedings to be handled by the state, eliminating 138 para-fiscal levies and improving the position of Serbia on the World Bank’s Doing Business list – these are just some of the results that were contributed to by our nearly 240 members who have demonstrated that success goes hand in hand with responsibility, and that the general interest can and must be ahead of the individual’s.

From September issue of the CorD