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Jens Engeli, Regional Director for Eastern Europe, HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation

Supporting Serbia’s Reforms

Helvetas is an independent development organisation based in Switzerland and with over 100,000 active members in the country. It has a long history and track record in the Western Balkans dating back more than 20 years, and today Helvetas has offices in Albania, North Macedonia, Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina

“Our goal is to assist Serbia in selected areas in which the country faces some challenges and sees some needs, as well as where Switzerland has some expertise and relevant knowledge. We are working together with local partners to support reforms in Serbia on its path towards EU membership,” says Helvetas’ Jens Engeli

What was the main motive for your organisation to start activities in Serbia?

We worked in Serbia in the early years of the 2000s and came back in 2015. Our current support is focused on socio-economic development, as we believe these areas are of high importance for both Serbia and Switzerland. Our mission is to support poor and disadvantaged women, men and communities, in developing and transition countries, in their efforts to improve their living conditions. Together with our partners in Serbia – ranging from civil society organisations to the private and public sectors – we implement well defined and targeted projects of the Swiss Government.

What projects is Helvetas currently implementing in Serbia?

We are currently implementing two important projects of the Swiss Government. The first is “Property Tax Reform” and the second is “For an Active Civil Society Together – ACT”. These two projects have a combined financial value of over 10 million euros. The Property Tax Reform project aims to improve trust between citizens and local governments. We believe that through transparent tax management, combined with the national digital tax system – which was set up thanks to this project – we are contributing to the further harmonisation of the tax administration in Serbia.

We aim to strengthen civil society for it to have a better say and involvement in decision making and democratic processes

The project “For an Active Civil Society Together – ACT” aims to contribute to an active civil society for the benefit of all people and to increase citizens’ engagement in decision-making. The ACT programme is implemented by the consortium of Helvetas and the NGO “Civic Initiatives” and will support around 100 civil society organisations with different grants that are combined with tailored capacity building.

How will the projects that you are implementing bring change to some areas in Serbia?

One example is the Property Tax Reform project, which enabled the introduction of a national, unified, digital tax system, based on ICT-supported technology. Thanks to this system, citizens and companies can now pay property taxes online in one central location. In our ACT project, we are currently selecting civil society organisations that will receive institutional support as well as some more project-based grants to CSOs throughout the whole of Serbia. With this Swiss support we aim to strengthen civil society so that it can have a better say and involvement in decision making and democratic processes, mainly at the local level.

You came to live here a little less than a year ago. What did you expect and what did you get?

The great hospitality, high living standards, cultural life and, very importantly for my wife and I, the beautiful nature, ensure our stay here is a really pleasure. We are both well-established here, enjoying our time both professionally as well as personally, and we hope to make our contribution and profit from our time here over the years to come.

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