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Michela Telatin Ph.D., UNOPS Serbia Multi-Country Office Director

Together For A Sustainable Future

UNOPS is leading a new joint United Nations intervention in Serbia that aims to enhance local governance, social inclusion and environmental protection. Along with launching the Swiss-funded Joint UN Programme “PRO – Local Governance for People and Nature”, which is being supported by the Government of Serbia and implemented by several UN agencies, UNOPS is working across the Western Balkans to support countries in enhancing local development, social cohesion, rule of law and the environment on their EU accession path

This is a continuation of the UNOPS commitment to improving quality of life for Serbian citizens and addressing key issues, such as local governance, social inclusion and protection, environmental sustainability and community empowerment – emphasises UNOPS Serbia Multi-Country Office Director Michela Telatin.

During this ongoing global crisis that is placing a higher burden on more vulnerable communities, could you explain how UNOPS – through its latest collaboration with the Swiss Government – is addressing these issues in local communities?

In the face of global crises, our collaborative efforts have focused on strengthening the resilience of more vulnerable communities. Over the next four years, the new Swiss-funded Programme will provide technical assistance, capacity building and grant support for projects and various initiatives of local self-governments and civil society organisations to support vulnerable populations from 99 eligible cities and municipalities in Šumadija and Western, Eastern and Southern Serbia.

Through sustainable and inclusive interventions, we will contribute to improving local governance to enhance access to essential public services, including social protection, healthcare and education, while also promoting dialogue on environmental protection and empowering youth participation in the Green Agenda within local communities.

The Programme “PRO – Local Governance for People and Nature” benefits from our best practices after many years of contributing to these sectors. It is therefore able to offer a more complex and multi-faceted tangible impact on the wellbeing and prosperity of the Serbian population.

The new programme entails collaboration among several UN agencies on three key topics: local governance, social inclusion, and environmental protection. What benefits does this close cooperation bring; and who will be the main beneficiaries?

UNOPS, which has been traditionally engaged on local governance and social cohesion for over a decade, is now joining forces with UNFPA, UNICEF and UNEP to ensure the pooling of diverse expertise and resources in addressing complex challenges. This new setup will, together with the engagement of the UN Resident Coordinator, ensure a holistic and comprehensive approach to implementation of the programme, and also facilitate access to wider networks, amplifying the potential impact of our initiatives.

The purpose of UNOPS is to help people in building better lives and to help countries in achieving sustainable development

The key areas of support have also been identified in conversations with local stakeholders, who are also direct users of support: local self-governments, centres for social welfare, primary healthcare centres, preschool institutions and schools, as well as civil society organisations. The main beneficiaries of the programme will be citizens of all participating cities and municipalities, especially those from groups that have been left behind, with a focus on people with disabilities, Roma, children and families, youth and the elderly.

How many partners are currently collaborating with your organisation; and what other major UNOPS programmes and initiatives are there in Serbia?

UNOPS is currently implementing five projects in Serbia, with the funding and in support of the European Union, Switzerland, the European Investment Bank, UNHCR and the Government of Serbia. Along with the international actors funding the projects, our partners are the relevant Serbian government ministries responsible for the areas we work in, local self-governments, and national institutions.

The most prominent initiatives in Serbia include contributing to the creation of more balanced socio-economic development through the Programme EU PRO Plus and providing sustainable social housing solutions, accompanied with active inclusion measures for the most vulnerable population through the EU SHAI programme. We are also providing procurement support within the EU for the Rule of Law project, as well as technical advisory services for reconstructing clinical centres.

Along with our expertise, experience and capacities, I would single out one important trait of our approach: we are present at the local level not only through the implementation of our activities, but also through local offices in Niš, Novi Pazar and Vranje. Whereas all our projects contribute to global and national agendas, such as Serbia’s EU integration path, as well as the achieving of the Sustainable Development Goals and targets set nationally, we also strive to be close to the communities, to collaborate with them, and to translate their needs into viable projects that bring solutions.

As an office that’s also in charge of UNOPS operations in Montenegro, North Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, how do your expertise and capacities align with the needs and opportunities presented through regional cooperation?

The region is very diverse, but – at the same time – the countries are quite similar in terms of development priorities and challenges. Thanks to the experience we’ve acquired over more than 20 years of working in the Western Balkans, for and with local communities, we now have a comprehensive understanding of what citizens and local authorities need and aspire to, and how best to support them.

In North Macedonia, we have just launched a new project: EU for Clean Air, while we are continuing work on remediating one of the country’s most contaminated hot spots – the OHIS landfill, and continuing to provide support to the country’s EU accession and its negotiation process through a pool of experts that work directly with national institutions. In Montenegro, we are launching interventions supporting the sector of the rule of law and fundamental rights, together with the EU, while expanding our local level support through the assessing of school infrastructure. I’ve just returned from a mission to Bosnia-Herzegovina, where discussions are underway on how UNOPS can support the country by offering its expertise in project management, infrastructure, procurement, HR and financial management.

The purpose of UNOPS is to help people in building better lives and to help countries in achieving sustainable development. We believe that this purpose can find a new value in supporting transnational projects and regional cooperation in the Western Balkans, and we remain keen to explore the opportunities, partnerships and initiatives that will make the countries and the people stronger together.