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Only Inclusive Societies can Grow Sustainably

Inclusiveness, equity, gender balance and respect for nature represent the core values woven into all SIDA-supported projects. In striving to foster a society that leaves no one behind, SIDA draws on Swedish and EU values as guiding principles in its efforts to aid Serbia’s development

We often touch on initiatives that are aided by diverse donors in our conversations, yet we seldom explore the fundamental philosophies guiding their support. During our discussion with Jakob Granit, Director General of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), we delve deep into SIDA’s overarching intervention principles, alongside the Swedish and EU values driving this agency’s sustained backing of reforms. This interview makes it clear that these interventions frequently adopt innovative methodologies and digital tools in an effort to optimise efficacy, precision and outreach.

After many years of discussing the emigration of Serbian citizens, we are now talking about circular migration and your support for talented young Serbs coming home after forging successful careers abroad. What does this project entail and what is the logic behind it?

— The project’s primary objective is to cultivate an environment that nurtures innovation and prosperity by actively involving the Serbian diaspora, facilitating the return of skilled individuals and promoting innovative economic opportunities.

Excessive emigration presents a serious challenge, with potentially significant development consequences for a country. It causes disruptions in labour, healthcare, pension and other large public systems; it exacerbates regional developmental differences, depletes human capital for innovation and development; and changes environmental conditions in specific areas. That’s why circular migration can contribute to Serbia’s sustainable and inclusive development.

The project is being implemented by Returning Point and UNDP, both of which already have some experience of approaching depopulation in this manner. What do you see as a particular Swedish approach that may further enhance the efficacy of this initiative?

The Swedish government sees important synergies between development cooperation and migration, which should strengthen the positive impacts of returning migrants. Development not only encompasses economic growth, but should also ensure that the benefits are shared equitably among all segments of society, including marginalised groups. Leaving no one behind is a purpose in all Swedish development cooperation.

The National Academy for Public Administration (NAPA) receives support from SIDA in offering cutting-edge training to over 77,000 civil servants nationwide

An environment conducive to innovation and prosperity can be created by engaging with the Serbian diaspora, facilitating the return of skilled individuals and promoting innovative economic opportunities. This enabling environment will also encourage members of the diaspora to participate in Serbia’s development efforts.

Could you elaborate on any potential challenges or obstacles that SIDA anticipates encountering during the project’s execution, particularly in relation to depopulation and migration dynamics in Serbia?

— The success of this project depends on actors like the government and the diaspora expressing an interest in participating and engaging. There are then many factors that must be considered. It is important to understand why people migrate from a country in the first place, and then to address these root causes. Additionally, a country needs to deliver on its social contract in order to retain young and talented people. This means investing in the environment, healthcare, education, the level of freedom and social inclusion, as well as socioeconomic equality.

Given the significant Serbian diaspora in Sweden, how does SIDA envisage leveraging their expertise and resources to enhance this project’s effectiveness?

— We certainly hope that the Serbian diaspora in Sweden will be interested in engaging in this project and sharing their insights and possible learnings from living in Sweden. We now need to reach out and inform them about the project.

How does the Circular Migration project align with SIDA’s broader goals and objectives for development cooperation in Serbia?

— All Swedish development cooperation in Serbia aims to support Serbia’s EU accession, focusing on democracy and human rights, peace, environment, and inclusive economic development. We cooperate with different actors in the Serbian society, such as civil society, international organisations, academia and institutions, to implement our development assistance, while we also involve and coordinate with the private sector when suitable. For example, support to EU accession reforms is prioritised and addressed in all projects, including this Circular Migration project. Through its various activities and objectives, the circular migration project will play a role in supporting Serbia’s EU accession process. The project activities address key areas related to governance, economic development, inclusivity and alignment with EU standards and values.

Another fundamental aspect of EU membership is the EU’s free movement principle, which allows citizens of EU member states to move freely within the EU for the purposes of work, study or retirement. This project is a step towards realising this principle.

What major successes have you observed in your support for the three thematic fields of administration training for officials, more effective policing and increased transparency in the justice system?

When it comes to the continued development of officials and our support to the National Academy for Public Administration (NAPA), I think the ability to provide cutting-edge training is worth mentioning. Modern learning techniques like e-learning have been introduced and NAPA’s courses have been designed to meet the specific needs of civil servants, like training in EU-related topics, ethics for civil servants, anti-corruption etc. These have been attended by more than 77,000 public civil servants from across the country.

Turning to justice sector reform, I believe that our support has contributed to Serbia’s steady progress in areas such as the improved independence and efficiency of the courts, including the reduction of backlogs and the introduction of more streamlined judicial procedures. There has also been improvement in the quality of court services, enhanced institutional capacities, increased use of evidence-based strategies and decision-making in the justice sector, and improved access to justice.

I would like to mention in particular the project on improved public procurement implemented by the NALED organisation. This is a project that aims to support competitiveness and private sector led growth in Serbia. One interesting part of the project is the development of the Regulatory Index of Serbia (RIS). This is a tool that provides insight into the predictability and stability of the Serbian regulatory framework. RIS assesses the whole law-making process, from the preparation of a law, through the method of adoption, the speed and cost of implementation, to the final monitoring of its effects, pointing to possible systemic flaws in its various segments. RIS identifies continued challenges in relation to efficacy in the implementation of laws and the administrative burden related to the implementation of the law on companies.

We prioritise Serbia’s green transition by supporting projects aimed at aligning environmental standards with EU requirements, controlling industrial pollution and enhancing biodiversity, water protection and climate resilience

Cooperation between the Serbian and Swedish police started as far back as 2004. The project focuses on core police activities, such as the establishment of a National Forensic Training Centre and a Quality Management System for Crime Scene Investigations. It has also improved the collection of evidence and cross-sectoral cooperation in cases of gender-based violence and introduced Intelligence-Led Policing as a management model in all regional police directorates. This cooperation has grown to become a mutually- rewarding partnership benefitting both the Serbian and Swedish police forces.

I would also like to take this opportunity to mention our support to gender equality. Sweden is among the world’s most gender equal countries and we are proud to have contributed to increased gender equality in Serbia. The Serbian Government adopted the Strategy for Preventing and Combating Gender-based Violence against Women and Domestic Violence for the 2021-2025 period with support from the Swedish funded project Integrated Response to Violence against Women and Girls in Serbia. This project has also contributed to initiating a full legal ban on child marriage and on corporal punishment against children, as well as several other important initiatives.

As the leading supporter of environmental protection in Serbia, where do you primarily focus your efforts and investments?

— Sweden currently provides direct support to the Ministry of Environmental Protection in three projects. Firstly, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency is providing expert technical support to the Ministry in strengthening its capacities to address Chapter 27 of the accession negotiation process. The aim is to align Serbia’s environmental protection and climate change standards and policies with EU requirements.

Secondly, we support the project Green Transition: Implementing Industrial Emissions Directive, which is being implemented by the Centre for Cleaner Production within the scope of the University of Belgrade in order to improve the prevention and control of industrial pollution. Thirdly, as part of the broader EU for Green Agenda in Serbia initiative, Sweden finances the project EU for Green Agenda in Serbia: Protecting and Investing in Biodiversity and Water for Enhanced Climate Resilience. This Project focuses on biodiversity, watercourses and wetlands, as well as climate resilience in Serbia by improving the legislative and policy framework and by supporting further work on nature- based solutions.


Development doesn’t only encompass economic growth, but should also ensure that the benefits are shared equitably among all segments of society, including marginalised groups


Sweden is among the world’s most gender equal countries and we are proud to have contributed to increased gender equality in Serbia


A country must fulfil its social contract by investing in the environment, healthcare, education, freedom, social inclusion and socioeconomic equality to retain young and talented individuals