On Tuesday, July 11, 2023, the conference “Enhancing Local Economic Development Planning through Inter-Municipal Cooperation” took place in Niš, organized by the Center for Advanced Economic Studies (CEVES) in collaboration with the Regional Development Agency South. It was the first out of three events that will be organized by the “SDGs for All” Platform with aim to initiate the exchange of experiences and knowledge among municipalities and cities throughout Serbia about the localization of SDGs and their integration into local planning documents. The event assembled representatives from the local self-governments of Nišava, Pirot, Zaječar, Toplica and Jablanica districts, as well as central-level institutions, development projects, civil society organizations, and agencies.
The conference began with a presentation of the results of a questionnaire concerning the organizational and functional capacities of local self-governments in four districts of South and East Serbia, essential for the development planning process. The presentation was conducted by Tatijana Pavlović Križanić, expert in local economic development. The recommendations derived from the questionnaire’s responses focused on improving the sustainability of the planning system, enhancing inter-municipal collaboration, and fostering cooperation with the private sector and civil society organizations.
The first panel addressed the state of development planning in the local self-governments in line with the principles of the 2030 Agenda. Panelists included Anja Stančić, a senior advisor in the Cabinet of the Minister for European Integration; Sanja Mešanović, Deputy Director of the Public Policy Secretariat; Milena Radomirović, Director for the Planning System and Public Finances at the Standing Conference of Towns and Municipalities; Marija Đošić, Head of the Local Economic Development Office in the City Administration of Pirot, and Nataša Vučković, General Secretary of the “Center for Democracy” Foundation. The panelists agreed that further efforts are needed to strengthen the capacity of local self-governments in creating and implementing planning documents, standardizing these processes, prioritizing objectives in planning documents, and ensuring predictable funding for local self-governments.
The second panel focused on showcasing examples of good and/or alternative practices in sustainable development planning. Among the panelists were Dragana Stojanović, Director of the Regional Development Agency South; Viktor Veljović, Manager of the EU Pro Plus Capacity Development Sector; Ivan Pavlović, Head of the Development Planning and Project Management Sector at LEDO Niš; Dragan Mančev, a member of the Municipal Council for Economy and Agriculture in Dimitrovgrad; and Luka Milovanović, Program Assistant at the BFPE Foundation for Responsible Society. During the panel, the RDA South presented the initiative to form regional councils that would actively collaborate with local self-governments. These councils, focusing on business and investment, infrastructure, agriculture and rural development, as well as social development, should provide concrete assistance to local self-governments by identifying common issues and developing initiatives addressed to decision-makers and donors that contribute to the joint development of local communities. The panel emphasized the significance of a participatory approach in defining territorial and local community priorities, as well as the importance of considering the realistic capabilities of local self-governments and utilizing the existing knowledge and capacities of development organizations and other stakeholders in sustainable local development.
Based on the discussions held during the conference, CEVES will prepare a document containing conclusions and recommendations that will define further work on enhancing local economic development planning. The document will serve as a foundation for future inter-municipal exchange events within the “SDGs for All” Platform.