Interview with Mr. Capajev Gjokutaj, Executive Director of the Open Society Foundation for Albania
Interviewed by Henri Cili
“Standard” Newspaper, Saturday 11.02.2006
Mr. Gjokutaj, the Soros Foundation in Tirana has entered a new stage of its existence marked by a shrinking of its traditional operations and moving to support the capacities of other civil society organizations. May I ask you to explain the “transformation” of the Office in Tirana and the purpose of this transformation?
Allow me to say that the syntagm “Office in Tirana” contained in your question does not sound well to my ear. The Foundation is an Albanian institution, not simply because of its registration with the Albanian Court of Law, but because it deals entirely with issues and problems faced by the Albanian society presently. It is led by an Executive Board comprised by Albanian intellectuals and for almost one decade now it employs Albanian staff only. Briefly, this is how we operate: The Executive Board formulates policies and defines the priority areas of the Foundation’s work. Based on their strategic guidance we apply for funding to the Open Society Institute founded by George Soros. At the same time, we are part of the network of Soros Foundations in almost 40 countries around the world, but this does not mean that this is a Local Office, the Tirana Office, of the Open Society Institute and much less George Soros’s Office.
The transformation that you mentioned aims to strengthen the Albanianism, so to say, of the new structure. Now the extended family that has been called the Network of Open Society for Albania comprises some of the most outstanding Albanian non-governmental organizations such as CoPlan, the Institute for Contemporary Studies, the Institute for Policy and Legal Studies, Mjaft, Partners Albania, the Institute for International Studies and the Center for European Studies. Obviously, the membership of such strong entities of the civil sector contributes to increasing the autochthonous character of the whole structure. Besides, a second aim for the creation of the network is to diversify sources of funding. In addition to receiving funds from George Soros, the network is expected to raise funds from other donors at quite ambitious ratios.
The transformation does not implicate any trace of self sacrifice, including the kind of self-sacrifice that may be commendable in epical settings: we are sacrificing ourselves so that others may thrive on our sacrifice. In its entire existence, the Foundation has been at the service of other subjects: non governmental organizations, schools, marginalized groups, local government units, grass root organizations, etc. This relates to the fact that the Foundation’s main function was to make grants to other entities in the Albanian society. In the new era, the Foundation will preserve its grant making function, albeit at a reduced scale. Therefore, initially the Foundation supported the extensive development of Albanian society and there was, as a result, a large number of beneficiaries across the entire board of organizations and entities. Presently, the Foundation’s intervention has become more focused, more intensive. We hope that results will be more focused and more intensive, too, and much more tangible, of course. Nevertheless, we are perfectly aware that this is not an easy challenge.
What kind of relationship do you have with the present government in view of the past history of open and/or concealed disagreements between Soros and Berisha? Or, has such legacy been dismissed as “all happening in the past”?
In this field, too, the Foundation’s approach is pragmatic. This year, for example, we plan to launch a project that we call the post fellowship. In 1999, the Foundation started a fellowship program to encourage Albanian graduates of overseas universities to return and seek employment in the public administration. The initiative proved to be successful: it facilitated the return to Albania of about 100 overseas graduates primarily through the topping off of their salaries. We are happy to note that the greatest number of those people are still with the central institutions in the country. Presently, jointly with IOM and UNDP we are working on a new initiative that, amongst ourselves, we call post fellowship. Those parts of the initiative to be implemented by the Foundation will be dedicated to the continuation of Soros’ long time investment to the strengthening of capacities within the public administration. Only this time, there will be no salary supplements and the resources of the post fellowship will be destined for technical assistance, networking and professional development schemes towards the strengthening of the country’s social capital. The project will also address legislation and institutional weakness for the purpose of creating a receptive environment for the overseas graduates who wish return to Albania. The initiative will target a limited number of ministries such as the ministries of foreign affairs, integration, economy and justice. The Municipality of Tirana, too, will be other major beneficiary from the post fellowship project.
Our partners in the Network of Open Society for Albania implement projects primarily in such areas as good governance, decentralization, rule of law, European integration, justice reform, civil society, etc.
However, when we work with the government, we always take the side of the citizen. It is for this reason that the Foundation has worked to establish citizen information offices, carry out stakeholder surveys, produce policy papers, enable the monitoring of government strategies, etc. In every case we choose to stand in protection and safeguard of citizens’ interest vis-à-vis the government.
In this context, the Network of Open Society for Albania is following closely the problems that have risen lately with regard to the implementation of reform, especially, relations between the various branches of government. We are ready to support actors from civil society and from among the society at large, to participate and contribute to the solution of these important issues.
In Albania, civil society has entered a new stage. Capacities and organizations have been strengthened. However, foreign donors are reducing their funding while local sources are still minimal or inexistent. Do you, Mr. Gjokutaj, see any warning signs of an impasse threatening civil society in Albania?
It is evident that a gridlock is being created which will mostly affect the NGO-s relying entirely on foreign funding. However, I do not think that civil society in the broad meaning of the word will enter an impasse. Take, for example, interest groups. Adversities or no adversities with regard to funding, they will continue to grow and strengthen relying ever more on their own financial, human and intellectual resources. Apparently, such organizations which are born in response to concrete needs and have set themselves the mission of protecting their own common interests are the ones with a secure future.