May 21, 2014 : Alison Cairns

We could learn a thing or two from Slovenia & not just about beekeeping

Slovenian civil society is seeing great results from its much more direct challenge to the private sector

I have just returned from Ljubljana in Slovenia where I was speaking at a conference run by our sister council, the Centre for information service, co-operation and development of NGOs (CNVOS). The relationship between civil society and industry was top of the agenda, so it was no surprise that we spent most of the day talking about money.

Corporate giving, donations, industry foundations and funding rounds, venture philanthropy and business deals were all covered. Not too different to any conference in the UK then, you might be thinking and in many ways it wasn’t. But that was very reassuring in an odd way.

In Slovenia the sector has long been focussed on its relationship with government, and rightly so. It has had to work hard in a short space of time to establish the third sector as a key social partner and to give it a legislative framework to flourish under.

What I did find different was the direct, open challenge to industry to do something different with its business and profits to help shape the kind of society that Slovenian civil society wants to see and the call to do this in partnership with civil society.

I think we are less sure of our relationship with private and public companies here. Some of us don’t want one. But non-private money in Slovenia is thin on the ground and that has forced different kinds of partnerships.

I particularly liked the partnership between the Beekeeping Association of Slovenia and the biggest out of town retail developer in Slovenia. The retail parks agreed to put bee-friendly gardens and flower boxes on all their roofs. For those of you who don’t know, bees are central to our ecology and are fast becoming an ecological emergency. The shopping centre also sold bee-friendly plants, roof boxes and little information cards.

This might not be for everyone but we need to try to find solutions and escape a state of permanent angst. Slovenian civil society certainly gets that.

Sharing how we do things across Europe is still an untrodden path for Scotland’s third sector. We have much to learn from them and we have much to give too. I want to see lots more collaboration with our colleagues across Europe and achieve that critical mass required to make change happen.

The European elections take place tomorrow, so it’s the perfect time to ask your candidate what they are going to do for civil society in Europe? Ask them if they will work to support more participation for civil society in decision-making and the political institutions of Europe? If Europe wants to be closer to its citizens, then the European Parliament and civil society must work closer together.

If you are interested in transnational working across Europe email Europe@scvo.org.uk .

Important: Opinions expressed by bloggers are their own and don't represent those of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.

by Alison Cairns