PEP International in cooperation with Sida launched the PERA project in Bosnia & Herzegovina in September 2008 with the aim to establish procedures and practices that would strengthen the communication between villages and their local governments.
The project was based on a set of democratic principles in line with the BiH governmental strategy on local governing to increase the involvement of citizens in the decision making. The timeframe for the direct implementation of the project was 3 years plus the preparation, evaluation and reporting period, thus it covers the period from September 2008 until April 2012.
The original goal of the PERA project was sustainable development of rural villages in BiH, which ultimately would lead to improved quality of life in a number of rural villages in line with observation made by UNDP and NHDR in 2007. The three-year operational objectives of the PERA project were:
- Structured communication is established and sustained between village councils and Local Governments.
- Measurable positive changes on issues of local governing are verified and documented in the villages.
- Projects of public service nature are completed through the cooperation of villages and local governments within the targeted areas.
- The targeted local governments are actively disseminating the practices established by the project through their municipal association.
Early 2009 a Memorandum of Understanding were signed between PEP International and 20 municipalities to target 3-7 villages within each municipality and jointly work towards the goal of improving the communication with these villages.
The main challenge for the project was to overcome the apathy and distrust so widely visible in the rural communities. From 100 villages originally invited for cooperation already 4 dropped out during the first few weeks of implementation mainly due to their internal apathy and distrust towards each other.
The remaining 96 villages formed formal cooperation with PEP International and went through a set of capacity building activities. These activities focused on; establishing formalities around citizens gatherings, problem identification and prioritization, project planning, financing and finance control and finally monitoring and evaluation of actions. All main decisions on the cooperation with PEP and the internal organisation within each village were established at openly published village meeting attended by 15-30% of the population in each village. The basic idea for the project was introduced and the possibility to receive a grant amount of 5.000 € + VAT for each village that would complete the processes and develop their own idea on what is the most important for the village. PEP staff emphasised that each idea should focus on joint and un-discriminated benefits for the whole community and that the whole village would contribute financially to the solution of their idea. At these joint meetings every village appointed a workgroup that would lead the process regardless of their village organisation before.
Following the capacity building exercise all partner villages could apply the methods they had been introduced to and approach PEP for a financial support to realise their ideas. Only precondition by PEP International was that the project should be of public service nature and that the Local Government would have to guaranty that the legality, technical solution and ownership were clear and acceptable.
The main results in terms of development objectives, verified through the repeated studies, are as follows:
- In all 20 municipalities, 2-3 contact persons were assigned to the project to secure constructive communication with the targeted villages. This has led to a much better understanding among the municipalities of the potentials and resources within their villages.
- In all partner municipalities repeated studies show a steady increase in the directly targeted villages in terms of involvement of citizens, women inclusion and general communication between villages and their authorities. This has increased optimism and reduced the apathy and distrust recorded among citizens in the targeted villages at the beginning.
- In 93 villages, projects of public service nature have been prioritised and planned in open meetings in the villages, which then selected the work groups, and implemented in direct partnership with the Local Government. The whole process has increased the transparency and communication between villages and their municipal authorities. Direct and formal communication practises have been established and in many municipalities functioning mechanism is now in place to secure better communication with the villages.
- The municipal associations have publicly identified the PERA project and the partners involved as major contributor to the development of Local Government strategies on the involvement of citizens in the decision making processes. Practices established through PERA are now being referred to as constructive and productive tools to strengthen the communication with citizens.
In addition to these direct results related to the original objectives PEP International initiated in September 2011 a Villages Gathering in Sarajevo with the aim of establishing a foundation for continued cooperation and communication between rural villages in Bosnia & Herzegovina. This meeting highlighted the success of the project as more than 130 people representing almost all PERA partner villages and municipalities met and expressed their interest and commitment to continue building on their experience and to form a nation wide network of villages organisations based on the groundwork established by PEP.
 Social exclusion is a process whereby certain individuals or groups are driven to the edge of society, prevented from living a decent life with full participation in society due to ethnic origin, age or gender differences, disability, financial hardship, lack of formal employment and opportunities, and/or lack of education. This distances them from access to health and social services, as well as social and community networks and activities. They have little or no access to power and decision-making and are thus unable to have any control over decisions that affect their daily lives (UNDP, NHDR 2007).