Bridging the gap: Involving Roma in civil society organizations

Bratislava, Slovakia – 24 January 2013 –
Roma civil society organizations (CSOs) and pro-Roma non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Central and Southeast Europe have frequently called attention to human rights violations, social exclusion, territorial segregation, and inadequate civic and political representation of Roma. However, at national level and especially at local grassroots level, the vast majority of marginalized Roma communities remain detached from CSO activities. 


Research underscores the need to rethink and restructure the financial and human resources with which these CSOs function in order to better implement high-impact projects. The CSOs’ modes of operation need to better reflect the real needs and expectations of beneficiary communities, as well as the changing roles and relationships between state and civil society actors. 


Social capital is particularly important for Roma inclusion. Survey data suggest that the most disadvantaged local Roma and their non-Roma neighbours rely mostly on close, informal networks—friends, family members and relatives. 


Roma who would turn to NGOs/CSOs for money in case of emergency
Sources: UNDP Roma Regional Survey, 2004; UNDP/WB/EC Roma Regional Survey, 2011. >> See larger version


The CSOs’/NGOs’ detachment from their target beneficiaries in Roma communities suggested by these survey data could be due to the fact that few have been successful in engaging significant numbers of Roma as employees.


"How many staff members in your organization are Roma?" Source: UNDP 2012


These data point towards serious gaps in civic engagement on behalf of Roma inclusion. In many cases better career prospects drain the grass-roots capacities of civil society at the community level. Because Roma CSOs are often not present there in a meaningful way, their place is taken by non-Roma actors. While they may do good work, they may not necessarily contribute to building local communities’ capacities to respond to the challenges they face.


The majority of bilateral donors have left the region, so EU funding has become a decisive instrument for financing Roma activities. However, there are concerns about disproportionate bureaucratic burdens, constantly changing rules, liquidity and cash flow issues, and that the levels of procedural expertise and the volumes of own financial resources needed effectively exclude many Roma NGOs from these programmes.



Many Roma NGOs perceive EU institutions as allies in their fight against discrimination and social exclusion, while national governments are more often seen as pursuing policies that disadvantage Roma. The closer Roma NGOs get to EU decision-making and funds, the further they become from the needs and the realities of their intended beneficiaries. As a result, the voices of local Roma communities are not heard. 



Greater emphasis should be paid to integrating Roma programming into national development planning and EU operational programmes, including:

- More effective methodologies to align national and European policy frameworks for Roma inclusion with reality;

- Involving Roma NGOs in the consultation processes;

- Reflecting the principles of Roma inclusion in national mechanisms by which EU funds are allocated;

- National government should create less bureaucratic grant schemes and flexible funds for community projects from the EU.


Regional support facilities should be developed, including the:

- Provision of expertise and technical support for grassroots Roma NGOs, to strengthen their roles in the implementation and monitoring of national Roma integration strategies; 

- Establishment of an international civil society steering group.


There should also be:

- Capacity development for local CSOs through direct institutional support;

- Stronger incentives for local level engagement.


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