Haki Abazi is programme director for the Western Balkans area of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund’s Pivotal Place programme. Prior to joining the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) in 2007, Abazi served as director of the Kosovo* office of the East-West Management Institute. Abazi developed and implemented a wide range of programmes addressing critical issues in Kosovo* during the transition period. He has also played an important role in the development of civil society in the region. Abazi has over nine years of experience in designing and managing development programmes in Kosovo*, Serbia, Montenegro, Afghanistan and Indonesia. These programmes were designed to support overall development and increase the level of participation of citizens in decision-making processes. He also chairs the Steering Committee of the Grantmakers East Forum and serves on the boards of several international organisations.
Which factors came into play when deciding to offer long-term financial support for REC projects and activities?
In our case, this refers both to the Green Pack and developing tools for sustainable development. One of the major themes of our work is sustainable development achieved through democratic practice and peace building. What the REC has developed is an expertise that is pretty unique, but it also has the ability to reach out to the region where [the RBF] works in the Western Balkans. And our priority is to support changes in social behaviour, as well as the approaches of both government and civil society, in terms of resources and the environment. So things kind of came together in one place, and it was, so to speak, a natural marriage between the REC and the RBF. Things just fell into sync in terms of working together. I also think that the REC has developed an excellent relationship with both civil society and government in the countries where we work, which is an additional aspect of why the REC is a natural partner for what we do.
What are your main interests in working in the CEE region?
Viewed in a broader framework, Central and Eastern Europe — including the Western Balkans — has been challenged historically in terms of being geographically a part of Europe but never fully part of the political map of Europe. So, backing the European integration process — which is not just a process involving technicalities, but one involving real reforms — means providing real support to people and countries to go through the reform process successfully so that these populations can enjoy the full range of rights and benefits of the European Union political system. And some of the membership criteria are related to changes and reforms connected to the environment, energy, resources and the way that planning is done and so forth.
The idea for this particular project was, instead of trying to change the older generations — who have gone through a lot of difficulties in the past — we thought, along with the REC, that it would be a much safer investment to get into the schools, ministries of education and other relevant ministries and to begin a process of reforming and amending educational curricula in the region. But to do this you have to provide enough skills and good information to teachers and students to get them to think differently about the environment and to think differently about environmental policies that countries put in place, which is obviously interlinked with every other subject and field of work — but mainly in terms of economic development and law. In a way, having an underdeveloped region is an advantage because we don’t have to repeat the mistakes of other regions in order to realise just how valuable the environment and natural resources are — not only for the current generation but future generations as well.
Do you generally prefer to have direct involvement in funded programmes, or do you prefer taking a hands-off approach?
It really depends. Our work is characterised by partnership relationships, rather than a typical donor–grantee relationship. It’s not that we just sign off on the check and then say “See you in two years”, whatever the project. It’s more about how we utilise the best other grants and networks and partners that we have within the same project, because I think at the end of the day we talk about the same group of people and the same group of institutions. There are local organisations that work with different approaches on the ground, and then you have the REC that takes a more regional approach, so we’re able to take advantage and utilise different aspects of work — and other donors do this as well so we’re not alone in the region. And the REC has many other donors as well. So I think having this spirit of partnership and being able to exchange information as the project goes on has proved to be a lot more useful, not only because the understanding is better but also no matter how much we invest in predicting the whole time span of a project, there are needs for recalibrations depending on a change of government or something that for one reason or other doesn’t go well — and I think the partnership relationship allows that.
What pops into your mind when you hear the name “REC”?
What pops into my mind is an organisation that is fully committed and has unique expertise to address environmental issues in the region.
* This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.