Lëviz Albania



Support to Individuals and informal groups – the Case of LevizAlbania Project

Support to Individuals and informal groups – the Case of LevizAlbania Project


Gentian Elezi, Knowledge Management Expert, LevizAlbania

Eriona Kaceli, Individual Grants Manager, LevizAlbania



This article tries to analyze and explain the features of LevizAlbania’s support to individuals and informal groups. By providing also a theoretical dimension and collection of experiences in this field, the present work offers a list of differencies between formal and informal groups, further focusing on the impact their interaction has on civic engagement and participation. To this scope, a summarized scheme is presented, aiming to a more useful structuring of the discussion on the topic. The article also focuses more concretely on the experiences of LevizAlbania in supporting individuals and informal groups, explaining in brief the features, positive aspects and encountered challenges. Finally, the article summarizes and lists few key recommendations that may be useful to individuals and informal groups, and in particular to the development partners and supporters of initiatives and projects proposed in the future.


The scope of this article is to explain and analyze individuals’ and informal groups’ involvement in the democratization of the country, focusing on the support provided by LevizAlbania to civic actors. In the Albanian society context LevizAlbania’s approach has been quite innovative, impacting gradually other projects or international partners. Such a strategy has in one side significantly increased the horizontal distribution of LevizAlbania’s impact countrywide, reaching out to territories and sectors not easily identifiable by supporters of civil society or of the democratization in general. On the other side, such approach has explored even more vertically Albanian society and communities, digging through individuals and active groupings that have a certain potential to impact in development of meaningful projects.

For this reason, an analysis that follows a long cycle of experiences of LevizAlbania, is necessary to understand the dynamics of the support provided to such an important and peculiar category in Albania. Firstly, the article explains in brief the differences between the formal and informal civil society, stopping to the existing literature and the findings of previous analysis, that have helped in the theoretization of the sector. We will try here to explain also the main features of the engagement of informal groups as compared to classic civil society organizations, by focusing in particular on the importance of the interaction of each party with the institutions and among each other.

Following, LevizAlbania’s specific experience with individuals and informal groups will be in the center of the next section. As mentioned, LevizAlbania has been pioneering this approach, tracing a path for involvement, engagement and empowerment of groups out of the usual interaction framework of the civil society in Albania. In this frame, the article tries to explain the concrete experience of LevizAlbania, stopping in particular in the lessons learned and the identified good practices. Mainly based on concrete results, this section deals with the obstacles and the challenges faced during the interaction and support of these groups.

Finally, the article provides few conclusions and concrete recommendations in relation to the role of informal groups and the specificities of the support provided to them for the democratization of the country. These recommendations are a result of the analysis performed based on a theoretical approach and the up-to-date accumulated experience of LevizAlbania’s practices.          

Features and importance of individuals and informal groups engagement

Participation and engagement of civil society (in its wider meaning), are now considered as a very important element for maintaining and promoting countries’ democratization level. The self organization of society and communities to support certain ideas, protect or request rights, or bring about change of public policies, significantly enriches public engagement, and influences better and more sustainable results of governance. This category of society (individuals and informal groups) comes in a variety of formats, each with a distinguished role and contribution, presenting different organizational and operational structures, including strategies and different instruments.

In developed countries, the presence of active informal groups and individuals in the society is not recent, representing a growing trend, in particular in the context of last decade developments and the globalization agenda. The need for activism and alliances, beyond national boundaries, has required such a flexibility and freedom of engagement and action that surpasses the classic formats of civil society organizations. However, in the case of Albania, such experiences have been sporadic and with a non consistent and even development in the territory. The strategy of LevizAlbania is successfully included here, leading to changes in the communities’ dynamics through a direct support of their actions and projects.

Differently from the civil society organizations, informal civil society, as defined in literature, is composed of less binding and less visible rules and alliances. This term is referred to the most organized elements of communities, easily identifiable by the inside, but often invisible for the ousiders. Rules of informal civil society are not as often transformed into formal rules that shape public engagement, as those of formal civil society. Differences in organization and structural patterns are the main element of distinguishing the two categories.

A further important element is the fact that, historically, formal civil society has been paid more attention, including their features and interaction with institutions. Despite their key role in improving everyday living, informal civil society is generally marginalized and has been very little in the focus of studies and analyzis. While for the formal civil society there exists a wide literature and a well-developed theoretical ground, for the informal civil society there is very little academic works and often conclusions are non-exhaustive. This category is also quite difficult to be monitored, measured or synthetized upon to drawing conclusions in relation to informal civil society, hence has remained in the shadows. However, each component has its own significant role in the society, as summarized in the following graph, making the topic worth analyzing more widely.


Firstly, civil society in its wider meaning, interacts in one hand with the non-organized part of the community (citizens), and on the other hand with the institutions. These two interactions have their own features and require different nature of approaches and engagement. Working with institutions requires formal structures, and standardized organization and processes. Under this optics knowledge management becomes also a necessity. This meeting point between society and institutions generates the creation of civil society organizations, as per relevant engagement sectors. The advantage of this category consists in the technical capacities to understand and speak the language of institutions, as well as in the capacity for structured organized actions.

On the other hand, when civil society widely interacts with the citizens and the non-organized communities, there are often generated pockets of informal civil society or incentivated individuals with distinguished tendency for engagement and activism, as it is shown in the above graph. This is in fact the important role played by LevizAlbania, functioning as an organization that has supported and incentivized the coming out of these groups from the community in general, and their positioning into the category of engaged informal groups. The relation between these two spaces is highly important, as both assist each other and strengthen democracy. In this sense, civil society benefits from an increased representation legitimacy and more data from the field, improving the results of their engagement and strengthening their action, with a wider participation. Furthermore, the community and citizens benefit from the experience of the civil society organizations, having the opportunity to learn skills and familiarize with instruments to carry forward their batlle with the institutions. This process of socialization and transfer of knowledge serves to enable individuals to mobilize other groups/individuals for their own causes. Such interaction serves also to create what in the literature is defined as informal civil society (see graph).

As concerns the interaction with institutions, civil society in the wider sense, goes through a necessary structuring, becoming civil society organizations and dialoguing party with state structures and policymakers. The inteserection between institutions and civil society requires formalized actors that understand the language of “state” and of public policies and that can be effectively involved in institutional processes. This is the reason why the role of these organizations is often in materialized as a mediator and transmitter of community voices to decisionmakers. There are however, plenty of cases when a community directly interacts with the institutions, producing elites or community leaders. These individuals that represent a non-structered and non wellorganized community, have often the abilities to create the necessary space for raising the voice in the benefit of their pertaining territory or topic. These practices result useful for quite specific thematics, while loosing effectivity if aiming general activism.

Lastly, the ideal format is combining interaction among state actors, civil society, and communities, which brings an effective participation. Combining actions among the three components brings in the table the qualities and peculiarities of each party, contributing to an increased and comprehensive participation and in a structured and representative dialogue among them. This approach has been often strategically adopted by LevizAlbania, in particular in the frame of the calls where there was required an engagement of informal groups and individuals with civil society organizations, to address certain issues to the local authorities.

The graph presented above summarizes the dynamics and the results of interaction between parties, however there are still some additional positive qualities that individuals and informal groups introduce in the areas of public engagement and democratization. Firstly, these actors bring a horizontal approach covering more territory and more sectors than the civil society organizations can cover. The latests, have usually in their statutes, a defined area of action and often limit their activities also from a geographical perspective. Meanwhile, informal groups and individuals demonstrate some advantages in this regard. Secondly, parallel to the horizontal component, informal groups have also this feature of fluidity in their activity. While organizations have standardized structures and processes, often dictated also by the need to engage in certain projects and their respective regulations, informal groups can easily adapt to the needs in the territory and to the possible changes of the topic they aim to address. Lastly, informal groups have a more practical approach, by directly engaging into initiatives and actions. While mobilization, strengthening and organization of communities is a function of the organizations, individuals and informal groups are more relatable to the territory and the direct impact.

Despite the advantages, informal groups and active individuals demonstrate certain limitations and difficulties. Even though informal groups may rely on the support of a variegated membership coming around one cause, this may lead into misunderstandings and conflictualities that can inflate and undermine the mobilization efforts per se. From this point of view, precisely one of their strengths, i.e. flexibility and lack of a rigid structure, can become a weakness. In additional, considering the difficulty of collective decisionmaking, informal groups face more challenges in establishing strategic coalitions with other groups. This weakens the potential and impact of their activism, due to mismobilization of necessary capacities and energies. Further more, informal groups have less access in the dialogue with policymakers, presenting themselves as more disocieted from potential forums and structured public consultations.

LevizAlbania’s experience and lessons learned

In its vision and strategy, LevizAlbania has always maintained a comprehensive approach in supporting all societal actors, including individuals and informal groups. This novelty, as described above, has brought about some interesting developments, concrete impact and incentivizing activists throughout the country. Along its activity in Albania with the civil society, LevizAlbania has supported with grants for projects implemented in their pertaining territories, 76 individuals and 25 informal groups, through its instruments of Call for Applications and Rapid Response. Out of all this experience accumulated through the different calls for applications and the implemented projects, there are some elements that have turned this in an important practice for increasing civic engagement outside the context of civil society organizations.

Firstly, idea competition has been one of the most effective componenets for capacitating engaged individuals and informal groups and increasing their trust in activism. During these events, individuals have come into contact with other activists, being able to listen to and learn on new ideas, as well as acquiring new skills in presenting and advocating for their causes. Without looking to structure the participants, the competition has provided ample space for individuals and a variety of ideas, inceasing their visibility. 203 individuals and 47 informal groups have been part of and have presented in the idea competitions.

Secondly, yet another very useful practice from a project implementation prespective has been the opportunity to mentor individuals and informal groups. This approach of the project has resulted necessary in some aspects. The learning process on planning, mobilization and advocacy has served to increase individuals’ skills, affecting the sustainability and the continuity of their activism. Additionally, a more effective socialization and mobilization has helped to increase visibility and the scale of mobilization in the community. Considering that one of the weaknesses of individual grantees has often been the lack of experience in project implementation, it has been a challenge for them to cope with administrative and burocratic aspects of projects; hence the presence of a mentor at disposal has been an important feature, which has assured a smother project implementation and impact. All projects implemented by individuals and informal groups have benefited from the mentoring frame, making possible that the majority of them could fulfill project objectives and achieve the results.

Thirdly, engagement in structured projects has helped individuals to be exposed to new approaches and to benefit from strategically thinking in relation to their stated objectives. Having them freely define the implementation methodologies and adapting to the context, has enabled them also to acquire the necessary knowledge on the functioning of institutions, donors, organizations, etc. This acquired knowledge will benefit them in the longterm, to increase the efficasity of their actions. It should not be neglected the fact that being exposed to project implementation processes, might lead towards a certain structuring, but it results in a better management of the community actions they carry out.

All the three abovementioned elements have been very important to their individual and professional grow, adding necessary skills that can be used in future similar initiatives.

Another lesson learned from the LevizAlbania experience concerns the participation of individuals and informal groups in informative and discussion platforms on various thematics related to local democracy, providing this way plenty of information through concrete examples. 16 informative and discussion platforms have been organized, providing more in-depth knowledge on various instruments (such as: on-line petitions; vullnetarizem.al, etc.) and an increased networking to continue civic engagement, socialization and increased sustainability of their engagement.

In parallel to benefits, the experience of LevizAlbania in supporting individuals, teaches us some useful lessons. Despite the positive aspects and learnings from the project formats, and despite the support provided through mentoring, individuals and informal groups have often had difficulties in adapting to the modalities of project implementation and the deadlines of project activities. As representatives of the communities and not familiarized with project dynamics, they have faced challenges in project implementation, being somewhat overloaded with administrative issues. Dealing with such issues is obligatory due to the project implementation rules, however it should be considered that such rules might decourage certain individuals and informal groups to approach and engage with LevizAlbania.

Another challenge evidenced during project implementation, particularly by individuals, cocnerns the limited resources and capacities of such category as compared to the more consolidated organizations. This concerns in particular contacting and coordination with local authorities, referring mostly to delays in institutional responses, provision of official information, which affect the timely achievement of results in line with project schedule.  

Conclusions and recommendations for the future

In general, support to individuals and informal groups has resulted a very successful and useful experience for LevizAlbania and the context in which it operated. Being able to engage unregistered individuals and informal groups, has filled in a gap which has characterized the activism and democratization sector. LevizAlbania has created a very good practice in this regard, drawing lessons and designing useful and applicable formats.

There is a need to disseminate and incentivize use of this model among other donors and development agencies n the country. LevizAlbania’s experience, the idea competitions, training, mentoring, and the whole knowledge frame created to this scope, should serve to other actors that are open minded in considering support beyond civil society organizations.

There is a need to newtworking and cooperation/exchange among individuals and informal groups, which is an mportant element for assuring sustainability of their engagement in communities. It has been often observed an individual and casual activism, on secific topics, without a continuous engagement. Interconnection with other similar actors and exposure to other topics, may present opportunities and space for an increased engagement and participation.

LevizAlbania experience with individuals has demonstrated that often such engagements bring about considerable change not only in ones understanding of the outer environment and abilities of engagement, but also extends to other actors that participate in the project. To this regard, supporting individuals and informal groups should be strategically considered also as a democratic education process of great impact, beyond the specific project and its specific results. That is why such approach should be continuously paid particular attention.

Establishing and using “mentoring” as an instrument in the frame of individuals grant scheme has resulted very important not only from a project’s implementation optics, but also in building of individuals’ capacities and continuation of their activism in the communities they represent. Such instrument has been present throughout projects timelines, has not necessarily been samely applied for all grantees. It has rather been tailored to the needs and the capacities of each grantee. By building individuals’ capacities in management, advocacy, organizational behaviour, etc., an individual builds the trust to further causes, raise the voice and acquire more legitimacy in the communities they represent.

About LevizAlbania

LevizAlbania is a local democracy project of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) implemented by a consortium of (i) Open Society Foundation for Albania (OSFA), (ii) Partners Albania and (iii) Co-Plan. Since 2015, LA has contributed to improve local democracy, through support to non-for-profit organizations (NPO), informal groups and individuals, by supporting their demand for a transparent and accountable local governance and efficient public services. The project supports coalition building to incentivize systemic and structural changes at local and national level and to promote good practices in support to local democracy.

Knowledge Management System and the Civic Engagement Platform

The Knowledge Management and Civic Engagement Platform of LevizAlbania aims to collect, structure and capitalize the contribution and achievements of LA during the last 6 years. At the same time, this exercise scrutinizes the challenges faced by Lëviz Albania in achieving its objectives, as well as the challenges of the grantees and the wider context of local democracy. Knowledge management analyzes the internal and external processes of LA and conceptualizes the establishment of mechanisms based on identified needs. Such choosen approach aims to improve the effectivity of new projects and to root a culture of systematic and structured use of acquired knowledge, by using the established instruments and mechanisms (the platform). The Knowledge Management System and the Civic Engagement Platform contribute to increase the effectiveness of interventions and enables a deep analysis of and an overview of challenges for the support of local democracy and civic engagement. Engaged experts by LevizAlbania: Blerjana Bino and Gentian Elezi.


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