More than 200 participants joined us for the third, last day of the sixteenth NALAS General Assembly. The day encompassed two very inspiring events, focused on sustainable local economic development, by leaving no one behind.

Conference: Sustainable Local Economic Development in South-East Europe

Mr. Alexander Lesigang, Policy Officer for International Relations of the Austrian Association of Cities and Towns and Ms. Valentina Casian, Mayor of Straseni and CALM Vice-President opened the conference on Sustainable Economic Development.

Mr. Alexander Lesigang talked about local governments as catalysts for change and accelerators of development and innovation. In the same time, local governments play an important role in making the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) a reality.

“Two thirds of the SDGs cannot be achieved without local governments. Austria holds the 7th place in implementing SDGs globally. Still, our main challenges remain SDGs 9, 11, 13 and 17. Sustainable development is a process where permanent efforts are needed. Localising SDGs help Austrian local governments in their daily work”, said Mr. Lesigang.

Ms. Valentina Casian presented the Initiative of Mayors for Economic Growth which she leads.  Improving the local infrastructure, strong education, business incubators, a free economic zone, appropriate relations with investors and marketing of the locality were Straseni’s keys to success in sustainable local economic development. “During the COVID-19 crises, we went a step further, decreasing the administrative burdens, professional counselling and organisation of local producers”, said Ms. Casian.


The panel discussion included the valuable inputs of:

  • Ivo Dimov, Mayor of Dimitrovgrad, Bulgaria;
  • Nikolae Dandis, Mayor of Cahul, Moldova and CALM Vice President;
  • Džemal Lekić, Director of the Information System Center of the City of Podgorica, Montenegro;
  • Michael Samec, Project Leader, GIZ; and
  • Amandine Sabourin, Policy and Advocacy Officer, of CEMR/PLATFORMA

Mr. Ivo Dimov, Mayor of Dimitrovgrad, Bulgaria, focused on citizens’ welfare in times of crisis, emphasising their strong social protection program. “It is our responsibility as local governments to protect the population, secure its safety and prepare for the post crisis period. Recovery efforts must have strong social dimension. We have the opportunity to do more than mitigating the crisis and invest in sustainable future”, said Mayor Dimov.

He explained that Dimitovgrad is one of the pioneers of medical innovation, via intelligent medicine, providing remote diagnosis for vulnerable groups, especially elderly people.

“Local governments as drivers of local economic development” was the focus of the address by Mr. Nikolae Dandis, Mayor of Cahul, Moldova and CALM Vice President. “To transform remittances into development, the focus of Cahul goes to attracting investors from diaspora, supporting them in identifying best opportunities for investment and implementing them swiftly”, said Mr. Dandis.

Mr. Džemal Lekić, Director of the Information System Center of the City of Podgorica, Montenegro, focused on the Smart City Agenda and elaborated why Podgorica is one of the pioneers in digitalisation of local public services in the Region. “Digitalisation requires continuous improvement and modernisation. Podgorica started with digitalising the key local public services to citizens and as a next step also introduced digitalisation in culture”, said Mr. Lekić.

Mr. Michael Samec, Project Leader, GIZ, spoke about the social dimension of sustainability, highlighting that access to social, economic and cultural rights should be equal and offered to everyone, leaving no one behind. “We work a lot on social mapping, as we see relevant data crucial for targeted and socially sensitive policy planning and decision making. Leaving no one behind requires that you know who are the people and groups that are likely to be left behind”, said Mr. Samec.

“EU and local government sustainable development in the post COVID-19” was the topic addressed by Ms. Amandine Sabourin, Policy and Advocacy Officer of CEMR/PLATFORMA. Ms. Sabourin brought closer the opportunities for local governments in the EU programmes Think Europe and the Global Europe instrument. “There are three key issues that the EU will have to address via its programs: 1. The role of local governments as policy makers and key service providers; 2. The necessary support to decentralised cooperation and exchange among cities; and 3. The need to strengthen Local Government Associations”, emphasised Ms. Sabourin.

Participants actively engaged in the panel discussion, addressing relevant questions related to the organisational changes needed to introduce digitalisation of local services, how the pandemic has impacted the Smart City Agenda, how can social inclusion and sustainability become a key component of decentralisation reforms and improving intergovernmental coordination, what should be a priority for a municipality with limited resources: to invest in boosting economic activities or in social inclusion, and much more.

Second Forum of Women Mayors of South-East Europe: Inclusive Local Economic Development

The Second Forum of Women Mayors in South-East Europe was oganised with support of UN Women and focused on inclusive local economic development.

Ms. Tatyana Badan, NALAS President, President of CALM, and Mayor of Municipality of Selemet, Moldova opened the Forum. “In the last year, women have been on the forefront tackling COVID-19 crisis, as health care workers, caregivers, home-makers. They acted as community organisers and awareness raising actors. The crisis has also highlighted the disproportionate burdens that women took over as the lockdowns accelerated and services stopped to be delivered. This put local governments in the centrality of the COVID-19 response. The NALAS survey: South East European Local Governments in Post COVID-19 Socio Economic Recovery to this end shows that almost 60% of the municipalities have considered the gender specific needs and changes of women when designing and implementing COVID-19 response measures. The local authorities have provided support for women as a vulnerable group, and in particular prioritising single mothers at risk of poverty, up-scaling systems for preventing domestic violence and provision of essential services for survivors of violence, accompanied with awareness-raising campaigns.

Also, we the local governments from the SEE region have provided services for the elderly and feeble people, and supported the other most vulnerable single parents, mothers mainly.

Hence, the world’s attention was also turned to gender analysis and assessment of impact of policies and measures developed in the crises on women and men and contributing on gender gap. Something I would encourage the NALAS members to do in the coming period, so lessons can drown and new more effective measures are developed to decrease the gender gap”, said Ms. Badan.

Ms. Ermira Lubani, a Program Specialist of the ECA Regional Office of UN Women, also addressed in the opening session. “COVID-19 affects differently women and men and during this crisis existing gaps are widening. Women have been disproportionally affected by COVID-19, more likely losing their income and less likely accessing social protections measures. Specific measures need to be implemented to leave no one behind, such as using gender disaggregated data, gender analysis and consultations with relevant stakeholders”, said Ms. Lubani.   

The panel of Women Mayors on Local Economic Development to provide for inclusiveness:

Challenges and solutions to gender equality, included valuable inputs by:

  • Natasha Petrovska, Mayor of Bitola, North Macedonia
  • Larisa Voloh, Mayor of Palanca, Stefan Voda, Moldova
  • Jasna Gabrič, Mayor of Trbovlje, Slovenia
  • Mariana Gâju, Mayor of Cumpăna, Romania

Ms. Natasha Petrovska, Mayor of Bitola, North Macedonia presented the case of their start-up centre, that built local partnership among local government, university, NGOs and business community, resulting with 60 business ideas, 12 of which have been supported, 8 run by women.

Ms. Larisa Voloh, Mayor of Palanca, Stefan Voda, Moldova presented their Women’s Economic Empowerment Program, launched in 2018, which via bottom-up approach identified the needs, enhanced capacities of women and supported them start own businesses. “As a result, this doubled the number of businesses run by women. Now, we rethinking the program, aiming at meeting the challenges of the crisis by supporting digitalisation of businesses”, said Ms. Voloh.

Ms. Jasna Gabrič, Mayor of Trbovlje, Slovenia elaborated the social and economic measures they undertake to support vulnerable groups during the crisis. “Unlike the global trends, Slovenia did not witness disproportionate job losses of women during the crisis, which is to be attributed to the good social system and the support it provided to women throughout the crisis”, said Ms. Gabrič.

Ms. Mariana Gâju, Mayor of Cumpăna, Romania, for six terms, spoke about the role of woman Mayor as a soul and balance of the communes. “We continuously fight prejudices and bias, but also empower other women to get into politics. We now have 11 women Mayors in our Constanta county. It is the integrity and dignity that wins”, proudly said Ms. Gâju.

Participants agreed that community-driven development should be the cornerstone of inclusive local economic development, along with funding targeting women and youth and online citizens participation mechanisms to mitigate democracy crisis.

The Second Forum of Women Mayors in South-East Europe was moderated by Ms. Marija Risteska, Gender Expert.

Words of gratitude

Closing the 16th NALAS General Assembly, we count over 500 registered participants, 55 speakers and 6 events. We are especially proud and thankful to all of you!

Our special gratitude goes to the Moderator, Mr. Stefan Friedrichs, CALM and NALAS Secretariat, all NALAS members and our respected partners and supporters. Wishing you good health, positive spirit and many successes. See you at the next NALAS General Assembly!