Serbia’s Social Innovation Fund

Photo: UNDP Serbia

Seventy two-year-old Dobrija Jovanovic and her son Živan live in poverty. Živan (44) is mentally disabled and cannot live independently. Until recently, Dobrija and her son felt completely cut off from social services – with the nearest health center located in another town. Thanks to a project supported by UNDP, this is now changing.

The municipality of Koceljeva, which includes Dobrija’s town, has a population of 15 thousand people and one in five of inhabitants is over 65 years old. The process of economic transition in Serbia led to the closure of the municipality’s only factory. As a result, most young people migrated to cities in search of jobs, leaving the elderly to look after themselves.

The Social Innovation Fund project, funded and implemented by the Government of Serbia, UNDP, the European Union and the Government of Norway, aims to improve social services for the elderly, persons with disabilities, children and other vulnerable groups. Instead of duplicating existing systems of social protection, the project aims to increase their outreach while also identifying, testing and replicating new, innovative ideas. To do this, the project promotes partnerships between the state providers and non-government organizations.

Since 2003, over 260 services for vulnerable groups have been funded and provided. Over €6 million was raised for this purpose, half of it from the Serbian state budget. The project has ensured that the money is spent well, is accounted for and is managed sustainably.

UNDP and other partners have supported over 140 out of 165 municipalities and cities in Serbia to design their own social protection strategies and plans. Elderly people with health problems and low pensions, who live alone or with an elderly spouse, were identified by all municipalities as one of the most vulnerable groups, clearly emerging as a priority.

Apart from planning, UNDP and partners have also funded different innovative models of social services by calling on the public for proposals. The Municipality of Koceljeva is one of many to establish home care services for the elderly and persons with disabilities.

Thanks to the home care service, Dobrija and Živan Jovanovic are now visited by a doctor, a nurse and caretakers on a regular basis. Caretakers also helped them to receive social allowances and benefits. “I did not know that I was eligible for financial assistance and medical care until I was informed by my caretaker. She helps me a lot. She visits me twice a week, brings groceries, newspapers, medicine... ", says Dobrija.

Another innovative service, started by a non-governmental organization with UNDP support, helps people with disabilities who were living in institutions of care to start living independently.

The Social Innovation Fund project also provides support to networks of local governments and social service providers, civil society organizations, as well as programme beneficiaries and participants to exchange knowledge and information.