The Europe and Central Asia region spans an immense geographic area, and the countries in the region are diverse, with widely varying political, social, and economic traditions and environments. Democratic systems are developing in many of these countries, and responsibilities are devolving to the local level, although at different paces.
ICMA has more than two decades of experience implementing USAID and other donor-funded local government programs in Europe and Central Asia, providing many lessons learned and best practices applicable to countries that are moving forward on the decentralization continuum.
We have worked at both the national level (with targeted central government agencies) and the local level (with selected municipalities and citizen groups) to develop democratic local government practices. These practices have been widely disseminated through national associations of local governments, professional associations, and other institutions at the sub-national level. ICMA has had a significant impact on national legislation as well as on the democratization of local government practices. As a result of our programs, national legal frameworks have improved, creating the opportunity to develop transparent, service-oriented local governments that are also learning to value grassroots initiatives and citizen involvement.
ICMA’s programs have been tailored to address the diverse needs of individual countries in transition.
For example, in 2002 the city of Tirana, Albania, was experiencing significant in-migration and expansion that were putting pressure on public infrastructure and solid waste services. At the same time, the city was implementing reforms after emerging from a period of corruption. In 2002-2007 ICMA facilitated a CityLinks partnership with a U.S. county that helped Tirana improve its physical infrastructure and service delivery as well as its management of municipal assets, business licensing, and permitting processes.
In Bulgaria, ICMA cooperated with a local foundation to establish a series of CityLinks partnerships that resulted in a robust country-wide economic development program.
Similarly, ICMA linked eight cities in the Russian Far East with U.S. cities that provided them with the tools to create and implement local economic development plans. The Russian cities learned to recognize, organize, and capitalize on local assets, develop their potential for tourism, support homegrown industries, and attract new business.
As a subcontractor, ICMA has also implemented the Municipal Economic Growth Activity (MEGA) program in Serbia, a project designed to promote local economic development through technical assistance to Serbian municipalities. Specific goals include attracting investments, establishing new business initiatives, creating new jobs, and establishing public-private partnerships.
Also as a subcontractor, ICMA supported the decentralization process in Kosovo by partnering in the Democratic and Effective Municipalities Initiative (DEMI), a three-year program designed to assist Kosovo municipalities, their leaders, and citizens to promote, implement, and encourage good governance.
We have also implemented programs in Bosnia, Montenegro, Croatia, Poland, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and the Slovak Republic. Through training, technical assistance, and information dissemination we have supported municipal capacity building in financial management, infrastructure development, procurement, economic development, and other service areas. This assistance has frequently been supplemented by city-to-city partnerships and by supporting emerging professional associations.