The fifth PRaćka – a conference on communication trends for active citizens – was held during 20 and 21 April in the “Miljenko Dereta” space in Belgrade, where dozens of civil society activists from the region gathered, as well as experts in the field of communications, media, marketing, art.

The name ’Praćka’ (slingshot) was inspired by the story of David and Goliath, led by the desire to draw attention to how useful small but deadly weapons can be in the fight against big problems. ’’PRaćka’’ is the only conference in the region dedicated to public relations and communications in the nonprofit sector.

This year’s PRaćka Conference, organized by Civic Initiatives in cooperation with EU TACSO 3, was dedicated to the ideas and initiatives of how civil society organizations, in conditions of narrow space for civic action, resist pressure and present their work in the most efficient way using new tools and technologies.

Four panels, four workshops and 12 speakers presented in a hybrid format in front of 40 participants and was live streamed in the same time with English translation for all organisations in the region.

The first day of PRaćka Conference was opened by Maja Stojanović, Executive Director of Civic Initiatives, and Richard Allen, the Team Leader of EU TACSO 3, followed by two panel discussions: ,,Narrowing CSO Space” and ,,Strengthening Resilience and Communication after the Pandemic”.

Panel I -,,Narrowing CSO Space”

Jelena Vasić, KRIK journalist (KRIK – Crime and Corruption Reporting Network, a non-profit organization established to improve the investigative journalism in Serbia), Sonja Stojanović Gajić, activist and expert in security sector management and conflict transformation, and Filip Noubel, regional media expert at GDSI, spoke about the pressures facing civil society organizations, but also how to resist against them.

Jelena Vasić said that KRIK, as a network that investigates organized crime and state corruption, is constantly under pressure – from being labeled as “foreign agents” and “mafia collaborators” by public officials, through SLAP(abb. for strategic lawsuits against public participation) lawsuits related to the government, until the intrusion into the apartments of the KRIK journalist. “The more you bother them, the more they pressure you,” she said, adding that the KRIK editorial office has the greatest support from its readers, and that in such situations you can see the importance of the community.

“We are trying to activate our readers – to inform them about every pressure that happens, because if the audience does not know that you are under pressure – then you are in trouble and the campaign against you succeeds,” said Vasic.

Sonja Stojanović Gajić said that it is important to return to the “basic” – one-on-one talks, and make “concentric circles” – to connect internally and within the sector, before going out. It is important to expand circles and create networks, even allying with people with whom we have different opinions.

Philip Nubel pointed out that the rule of law is necessary, but that the “art of narration and counter-narration” should also be learned. “It is difficult, but feasible. “We must persistently try, be creative and not give up in encouraging social change,” he said.

Panel II – ,,Strengthening Resilience and Communication after the Pandemic”

Marija Bukvić from the association “Teach Me”, Minja Bogavac, creative director of the E8 Center, and Goran Rizaov, media program manager of the Metamorphosis Foundation, spoke about what communications looks and will look like in the Post-Covid age.

Is working from home a new level of self-exploitation that we agree to? In principle – “as long as you can stand on your feet, you can work online”?

The pandemic has taught us new internet tools, and now we need to find a measure in all that “, said Minja Bogavac.

Marija Bukvić said in her association that they do not give up on live events because “physical contact is always stronger”, but that hybrid events, which include online audiences, have the advantage of giving more people the opportunity to participate.

The participants in the panel agreed that the pandemic was “a catalyst for the adoption of new tools and channels”, but that “now we have to find a smart balance”.

During the first day of PRaćka Conference, two workshops were held. Participants learned with Suzana Miličić, a crisis PR expert on how to make an effective crisis plan. Also, the participants of the second workshop had the opportunity to master the basic concepts of creating communication messages and get advice on how to apply this knowledge in their daily promotional activities, with the help of Iva Marinković, communication expert and copywriter.

21 Apr PRaćka 2022, day two: Changes are possible – with networking of people, ideas and knowledge

Panel III – “Transparency and Credibility of the Civil Sector”

Despite the repressive environment, social change is possible – concluded the participants on the panel: Jovana Đurbabić from CRTA, Iva Marković from the Right to Water Association, Milica Antić from Catalyst Balkans, Dren Puka from the Kosovo Civil Society Foundation spoke at the panel “Transparency and Credibility of the Civil Sector”, and the discussion was moderated by Bojana Selaković from Civic Initiatives. Speaking about the transparency of the civil sector, the participants agreed that financial transparency is important, but above all in terms of how the money is used, what it is spent on and what the results of the money spent – specifically – “what benefits citizens have from it”. “ enables organizations to show their results, to publish data on what they did, what they spent money on. Results, first of all. This is how a circle of trust is built, where citizens trust us and want to support us because they know that we regularly report to them on what we have achieved, “said Milica Antic.

“We have a responsibility primarily towards the citizens,” said Jovana Đurbabić, adding that CRTA was often the target of attacks, even by MPs (members of the parliament). “The intention of these attacks is to divert you from the path, to start defending yourself and dealing with yourself – we did not deal with that, but we kept the focus on the elections and on supporting the citizens,” she said.

Iva Markovic pointed out that “because of the disintegrated system, we have so many problems that people started to ‘patch‘ things themselves, to move into activist miles quite spontaneously.”

“Responsibility is always where there is more power, and that is why it is up to large NGOs to help small initiatives, but small ones must not be ‘disgusted’ with these big ones,” she said.

She added that in Serbia, the notion of civil society and who is an activist has been “redefined”.

“We managed to somehow organically reverse the narrative – from the ‘elitist image’ that it is an exclusive ‘group of highly educated’ to the fact that anyone can be an activist today,” she said, adding that micro-victories are important. an indication that they can force a decision – “it creates a huge range of possibilities”.

“Despite the fact that it seems that the repression of the state has never been greater, and when we see what was happening, especially in connection with the environmental protests, this is the year in which the civil sector demonstrated its strength. And those who lead the state and the citizens are also aware of how they will play an important role in the coming period “, said Bojana Selaković, program director of Civic Initiatives.

Panel IV – Storytelling

“Every change starts with a story”, agreed the participants of the “Storytelling” panel – Branko Cecen, director of the Center for Investigative Reporting – CINS, Goran Igic, co-founder of Vidi Vaka from Macedonia, and Dragan Kremer, journalist and media expert.

Speaking about storytelling as a powerful tool for motivating people to activism, Dragan Kremer said that the story is the one that gives meaning to information and data, and that it is needed especially today, adding: “Never before in history we had so much data, percentages, infographics that you can  combine, but you lack a story that will connect them and make sense of it. ”

He also assessed that part of the civil society in the previous decades was inefficient – “it proved to be egocentric, civil society dealt with itself, and you can see that in the announcements and public appearances of civil society representatives, and then the citizen asks’ where am I, what do I have from that'”. He also stated that “civil society organizations mostly speak the ,,NGO’s vocabulary” and data that are fitting and correct for reports to donors, but people are not interested in how many panels were held, but what you have achieved with that”.

,,People must feel that they are part of the community – so they come out of the darkness and mobilize for a change”, – the panel participants agreed and assessed that in the good example for communication with the audience, using real life stories.

The co-founder of the movie production studio Vidi Vaka, Goran Igić, said that “storytelling gives visibility to everything that is good in a society. We’re talking about local heroes,” he said, “but to shed light on the problems – like when we had a story about a triathlon champion in a city that doesn’t have any sports infrastructure. Then you tell the story of a father who gets up at 4 am to take his son to another city to play a sport that will probably never bring him money. But such stories inspire and bring hope.”

Branko Chechen said that “human beings identify only with other human beings”, and that is why storytelling is an important tool in motivating people.

“The civil sector is a great reservoir for storytelling – you have stories of groups of people who decided to sacrifice their careers, comfort, gave up some benefits, in exchange for a work to make society better for all,” said Chechen, adding that the civil sector it is of no use because in most cases organizations do not have the resources. That is why it is important for activists to connect with each other in networks and share their knowledge – agreed the participants on the panel.

At the end of day two, two workshops were held: how to start a Podcast – with Vladimir Radinović, co-founder of the platform, and how civil society organizations can use TikTok to communicate with the public – with Nikola Ristić, communications manager of the Serbian Youth Organization. TikTok’s interface is particularly useful for creating videos that tell entire stories in 15 to 60 seconds. Additionally, the platform’s intuitive editing tools allow users to create professional-quality clips straight from their phones. The social media network is now a prime opportunity for nonprofits to connect with a younger audience more personally and immediately.