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Civitas: Romania's multitasking NGO

From job training for public officials and youths to helping farmers market their crops, nonprofit Civitas works in many directions to improve lives in Romania.

By David KarasCorrespondent / January 30, 2014

Marton Balogh is regional director for the nonprofit group Civitas in Cluj, Romania. Among its programs Civitas has trained more than 300 public officials in the Transylvania region using distance-learning programs in project management, communication, strategic management, and human resources.

Courtesy of Civitas

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Cluj-Napoca, Romania

Marton Balogh recognizes that the work of the Civitas Foundation for Civil Society is about more than just one thing.

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The non-governmental organization (NGO), with offices in Cluj-Napoca and Odorheiu Secuiesc, addresses social, economic, and governmental needs across Romania, ranging from training for elected leaders to helping rural farmers market their products.

Civitas was founded in 1992 with the goal of improving local government and increasing the involvement of citizens at the local level. Since then, it has expanded to include helping in the development of NGOs and in rural development.

“If you are trying to develop a community, or a country, it is not only public administration that is the single center,” Mr. Balogh says. “They need to have functioning NGOs.”

Balogh is regional director for Civitas and manages its operations from its office in Cluj. He joined Civitas in 2000, drawn to the NGO’s training programs for public officials.

During a recent interview at his office, he spoke about the importance not only of strengthening the work of public officials, but also of building the foundation for productive NGOs across Romania.

Despite the small staff of Civitas – 20 employees between its two offices – it is involved in a number of projects, including those funded by grants from both public and private organizations.

Civitas has also helped small farmers form cooperatives across Romania, which has allowed them to market their goods to food stores in cities such as Cluj. Prior to that, these farmers lacked access to large markets because they did not have the scale of production to compete with commercial growers in neighboring countries.

Civitas also helped create “e-centers” in rural villages, connecting many residents with the Internet and computers for the first time.

Staff members also provide regular training in human resources development, as well as courses in project management and how to access funding from the European Union.

Another major initiative of Civitas is an online platform – ongcluj.ro – that serves as a virtual community, of sorts, for NGOs in Cluj and the surrounding region.

Civitas also offers programs that train public officials. To date, more than 300 public officials in seven counties in the Transylvania region have participated in distance-learning programs aimed at sharpening their skills in project management, communication, strategic management, and human resources, among other topics.

It is important for local public officials to do more than just enforce or implement laws and policies, Balogh says. They also need to know how to plan strategically and manage efforts to foster economic growth in their communities.

Balogh teaches courses on NGO management, public policy, and project management at the College of Political, Administrative, and Communication Sciences at Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca. His work with Civitas enriches what he can pass along to his students, he says. “For me, it is important … not to have only theoretical information, but also practical information.”

Carmen Ciobanu, a project coordinator for Civitas and a former student of Balogh, has been with the NGO for more than six years. She manages a program for youths between 16 and 24 who are unemployed and not in school. The program includes vocational training along with lessons in social media platforms and marketing strategy.

The youths are also provided with internships, which offer opportunities to gain professional experience by putting their lessons to work crafting social media and marketing campaigns for small enterprises.

A class of 12 participants recently completed its internships, Ms. Ciobanu says. One student was hired by the placement agency and three agreed to volunteer for the organizations for which they had worked. The results were promising, she says.

Instances like this make it easy to be passionate about her job and the work of Civitas, Ciobanu says.

“We are so into these activities,” she says, “and we see the opportunity for each of these projects.”

• For more information on Civitas, visit www.civitas.ro.

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