A magical village powered by citizens: Bosnia-Herzegovina's pioneering crowdfunder

  Published:  02 Nov 2021
Real World Media Europe Podcast
Published: 2019
Running time: 30 minutes

Pecka is a mountain village that became a solar energy community following a groundbreaking crowdfunding scheme by Friends of the Earth Europe.

More than €6,000 was raised, which brought solar thermal collectors for hot water and photovoltaic panels for power generation to the mountain village of Pecka.

Pecka is a mountain village that became a solar energy community following a ground-breaking crowdfunding scheme by Friends of the Earth Europe.

More than €6,000 was raised, which brought solar thermal collectors for hot water and photovoltaic panels for power generation to the mountain village of Pecka.

Laura: Zdravo! Welcome to Real World Radio Europe, a show that is all about what is going on in over 30 national member groups of Friends of the Earth Europe. We are the European branch of the world's largest grassroots and social justice network, Friends of the International. 

I  am Laura and I am here with - 

Sandra: Sandra, I am Sandra from  Sandra Josovic for Centre for Environment / Friends of the Earth Bosnia Herzegovina

Laura: So I am interviewing Sandra today because Friends of the Earth Bosnia Herzegovina did something that as far as my knowledge goes,  not many Friends of the Earth groups have done, which is a crowdfunding campaign. So they launched an online fundraising campaign and they smashed their goal and 6000 euro in 28 days. 

The campaign  is focused on a village called Petzka and we will here everything about if from Sandra in a few seconds, but before here is a surprise interview that happened a few days ago

*music as we move to different interview*

Laura: Hello, I am here at summer camp of Young FoE Europe and I’ve just met a person wearing a t-shirt of Petska. And I am so excited to meet people who have been to the village quite a few times. So maybe you can tell us who you are and what you like about pkza  and actually - what is this t-shirt all about? 

Anja: Hello, my name is Anja - 

Evan: And my name is Evan and we are members of the centre for environment 

Anja: And this t-shirt shows the village and this in the middle was an old school but in the village there were no children to go there but people also recognise the beautiful nature and they want to make the village alive again and this school is now a visitor centre. 

Peska we like a lot because it is we spend a beautiful time with the people there  and here is a special energy and now this is my favourite village in Bosnia 

Laura: Evan, what’s your experience with Peska?

Evan: The first time I visited Bosnia was 2 half months ago and the nature is so beautiful and the spring of one river sana is in the village and right next to the village you have the spring of another river called Pliva and then you have the biggest climbing site on natural rocks in whole of Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

Laura: Did you go climbing ? 

Evan: No, I went for a walk right next to the climbing area and the walk itself was so beautiful and relaxing. The combination of the beautiful nature  and the really positive people working at the visitors centre who are making it more pleasant for everyone that atmosphere is something I have never experienced before and for me it's really sentimental

Laura: Wow! Thanks so much, now I really want to go to petzka! 

So now we heard about this magical place called Pecka in  Bosnia Herzegovina lets find out about the campaign. So Sandra - what was the crowdfunding campaign for actually? 

Sandra: We were raising money for solar panels to be installed on the roof of a former school in the 

Laura: So, the one they mentioned that is the visitors centre 

Sandra: Yeah, they turned the school into a visitors centre for sustainable rural development and it is the centre of tourism, and along with them we decided to make Pecka a solar village. The first part of that initiative was sour crowdfunding  campaign and our goal was to raise 6000 dollars, but in the end we managed to raise more and we are very happy and proud about it because so many citizens recognised our idea and invested their money into it to put solar panels on the visitor centre in Pecka - then on other roofs across Pecka in the future. 

So we started this campaign with our friends and partners, with Greenways organisation and we started at the beginning of June and the end was July. It was 26 days with a  lot of work and promotion and many people got involved in the campaign. We are very happy because the media in Bosnia recognised our idea and we were present in the media like never before and it was really successful. 

Laura: I remember lots of friends of the earth groups helping with promoting or donating. What about the citizens of Pecka?

Sandra: Yeah, there are not many people living there. It is mostly old people living in the village but it is a live village again and people are coming back and people there are supporting this all the time. 

Laura: That's also what we heard earlier from Anja and Evan  from there are walks and festivals and events to engage young people 

Sandra: Yeah, there are a lot of walks and events. Local people bring their food and drinks and handmade clothes, and they are really really supportive. 

Laura: So that's great and that's the local level, now going back to that crowdfunding idea. Had you ever done crowdfunding before, how did you come to that idea? 

Sandra: No, we’d never done it before. We had an idea to tell a positive story about solar energy to raise public awareness of the climate crisis but we didn't know how to do it and a colleague of our organisation met some people from Croatia after they presented some of those campaigns to us. We realised that a crowdfunding campaign was a great way to involve citizens, to tell them this story and help them be aware of the possibilities of solar energy in Bosnia and the ongoing climate crisis and to reach as many citizens as we can and we managed that because people really like Pecka and we got great support from citizens all over B+Hs

Laura: Wow. And that's actually smart. I mean, so you took one concrete example like this beautiful widows that I guess everybody knows to also raise awareness on the energy situation, right?

Sandra: Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah.

Laura: How is it right now in Bosnia and Herzegovina is there a lot of support for renewable energy?

Sandra: No. We are fighting in Bosnia against dirty energy for 20 years now, and as you probably know our thermal power plants are the biggest polluters in Europe. Instead of making plans on how to close those thermal power plants and how to transition to renewable sources of energy, our government is planning the construction of the new blocks of thermal power plants and even construction of not only new blocks, but totally new thermal power funds. And on the other side, they are promoting and investing into small hydropower plants all over Bosnia. And in the end, we have lost the wild rivers in Europe, destroyed water - water which was drinkable but after the construction of small hydro power plants is not drinkable anymore, and the money goes only to investors. 

Local communities don't have any benefits from it and so we, as Friends of the Earth, Bosnia, are supporting the local communities in their fight. During those struggles that usually get critics like ‘so like you don't want coal, you don't want hydro, then then what do you want to do? What is your solution? How are you planning to get that energy?’ And we wanted to make a small but important example of solar energy, like the first solar village in Bosnia with the help of citizens. Because Bosnia, you know, we have like 270 sunny days during the day. So we really have a lot of potential for refugees and we don't have so many troops in Bosnia. Definitely. We have much more sunny days than Germany, for example but we don't have solar buildings like in Germany yet, and that's why we started this crowdfunding campaign to have a positive story to show our potentials and to have like a small and good example of this really great.

Laura: Yeah, I think that's very effective. And yeah, so it's hope that this example can be repeated and maybe even on a larger scale. So to show that there's a real alternative to hydro and coal power? Yeah, I'm also wondering a bit speaking of the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which of course, the people that don't live there, it's maybe but hard to understand for me. So how easy is it normally to get funding for you as an NGO because you did this crowdfunding campaign now and you said that it was mainly other NGOs and people like individuals who contributed, right? You said it was aimed at citizens. So how easy is it normally for you to get the funding for the work you do?

Sandra: We have funding mostly from our international donors. We can also raise some money and we can reach for funding from our government. But it's so small, it's a small fund. So, and during this campaign, some of the companies also supported the campaign and gave  money, recognising the potential of solar energy. So we were surprised by that, actually.

Laura: Yeah, me too (laughs)

Sandra: And also local municipalities also supported us and they also supported the campaign. They actually gave us all the permits for the panels on the roof of that school, of the visitor centre. So they supported us in that way, and that's really good. 

Laura: OK, so maybe to go back again to the structure of the campaign or the planning and the implementation phase. You're the communications manager of Friends of the Earth Bosnia and Herzegovina. So who else was involved in the campaign, how many people and how long did it take?

Sandra: Well, along with me, I was in charge of promotion of the campaign and for communication. Five people were in charge of the campaign.  Four from Friends of the Earth Bosnia, including me and Boro Marić, our friend from a Greenways organisation. 

We all had different tasks and responsibilities and duties during the campaign, like Boro, was a recognisable face of the campaign, everyone knows him from visitor centre Pecka and he was managing everything from their side.

Then we had a visual coordinator, and he designed everything we needed for campaigns. Then the logistics of the campaign and Dragana from our office, she assisted all of us all the time. It is a small team, but also a lot of other people who are not part of our organisation got involved in the campaign, for example, we had help from our friend, who is a movie director and cameraman who shot the promotional video for us for free. 

Also during the campaign we had many, many influencers, musicians, musicians, actors, journalists, writers. They all helped us with the promotion in a way that they filmed the short supporting videos for our campaign, calling others to join and holding others to support us. 

So every day during the campaign for 26 days, we had the different ambassadors of the campaign on social networks and it was really great for promotion and for reaching more people.

It all lasted about three months like preparation, organising, launching and running the campaign. But actually, the advice is to begin even earlier. Yeah. Like it should take 5-6 months to prepare it well. So this was like really, really fast, the campaign… and a good campaign.

Laura: And I guess you didn't take any days off during these three months?

Sandra: Absolutely. The opposite of that! 

Laura: Impressive. Yeah. So as you said, you worked weekends and evenings and it took you three months, which is quite a lot for working weekends and evenings. And then the campaign was finished and as we said, you got more than you expected and then I guess you just left and went on your holidays, packed your bags... (laughs). So well, what happened then?

Sandra: Oh yes, if I could, when it's over, it's not over! We still had a lot of work to do because you have to thank all the people who are supporting you. You have to give interviews like this one - 

Laura: (laughing) obligations!

Sandra: Yeah! You have obligations and you have to update all your supporters about the campaign all the time. And also, you have to send perks like the awards they choose on that platform. 

Laura: Can you say a bit about that? What kind of perks do you have

Sandra: Yeah, for example,  if you invested $20 or $30 we are sending you our T-shirt 

Laura: The T-shirt I saw in the summer camp?

Sandra: Yeah, we are sending your T-shirts for some other amounts we had, like badges or stickers and even 2 day trips to Pecka with food included.  You have to organize all that because you have like 200 supporters and also to some far parts of the world like Australia, because we also got some contributions from Australia, Thailand, Japan, the grades from all over the world.

Laura: How did they know of it? Was it because of the social media promotion?

Sandra: It's mostly because of the social media promotion also some of them were people who already knew us and they are now living somewhere abroad

Laura:  So I mean, we said the goal was smashed and you had a lot of success, also from all over the world, which is maybe not something you expected in the beginning. So were there some surprises in the campaign?

Sandra: Well, we were, of course, positively surprised with the reactions of our citizens and some more to idols and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Our story was rated like one of the most positive stories in the media over the past several years, and that's really and that's really, really great. I think people are just tired from politics and bad news here, and they need positive stories - 

Laura: Not only in Bosnia! 

Sandra: Absolutely. So we hit the goal with this one.  But in the end, we were positively surprised because it was like really, really huge support. 

Negatively after we finished we had some problems in communication with that platform but we solved that with the help from Colleen at Friends of the Earth US. That's why networking is also important! 

And maybe I should mention that Go Fund Me, which is one of the most famous platforms for crowdfunding campaigns, won't accept some things from the Balkans anymore.

Laura: Why?

Sandra: I don't know yet, Nestor knows more about it than me - he's the logistics head of this campaign. I think it's maybe too complicated for them with the currencies and everything from non-European countries 

Laura: It sounds like an excuse. Well, it's interesting to know that maybe let's not use that platform if we want to be in solidarity with the Balkans. 

Is there anything else you would recommend to people who want to do a similar campaign?

Sandra:  Well, they have to be prepared for a lot of work, and they have to be very well organized, focused and prepared for a lot of work on promotion if you want to reach your goal. You have to have a good team of people, including someone who will take care of budget, someone who will take care of design and everything will present it all and someone who will coordinate all the things.

You have to be organised, you have to be fast and you have to be creative. And the best time to start with the campaign is spring or early spring and the summer is not a good option because people are on vacation, they are not tracking social networks so much and so on. 

Laura: OK, good to know. 

Well now I would like to know, since the campaign ended, what's happening in Pecka? Are there already solar panels? Is the money, the 6000 euros enough?

Sandra:  Well, actually, because of those problems with communication, we received our funds from that platform just a few days ago, but still to install a complete system of solar, solar thermal collectors and panels on the visitor centre we need the total amount of $13,000, and that is the goal of this initiative's first step. But thanks to the success of the online crowdfunding campaign, the first half of it is almost collected and the second half hopefully we will make it because we already have some promises from donors and the organization who wants to support our idea, and we are hoping that we will have some solar panels during September or October.

Laura: Oh great.

Sandra: That's our goal. Yeah.

Laura: Well let's keep an eye on social media channels of Friends of the Earth Bosnia and Herzegovina. And yeah, what's happening now, actually? Are you finally going on holiday and when is the next crowdfunding project coming, if any?

Sandra: Yeah, yeah. Finally I am going on holiday, I'm going  tonight actually!  We have some ideas about future crowdfunding campaigns or campaigns, but first, we all need to take vacation, definitely. And when we come back, we'll make plans for new campaigns.

Also, this year we are celebrating 20 years of work Friends of the Earth Bosnia and we are planning to make a short movie about our work for the last two decades, and the crowdfunding campaign is definitely one of the things which we will show. 

I would like to thank everyone who supported us because this wouldn't be such a success without that support. And many thanks to Friends of the Earth Europe, because you guys are great and thank you for sharing this story. It means a lot.

Laura: Yeah, with pleasure. And thanks so much to you. 

But now, have a nice holiday and relax. And then I hope to see you sometime in Pecka, maybe?

Sandra: Yeah, definitely. You must come to see solar panels on that visitor centre roof. 

Laura: So thanks a lot to your listeners as well for tuning in. And if you're interested in our network and then our different campaigns, there are some things you can do. You can follow Friends of the Earth Europe on Facebook and on Twitter. Visit our website at friendsoftheearth.eu  And of course, please subscribe to this podcast wherever you listen to it. 

This was Friends of the Earth, Europe and Real Radio.