Vladana Vasić: Although I am leaving, SOC is my chosen family

After nine challenging and successful years, our dear Vladana Vasić has completed her engagement at the Sarajevo Open Centre. As she says, the Sarajevo Open Centre is an organization that has shaped her professional growth and development, and she will continue to inherit the values she has developed over time and support the work of SOC and other civil society organizations.

We will miss her, but this is an opportunity to wish her all the success in life. In addition to the traditional and usual farewells, we wanted to say goodbye through this interview as well.

Many believe you represent much of the SOC’s advocacy through your character and work. It is not shocking that as an advocacy and program manager, you had a strong position to be present in public and in the media. As a result, I assume that many people are curious: why are you leaving the Sarajevo Open Centre?

The decision to leave the Sarajevo Open Centre was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made, and it was one I deliberated on for nearly two years. Everyone who knows me understands how much working in SOC meant to me, and how important it was for me to be a part of an organization and a concept that is greater than me and whose outcomes change people’s lives. Being a member of a group of people who believe they can make a difference and are willing to put their all into it is an invaluable experience and an amazing source of motivation for day-to-day work and investment.

However, gaining new experience and advancing in my career are equally important to me. I progressed from volunteer to program and advocacy manager at the Sarajevo Open Centre, and I contributed to the majority of the activities, but I believe the time has come for me to focus on other aspects of my professional growth, and for new people in SOC to have the opportunity to contribute to activities and goals, as well as to bring new energy and new methods to work.

Regular changes, in my opinion, are beneficial to both individuals and organizations, and each change brings new challenges and opportunities for everyone involved.

Looking back on 9 years of work, would you now, with this experience, expertise and intelligence, have a different approach to work at the Sarajevo Open Centre? What were your core work activities?

It is difficult for me to explain the core of my work at the Sarajevo Open Centre. I am not sure what I did can be clearly defined and limited, since I changed roles during my time here, and my positions changed in accordance with the organization’s changes, growth, and development. In short, my job was to monitor political, social, and organizational developments and to provide ideas, recommendations, or coordinate the organization’s objectives and activities accordingly. As a result, my work was heavily reliant on collaboration with individual coordinators and the rest of the management. I can state unequivocally that my job was to assist others in carrying out their activities, designing projects and strategic documents, and to use my knowledge and experience to shape the content of both individual activities and the organization’s strategic framework, as well as to plan specific advocacy activities and communicate our goals to key partners from institutions, parliaments, and other civil society organizations. Somehow, I would say my job was to have an idea of where we are heading as an organization, how and why we are going in that direction, what we want to accomplish, how to accomplish it, and to collaborate with others to develop strategies A, B, C, D, and so on.

I am not sure whether I would have a different approach to working in SOC from this viewpoint, but I believe that the fact that I was absolutely not (or did not perceive myself to be) a person who could engage in advocacy and communication with very important partners, was what made me good at my job. I had to overcome myself, to turn from an introverted girl, who just wanted to read and write (be it poetry or legal analysis), to a woman who can deal with institutions and parliamentarians, who is confident when she represents something and is willing to compromise, but also a woman who is ready to leave the room when compromise is not possible, and to condemn idleness and human rights violations. I believe this is something I had to learn gradually in order to really start to appreciate the power of civil society, our knowledge and expertise, and recognise our negotiating position in all processes.

What are you most proud of in your work? I am not going to ask you to single out one thing, I am sure there are more, so feel free to get at it (laughs).

I believe I have mentioned this many times, but in my work, I am most proud of the fact that at no time did I become the only contact person for our various partners, but as an advocacy manager I encouraged coordinators to make contacts themselves and become recognizable in the fields they deal with, to the extent that politicians, parliamentarians, and civil servants knew exactly who the contact person from the SOC for a specific topic is. I am glad that I was able to support them in this process and with my knowledge and experience help them build their capacities and gain the necessary self-confidence for independent work and direct advocacy, without me “breathing down their necks”.

Of course, I am proud of all the laws and policies we have changed or influenced, but I must point out that I am most proud of our work on laws and initiatives that have promoted the human rights of marginalized groups, and that we have always, regardless of primary focus on the human rights of LGBTI people and women, advocated for broader perspectives and cherished cooperation with other organizations, either through coalitions or informal initiatives. I am also very proud that, despite the fact that most of the advocacy and legislative changes in BiH were oriented to the entity and state level due to the BiH political system, we still focused on local environments and communities, which are primary for human life; I am proud of the support we provided to local organizations, work on local LGBTI inclusive policies, and sensitization and education for institutions that work directly with citizens (police, social work centres, mental health centres, etc.)

What is your favourite memory from your time working at the Sarajevo Open Centre?

Well, this question is more difficult to answer. 😀 All of my memories are precious to me. Sarajevo Open Centre is my safe haven, the place of my professional and personal development. In the LGBTI community, we all have our families and our chosen families. SOC is my chosen family. To me, as a bisexual woman, a lawyer, who really wants to contribute to the improvement of human rights in BiH, and who believes that change is possible, SOC has given mentorship, opportunities, friendships and space to work, grow and see the results of our work.

Our time spent hanging out, playing associations, and devising strategies for negotiating with demanding associates might be some of my most cherished memories. Or the memory of Arijana Aganović, a colleague with whom I shared an office at the beginning of my career, who worked on the politician education program and sighed at least once every morning in the office saying, “When will this life end?” 😀 I later took that sentence from her.

Working in civil society is difficult; you come up with ideas that can improve everyone’s lives, and then you have to persuade people who get paid by citizens to improve everyone’s lives; why it is useful and necessary and why they should do their job. But it is also very rewarding to know that any, even the tiniest improvement you encourage and make, leads to a better present and future for all of us. There is no better feeling, even though you do sometimes wonder when this life will end. 😀

Finally, what do you have to say to Darko Pandurević, our new Advocacy and Program Manager? General advice is appreciated, but so are tricks and tips!

Do not listen to a word I said. I mean it. 😀 Advocating and creating programs, developing ideas, working with people, rely heavily on a person’s personality, approach, and energy. The only way to do this job well is to really get into it, and follow your trial-and-error process. We learn from our mistakes, and you have already had a chance to learn from mine. 😛

I am kidding; I do not like to share general advice but I am here to help in any situation, to consult and advise you to do the exact opposite of what I would do. 😀 My only piece of advice is to be a little more systematic than I was; I think my chaotic style is not for everyone (for anyone actually, but we live and we learn). 😀

Is there anything else you would like to share that we have not already covered?

Yes, I want to thank you for your support and patience over the years, for your friendships and for restoring my inspiration and faith in the ideas and people I support, in the moments when I had lost it. This is not a ‘goodbye’, but just a ‘see you soon’. I will show up at all gatherings, you will not get rid of me so easily. 😀 <3