The Regional Challenge Fund (RCF) is a financing facility designed to increase youth employability. It boosts the competitiveness of enterprises in Western Balkan economies by funding investments in equipment and infrastructure for selected dual or cooperative training projects implemented through partnerships between vocational training institutes and enterprises. The grants are allocated through a competitive regional challenge.
The RCF is an initiative undertaken by German development bank KfW and financed by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), currently assigning 18,6 mil. EUR. The main implementation partner is the Western Balkans 6 Chamber Investment Forum, whose operations are supported by consultants from the Fund Management Unit.
The first round of applications demonstrated the attractivity of the RCF and significant interest in the WB6 region in the cooperation between the enterprises and educational institutions. The RCF opened the First Call for Expressions of Interest from February until April 2021 and received 205 applications from consortia of vocational training institutes and enterprises from all Western Balkan economies. The eligibility and compliance checks based on the predefined eligibility criteria resulted in shortlisting 66 consortia and inviting them to prepare the full project proposals. In the second step of the evaluation, external selection experts reviewed and scored the applications based on selection criteria. The Selection Committee`s decision about the funds available for the first call resulted in 23 most successful projects being proposed for finance, allocating approximately 10 million Euros to the region.
Cooperation among national economies in bringing education closer to the business is seen as crucial for achieving the objectives of improved employability, labour market relevance of VET, and increased competitiveness of enterprises.
The RCF also recognizes three additional aspects that cut across economic sectors and boundaries and their potential for building labour-market relevant skills in line with the current policy initiatives: green transition, regional integration, and digit(al)ization.
The above-mentioned topics will be discussed with the officials and experts from EU and WB6 public institutions and organizations active in the field with vocational education and training, chambers of commerce, international organizations, regional organizations, vocational education and training providers, enterprises, and civil organizations society organizations, and others.