The Area Based Development (ABD) serves as a regional tool by targeting defined geographical areas in cross-border regions which are characterized by a set of common, complex development problems. It is a regional local approach which facilitates sustainable growth in small and socially cohesive rural areas in decline, often characterized by common tradition and identity. Since its introduction, the ABD approach has proven to be an efficient type of action for facilitating a bottom-up approach to regional rural development and for fostering integrated economic growth in rural cross-border regions of WB. This success comes from the fact that the approach is people-centered, based on understanding the realities of the rural population and on the principle of their participation in determining priorities for intervention. It applies a holistic method, as it is non-sector oriented and it recognizes multiple actors, strategies and outcomes. Its activities are devoted to different dimensions of sustainability such as environmental, economic and social. The ABD approach has contributed to the development of regional baseline studies and strategic plans for each of the cross-border regions, which serve as regional local strategies for outlining the common development needs and priorities as well as active economic sectors, their interlinking and potential natural resource contribution to the integral regional development of the regions. Mostly, it facilitates networking and cooperation measures among the stakeholder groups, rural areas, administrations and organizations involved in rural development on exchanging achievements, experiences and know-how. Such cooperation can help the local communities to boost their activities and allow them to resolve certain problems or add value to local resources.
Within the framework of an EU supported area-based development approach the SWG RRD established regional cooperation structures and networks in the seven cross-border regions Sharra (Albania, Kosovo and North Macedonia), Prespa (Albania and North Macedonia), Drina-Tara (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia), Drina-Sava (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia), Krsh (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Montenegro), Prokletije-Bjeshket e Nemuna (Albania, Kosovo, and Montenegro), and Pcinja-Krajishte (Bulgaria, North Macedonia, and Serbia).
The ABD approach has been operationalized with functional Project Management Units (PMU).The PMUs act as coordination bodies for the stakeholders and established stakeholder groups (SHG) in each of the regions. The Project Management Units established in the cross-border regions serve as a technical back up for the ABD framework. The structures will retain their prominent role in strengthening and promoting local ownership by increasing participation within communities and build a sense of involvement and ownership that can instigate local development. A focus has been given to the development of integrated cross-border models at a regional/local level with real targets, action areas as well as project ideas, in sectors such as the economy, use of natural resources, local planning, social infrastructure, culture and tourism. To make the cross-border developmental process more structured, the SWG initiated and identified prosperous short value chains and “regional clusters” with due regard for regional characteristics. Characteristics of this model have been introduced in the established Stakeholder Groups and implemented cross border activities.