The Balkan Forum initiative was launched at the first Annual Balkan Forum meeting held on 7-9 February 2013 in Thessaloniki, Greece. The Forum gathered diverse stakeholders and leaders from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, FYR Macedonia, Greece, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Serbia. Over 50 participants from civil society, the private sector, academia, and government worked together to generate ideas and innovative strategies to deepen regional collaboration and catalyse economic development, drawing the region’s strengths and comparative advantages.

The Forum was opened by Yannis Boutaris, Mayor of Thessaloniki; George Papandreou, former Prime Minister of Greece; David Burger, Deputy Director, Office of Central European Affairs, U.S. Department of State; and representatives of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. The inaugural Balkan Forum on Regional Cooperation marked an important start, resulting in concrete recommendations, including establishing a Balkan Forum non-governmental organization. The Balkan Forum organization serves as a secretariat to the Balkan Forum network, implementing the network's recommendations, and hosting the annual meetings in Thessaloniki.