“There could not be successful regional cooperation without involving the young talents of our region”
Regional cooperation could be incomplete without the involvement of business organizations and exchanges. This is the moto of Macedonia2025 initiative, which aims to bring closer the business communities and young entrepreneurs in the Western Balkans. We interviewed Mrs. Biljana Markovic Stamenova, the Executive Director of Macedonia2025. This year, Leader project is supported by WBF.
This interview is initially published in WBF Newsletter (Issue 7, September 2018).
- Mrs. Markovic, Macedonia2025 initiative organized Regional Business Forums from Skopje, to Belgrade and Sarajevo. How could your project promote and develop regional cooperation?
The Leader Project is an initiative from the Richard Ivey School of Business from Canada. This School sends teams of instructors to different countries around the world to conduct a 2-week MBA-style workshop for young entrepreneurs who want to start a company. Macedonia2025 has been implementing this program since 2007 and the young entrepreneurs who have been through this training have provided us with great feedback. They learn how to develop their business plans from a number of different aspects, such as marketing, finance, business strategy, presentation skills, etc. The participants can then take those pitches and use them to get financing.
In the past few years we wanted to expand this program in the region and we initiated discussions between similar organizations in Serbia (CANSEE) and Bosnia (RESTART) to be the local organizers. We were very happy that the Leader Project was expanded in the region and last year we wanted to take it to the next level – to organize pitching and networking between the participants of this project in the three countries.
With assistance of WBF, we were able to implement a joint program this year with CANSEE and RESTART that enables the winners from Macedonia, Serbia and Bosnia to travel to the three locations and to present the business pitches to a variety of jury members. In the meanwhile, they work with mentors to improve their business pitches with the input that they receive from the judges. However, the most valuable of all, are the networking opportunities that are organized around each pitching. The high profile guests that attend the events are potential investors or partners of the young entrepreneurs. Additionally, the young entrepreneurs exchange ideas, share know-how and connect with each other for future collaboration.
There are not many business trainings offered in these three countries that use the case study method to transfer knowledge in the entrepreneurship area. A short and intensive MBA training, provided by one of the best business schools in the world is an opportunity for all the entrepreneurs to invest in their knowledge and businesses, thus directly influence the three countries’ economies. Our track record shows that the participants following the successful completion of the Leader Project significantly improve their day-to-day operations and profits. Also there are not many regional business pitches, so these events truly add value to the regional cooperation.
- Could you share with us one of your experiences during the events?
The overall energy and positive atmosphere around these events is always inspiring. The region doesn’t collaborate enough and there are mental boundaries among the people who live here in the sense that we are separated and distant from one another. However, at these events we learn how similar we are as societies and mentalities. We face the same difficulties, we all look for new markets far away from the region, while the regional collaboration is often neglected.
- What could be done more for bringing together the business people and young talents and entrepreneurs in the Western Balkans?
One of the key obstacles to dynamic private enterprise in the Western Balkans is the widespread aspiration of young people to secure stable public-sector jobs rather than to become entrepreneurs. Young people in the Western Balkans need encouragement by mentors and their peers to become successful entrepreneurs. This is why we think this project is a valuable tool to inspire and encourage young people to stay on the path towards personal growth.
The business people in the region need more events and platforms to connect, and they need to become aware that the possibilities for doing business in the region are underutilized. Generally, there are two facts that stand out looking at the Macedonian, Serbian and Bosnian commerce relations. Firstly, road vehicles and petroleum products top both Serbia and Bosnia’s imports. Secondly, Macedonia’s top three exports are the same to both countries: iron and steel, vegetables and fruit, and medicinal and pharmaceutical products. The smart industries, collaboration on research and development, software development, high-tech, etc., remain yet to be uncovered as opportunities.
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