2016 The Year of Entrepreneurship is a comprehensive set of different programmes devised by the state authorities with the goal of promoting entrepreneurial strengths, helping first time entrepreneurs and those who have already developed their businesses and providing both financial and non-financial support to long-term development of entrepreneurial spirit.
It is the Serbian government’s strategic goal to develop competitive economy which is based on the ideas of private initiative and entrepreneurial spirit, just like all developed and successful economies in the modern world.
We asked the members of the Association of Businesswomen of Serbia (ABS) the following:
What plans does the ABS have in the year of entrepreneurship and what advantages does the membership bring? Which ABS’ activities would you like to highlight and which organisations and institutions are you cooperating with?
What can the government practically do to create prerequisites for development of entrepreneurship?
Sanja Popović Pantić, President of the Association of Businesswomen of Serbia
The Association of Businesswomen of Serbia is the biggest national organisation of women entrepreneurs which plays the key role in bringing businesswomen together, under one roof. We are partners with nine other businesswomen associations and, together, we have around 900 members. We give our members assistance in the shape of training, networking opportunities, promotion, better public, mentorship and giving advice relating to any business segment.
We have been closely cooperating with the Serbian National Assembly, i.e. their Economy, Regional Development, Commerce, Tourism and Energy Committee, and they have been wholeheartedly supporting our initiatives. Women entrepreneurs are also involved in institutional work and they are cooperating through the Women’s Parliamentary Network. Last year, we signed a cooperation protocol with the Serbian Chamber of Commerce and the Coordinating Body for Gender Equality stipulating collaboration in implementation of the Women in Private Sector Programme. The goal of this programme is to provide help and support to companies which plan to include more women in their operations thus contributing to gender equality in the workplace.
Female entrepreneurship has a great potential that cannot be fully utilised without financial backing. In order to facilitate better access to funding for SMEs, we need to expedite the process of legally regulating microfinancing and adopting of the Law on Microfinancing, as the key instrument in increasing the number of start-ups, micro- and small companies, as well as achieving sustainability during the initial 42 months of operations. This is important not only for female-run companies which are almost, by default, all micro-enterprises, but also for youth entrepreneurship.
Vesna Pucar Grubor, Director and Co-Owner of VIVEX Company
First and foremost, I would like to mention the support that we give each other to keep on doing what we are doing and to be stronger and better. Apart from that, exchanging experiences is of immeasurable value. Irrespective of individual industries that we do business in, we keep encountering the same problems and it is absolutely invaluable to hear from other women entrepreneurs how did they solve a similar problem or where did they go wrong. Women are selfless when it comes to exchanging experiences, both business and private. Our Association has many successful women entrepreneurs from various industries, consultants and service providers so it often happens that we do business with each other. If I weren’t a member of this Association, I would struggle with finding straightforward information or managing to talk to institutional representatives.
Business environment is of paramount importance and it has to be conducive to development of entrepreneurship. We should talk about entrepreneurship only in a positive manner while highlighting its advantages, good examples and work on changing common believes about entrepreneurs. We should inspire young people and teach them that entrepreneurs are free, innovative, curious and responsible both for themselves and their employees. Throughout their education, which starts at the nursery level, we should be developing their entrepreneurial spirit, a sense of innovation and curiosity. Schooling and education are very important for development of entrepreneurial spirit, as are the environment and media. SMEs are the driving force behind the economic activity in this country so promoting and supporting them is exceptionally important for boosting employment and economic growth.
Vesna Jovanović, Director of Eurologsystem d.o.o.
Participating in international conferences, meeting with successful companies from the region, workshops, consultations, seminars and visiting successful women entrepreneurs, as organised by the ABS, are always conducive to new ideas, cooperation and successful operations. Systemic and well-organised support to entrepreneurship implies the government having to implement a completely new approach in all areas – from education to finances – and in all of its segments. There has been a lot of talk about dual education and its advantages. Successful private companies and entrepreneurs could contribute greatly to that and their opinions, as well as needs, should be considered. The government should implement the elements of economics and law in elementary education in a fitting manner, as well as in high schools through practice and training during schooling.
Financial support should be based on tax incentives for every new worker employed over a certain period and it should be more flexible than the current model according to which only the unemployed persons from the National Employment Service’s registry are eligible for certain incentives. Tax incentives or subsidies should be applicable to all investments and investors especially to those companies which fund their expansion from own resources. Every municipality should have free legal aid and a financial & investment advisor. The cooperation between public and private companies should be tighter and regulated by other laws too; not only those that cover public procurements.
Afrodita Bajić, Deputy Director General and Co-Owner of AMC-Afrodite Mode Collection Company
The Association provides different types of training, networking opportunities, company promotion and lobbying, and, above all, there is a huge support from other members. The Serbian government should adapt the benefits to suit individual companies (taking into consideration their years of operation, taxes paid, number of employees, CSR). It is necessary to create a better business environment and the first step towards that is probably seriously tackling the grey economy. Education should be reformed in a way to promote applicable skills and know-how while being mindful of labour market’s needs and planning / projecting future jobs as much and as closely as possible.
The government should provide various additional incentives for entrepreneurs like those enjoyed by foreign investors or those in regional countries. For instance, Albania has already abolished taxes for small businesses and I think that would be great for the SME sector in Serbia too. A stronger dialogue between small business owners and the government would be mutually beneficial.
Gordana Đurđević, Director and Co-Owner of SLOVO d.o.o. Company
I have been an active member of the ABS for 9 years now. The Association’s activities are geared towards providing top-notch support to development of female entrepreneurship and promoting women entrepreneurs. In order to provide a more efficient platform for the voices of female entrepreneurs, we have formed the Public Advocacy Committee. The Committee launches initiatives that are important for development of female entrepreneurship and sometimes their suggestions are valuable in terms of improving business environment and beneficial to a wider entrepreneurial population.
Bearing in mind that foreign investors have been enjoying regular support and have been receiving concrete subsidies for new jobs, I think that, apart from the primary motives, foreign multi-national companies can be important for development of our export, first and foremost by making Serbian SMEs their suppliers in the country and, subsequently, the suppliers of their companies abroad. This is not going to happen spontaneously despite the existing potential. Our government needs to be actively involved in making this happen.
Ljiljana Karaklajić, Director General and Owner of D Express Company
Being a member of the ABS can have many advantages, mainly opportunities to meet and network with a lot of other companies and many successful women in leading positions. A number of successful ideas and collaborations can emerge in such environment while the mentorship programmes are very beneficial to new women entrepreneurs. By being members of one association, women entrepreneurs can jointly appear in front of any government body or institution, and demand changes and amendments to the existing laws while fighting for better business conditions. Together our voice is stronger!
The conditions for development of entrepreneurship would improve if the government were to fulfill its promises. Many initiatives have been launched this year but their implementation is debatable. It seems there is a breakdown of communication in the chain of hierarchy so whenever top officials advertise something in the media as a fantastic solution, when it comes to implementation everything turns into a vortex of different and incomplete information coming from various institutions which can be very confusing and time consuming. Civil servants need to have a shift in their consciousness. When each and every one of them realizes that they serve companies and not vice versa, that they are here to facilitate inevitable business that we have with them, and when they understand who is paying whom here, only then the situation will improve. The first step should be changing the educational system, primarily changing the way the young people think and are raised while hoping that, in a few years’ time, we are going to have people who are educated enough to fulfill the needs of the labour market. A huge amount of time is required to implement the said changes so let’s start doing something good at the roots – namely, changing family attitude towards school, education and work habits, and changing the educational system. Every improvement after that will be a chain reaction.
Tatjana Jevđović, Owner and Director of Beauty Imagini d.o.o.
I would like to highlight the three of the Association’s activities – informing the members of changes in regulation and state-launched competitions, an opportunity to participate in giving suggestions to state institutions that are directly related to our business and women’s position in the society, and participation in many workshops and conferences with an emphasis on important regional networking which opens new doors for doing business. Financial foundation is crucial for entrepreneurship. Many of government programmes facilitate acquisition of equipment but when it comes to investments there are still huge obstacles in the shape of limited resources and investors having to provide most of the investment money themselves. If we had credit lines with no downpayment available to us and if we were allowed mortgage the real estate that we own, I think that our country would finally transform into what essentially is – an entrepreneurial state. By doing so, both black and grey economy, which are currently dominating our market, would subside as would unfair competition which pushes the SME sector to the brink of survival. It is of essential importance to raise the level awareness through the media which can educate a wider population and help build a good human value system.