MARIJA RADULOVIĆ, President of the Croatian Business Club Belgrade: A GROWING INTEREST IN MEMBERSHIPS

While the bilateral relations between Serbia and Croatia have been experiencing various ups and downs, the connections between business people from the two countries are becoming increasingly tighter and more diversified, while the community of Croatian companies in Serbia is growing and developing at a rate of 40 percent annually. Thanks to the dedicated work of the Croatian Business Club Belgrade (CBC), members now have more services, activities and modalities of connection with other domestic and foreign companies operating in Serbia at their disposal.

That is why, in the conversation with Marija Radulović, the President of CBC, we devoted most of the time exactly to talking about the plans for improving the Club’s activities.

What kind of ambitions and plans do you have for 2019?

– Overall, we have two goals for this year – to provide current members with a quality service and as much as possible
versatile gatherings and exchange of business ideas, but also to use the next period to increase our membership, because we are confident that, in addition to the Croatian companies that we will contact, there are many other companies interested in cooperating with the Croatian firms. Our plan is also to expand the activities and services we provide to our members. So far, we have been focusing mainly on providing the so-called service information, which is our main task, but we have also organized regular monthly meetings where members are given the opportunity to know each other even better, exchange information, give advice to each other, and establish mutual cooperation. In the following period, we will try to expand the links with the mixed chambers that operate in Serbia, and to organize joint gatherings, in cooperation with the representatives of the Croatian Chamber of Economy in Serbia, and above all with the Croatian Embassy, which gives us exceptional support in all segments of our business. In regard to increasing our membership, we are thinking of those companies that are just coming or planning to come to Serbia, but also those who are already here but have not yet had the opportunity to get to know the possibilities that the membership in CBC provides. Furthermore, the current structure of our membership indicates that there are many
domestic companies but also small businesses that have a business interest in realizing or strengthening the cooperation with Croatian companies in the domestic market through our club.

Your membership grew last year. Could you tell us something about the current membership structure and which economic branches do your members come from the most?

– Our membership has beens increasing year-on-year, and our estimates show that on average, it has been going up by 40 percent annually in the last few years. We intend to continue with this trend. Now, we have almost 50 member companies, and in regard to the economic branches they come from, there are no set rules – everyone is welcome. Today, we have transport companies, international logistics companies, financial institutions, confectionery companies, IT companies, advocacy and consulting services companies, media, and many others as our members.
One should not forget that our Club also provides information and logistics support to companies from Serbia that are starting to operate in the Croatian market.

Which of your services do your members appreciate the most and have you been contemplating providing new services?

– So far, networking with other chambers was the most popular service. A number of our members attended an EU cocktail, as well as the gathering at the residence of the Croatian Ambassador, H.E. Mr. Gordan Bakota, where the Head of Cooperation at the EU Delegation in Serbia, Mr. Yngve Engström had a presentation titled “EU Financial Instruments and Projects in Serbia”. Over the past few years, we have organized joint meetings with the members of the Hellenic Business Association, the Belgian Chamber of Commerce, the Nordic Business Alliance, and the French-Serbian Chamber of Commerce, and we have a close cooperation with the Slovenian Business Club. In the future, we plan to establish cooperation with other mixed chambers in Serbia – Swiss, Japanese, Canadian…. Our speed business meetings proved to be a rather interesting concept at which the participants briefly present their business to each other. Interestingly, these speed business meetings are organized in cooperation with business clubs from several countries, and are a way to find new acquaintances and new business contacts.

What will be the most important activities regarding the inter-chamber cooperation this year?

– Bearing in mind the fact that, in the early 2020, the Republic of Croatia takes over the EU presidency, our activities will be focused on connecting with the chambers of the EU Member States, and at the end of the year, we plan to hold an event at which we are going to mark Croatia’s presidency and on which, I hope, we are going to instigate the discussion about numerous social and economic issues related to the mutual cooperation between the EU Member States and Serbia as a part of Europe and a country in which many European companies and businesses operate.

Which economic topics are the most appealing to your members and in which way do you provide information about these topics?

– Business people in Serbia are mostly interested in administrative and legal foundations for doing business in Serbia, namely finding out if there are legal limitations and if there are, in which segments, what kind of incentives are available to them, and how they can enter the market as easily as possible with the view of starting a business. Members are informed about this either at their request, or at our regular gatherings. We noticed that there was a need to instigate a discussion about numerous social or socio-economic issues at our gatherings, such as education and youth employment, the position of youth in the labour market, the connections between the different types and ways of education and the employer’s attitude towards young employees. These are topics that concern the entire region, but some countries have more positive and some less positive experiences, so the exchange of information is valuable for employers in Serbia who may reject certain practices, but adopt others. The most important thing is that the members of our Club have only positive intentions, that they are focused on the progress of their own businesses through the exchange of know-how and experiences with other members, and that they do not allow any political events to hinder them in that or to jeopardize good relations among members.

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