At the Roundtable “Women in Entrepreneurship and Business” held on June 29 at the Belgrade Youth Center within the framework of the mentoring program for women “Share Your Knowledge”, a very important topic was reopened, which is becoming in the center of public attention: what is the position of women leaders in the business world. This year’s mentees, mentors and alumni of the Program had the opportunity to meet 5 successful women from different areas of the business sector who were more than ready to share their experience, knowledge, and stories of challenges and successes in their developmental path. The discussion was moderated by Zorana Milovanović, project assistant of the Share Your Knowledge Program and economic scientist and panelists were: Sanja Milosavljevic, founder and owner of the workshop for making homemade pasta “My Nest”, Jovana Miljanovic, marketing expert and advisor, Bojana Vukosavljevic, general manager and advisor for SMEs at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development For Serbia, Maja Shahbaz, CEO of Ernst & young Serbia and Marijana Savic, director of social enterprise Bagel Bagel.
Gloomy statistics on 30% of women in business, predominantly the services sector, indicate to a small number of women businesses the need to continue investing in creating systemic change and promoting women’s entrepreneurship and the benefits of placing women in management positions in companies. Worldwide research points to “women’s” leadership skills that make decision-making, negotiation and business development more efficient and effective. On this occasion, thanks to the booths, the discussion was aimed at defining the main challenges for the development of woman business leaders, as well as ways to overcome the challenges from the experience of each booth. It was concluded that in addition to the gloomy statistic, there is a capacity for development and progress.
What is being said over and over again, is the fact that there are many examples of good practices in women entrepreneurs in Serbia whose successes should be celebrated. Consequently, the theme of this roundtable was, on the one hand, sharing experiences, then giving space for success stories to be heard, and lastly, the opportunity to empower and inspire women.
The first successful story was about a graduate philologist, Sanja Milosavljevic, who made the courageous decision to embark on an entrepreneurial adventure of making home-made pasta “My Nest”. Although she started working in education, over time she realized that something else was fulfilling her, namely the marketing of her own product, which is still recognized on the market today. Being an entrepreneur does not mean that you are “your own landlady”, but it is your customers that are crucial to your survival and business development.
Jovana Miljanovic, a marketing expert and consultant, has launched a very successful blog that gives women the opportunity to gain financial freedom and use digital tools to start a business and later sustain it. She herself says that she is ready to help every woman who has an idea, vision, and at the same time demonstrates a tendency to be proactive. Jovana shared with the participants what challenges she went through that made her stronger and bolder and emphasized that fear of failure is the main stumbling block in development and that it is eliminated by looking for at least one ” YES”.
Bojana Vukosavljevic, Principal Manager and Advisor for SME Development at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development of Serbia, enjoys the challenge of stimulating owners of such businesses to seek help. She believes that it is necessary to make the most of this country’s potential, and recognizes the importance of sharing information not only about access to finance, but also advice on marketing, leadership skills and business organization, which is exactly what EBRD Serbia programs are all about. Bojana also took the opportunity to share with the participants information about a free digital program through which it is possible to evaluate their own business and business and determine at what stage of development they are.
Maja Shahbaz, CEO of Ernst & Young Serbia, has worked abroad over the course of her career, supporting investors in obtaining finance for their projects. She is now active in the corporate sphere and surrounded by women who, as she pointed out, like her, have brought themselves to these positions with their competencies. May emphasized that women’s solidarity is a thing that is created and nurtured within the collective and that it can be a powerful tool to win real qualities over stereotypes and prejudices about women in management positions.
Marijana Savic, a founder of the social enterprise Bagel Bagel and the Citizens’ Association of Athens, has a long history of successfully combating human trafficking and violence against women. Bagel Bagel was born out of the need to provide women who have suffered violence with tangible skills, a chance to work, make money and feel safe. What makes these social enterprises successful is their adaptability, then listening to the needs of the market and the needs of members of vulnerable groups.
Of particular importance lies in the development of entrepreneurial skills and knowledge in running a social enterprise, as its sustainability implies the sustainability and development of programs to assist vulnerable groups. Community activism, if not so far, has now become the responsibility of all of us, because, as stated by “no one has ever done anything alone,” and all the speakers agreed with the need to support development.
In addition to sharing personal experiences of invaluable importance, the speakers also shared practical advice at both the initial and development stages of the business. We have the right contacts, support, and idea, and got started, but then what? How to take the right attitude? Bojana says that “although there seems to be no recipe, other than advice to believe in ourselves and what we do, there are clear steps to take: faith in the idea, persistence, adaptability, and willingness to continue learning.” Some of the keys to the success of the booths have been apart from working on what fills us and having faith in what we place or provide, the ability to adapt, knowing the regulations (because failures can cost a lot), then the need to form an adequate team and constant energy at an enviable level. Customer satisfaction is the best driver, and women’s solidarity is essential because there is always a woman around us who does what she chooses as her vocation.
The second part was designated for the evaluation of program participants. The goal was to reflect on the progress of the past 6 months of the program and to hear the impressions through which we can plan further steps in the program. So when asked what they liked the most, the participants singled out a pleasant atmosphere, openness and trust, creating a good network of contacts, and many described as “the most beautiful thing” that they “clicked” on each other. What they did not expect were business successes so early, namely, some women freed themselves and tried out in marketing their products. We were particularly pleased by the comments of women whom the program helped to get out of the comfort zone. The fact that the program has helped some realize the right to set personal boundaries in business indicates that workshops and forums both permeate more spheres than expected. However, there were also those who encountered difficulties in organizing time and responsibilities, fear of incompetence, and difficulty in ranking priorities. Participants had the opportunity to see a change from the beginning of the program when they first evaluated their priorities. Over the next 5 months, more roundtables, workshops, and debates are expected to be conducted to ensure the continued learning, development and networking of our mentees and mentors, as well as other associates in the Share Your Knowledge Program.