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As a part of the Program “Share Your Knowledge - Become a Mentor” second roundtable on the topic “Women and Entrepreneurship” was held on April 26th 2014. Two panels were organized, the first on the topic of women's economic empowerment and second on the social entrepreneurship. The round table was attended by mentees, as well as some of the mentors.

On the subject of women's economic empowerment through entrepreneurship, spoke Ms. Violeta Jovanović, Executive Director NALED, Ms. Biljana Planić, Director of travel agency Athos, Ms. Biljana Jovanović, CEO, Luna d.o.o, Ms. Marina Milović, Marketing Manager, Maja Honey d.o.o, and panel was moderated by Ms. Milica Dimitrijević, Director of Hanibal d.o.o.

At the beginning, speakers presented fields of activity of their companies. Ms. Marina Milović spoke about her company, which deals with production, purchasing, processing and packaging of honey. Ms. Biljana Jovanović said that company was founded 23 years ago, and became a regional leader in its category, sewing clothes. Luna has between 350 and 400 employees in total, 90% of which are women. Ms. Biljana Planić overcame numerous obstacles in order to ensure the existence of her family and now she owns a travel agency. Ms. Planić has been the President of the Association of Business Women since 2010. Ms. Violeta Jovanović particularly emphasized her commitment to Etnomreža she was a part of since 2005. The project was launched after she had been addressed by a group of women from Kikinda who lost their jobs. Women were involved in handicrafts and Etnomreža secured them legal and economic support.

When asked by the moderator how their education helped their careers, all the speakers agreed that education had been very important. Ms. Marina Milović studied in Italy and said that education she gained was very specialized. She commended the Serbian secondary education for being so comprehensive, although she pointed she has been constantly learning from the running her business. Ms. Biljana Jovanović mentioned as the top award in her career her trip to the United States as part of the Mentoring Program organized by the U.S. Embassy in Serbia. Knowledge, energy and enthusiasm she had found there had great significance for her, and now she feels compelled to pass on her knowledge and experience.

Panelists said that the environment in which they operate is equally unfavorable for both men and women. They concluded that women who are trying to start businesses are not discriminated, but they are encouraged to do so a little or not at all. So far, women have shown great potential, because they are willing to bear the burden and they are more persistent. All the speakers agreed that it was not easy to be an entrepreneur, but that it had many advantages. Ms. Biljana Jovanović said that there has been a special satisfaction when we are making our own decisions and when we have our lives in our hands, as entrepreneurs. She said it was always a good time to start a business if there is energy, and that one shouldn’t hold off starting one’s own business. Ms. Violeta Jovanović said that we should all always bear a common interest in mind and think about others. The more income is gained, the budget grows and this brings the benefit to the whole society.

When asked of the advice they would give to the mentees, the speakers said that believing in one self is crucial even when there is no support from others. Only things one does not really want are impossible. Also, they pointed out that when the mentees get to the point where they need to have people work for their businesses, they should always choose people who will be motivated to work hard and do it with pleasure and a smile.

On the topic of Social Entrepreneurship speakers were: Ms. Margareta Kecman, Director of KECMNRO, Ms. Ivana Stančić, Coordinator of Dobra torba, Ms. Anica Spasov, President of the Association Naša kuća, and the panel’s moderator Ms. Mirjana Šakić, Coordinator of EU Office in Erste Bank.

During an interactive conversation speakers discussed their social enterprises, motivation, future plans, potential of social entrepreneurship in Serbia, as well as the obstacles in their career path.

Ms. Margareta Kecman spoke about her beginnings, the circumstances that took her from being a ballerina to becoming a founder of Creative Educational Center - CEC. CEC is an NGO organization devoted to designing programming for young adults with developmental disabilities so that they continue to be engaged in adulthood. They deal with their work potential and advocate right to work for persons with intellectual disabilities. For her, everything began with a wish to give her life a meaning and give support to a discriminated group of people who deserve to have a chance of a better, ”normal” life. CEC grows every day, and now they collaborate with 22 companies and organizations and therefore contributing and helping the social inclusion of persons with intellectual disabilities. She emphasized that by promoting equal opportunities in all spheres of life, especially in work force, we are creating society that values tolerance and social cohesion.

On results of the project aimed to work on economic empowerment of women, social enterprise Dobra Torba (Good Bag), spoke Ms. Ivana Stančić. Dobra Torba, since its beginning depended on modern business models and tools. Ms. Stančić stated that in order to sustainably deal with today’s social issues it is mandatory to connect and tie together business ideas and the ideas of social entrepreneurship.

Ms. Anica Spasov presented employment programs for persons with development disabilities of Naša Kuća Association, as well as of the services of “Kuhinja Na Točkovima” (Kitchen on Wheels). By implementing these employment programs persons with disabilities can have a chance to lead an independent life, and the wider society gains by being more understanding and open to this group. Kitchen on wheels provides healthy meals to both those who can afford it and to those who cannot. One of the goals of the project is to, through examples of good practice, show off people with disabilities as capable of working and giving back to the community, even though the society often fails to see them in that light.

Speakers agreed that the problem is in production or supply, but rather in demand. Nevertheless, there is progress. More and more companies recognize that responsible business is the right way to do business.

Also, they emphasized the importance of law regulation and the support from the media for social enterprises. Today there are no tax exemptions for social enterprises. Moreover, work wages regulations, when it comes to people with disabilities, are discouraging and they are an obstacle, to say the least. Panelists agreed that lack of media interest and attention limits the communication with the society and potential business partnerships.

All the speakers concluded that social entrepreneurship is an effective way of dealing with problems in society and creating highe value in society. They advised mentees to be persistant, because it pays off, and their experiences display just that.

Round table was a great opportunity for young women to improve and develop new knowledge and skills on the topic of entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship, gain confidence and feel encouraged for their own endeavors.


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