Up to 150,000 people are estimated to have disabilities in Kosovo. Many routine activities can be challenging for them and appropriate medication, care and equipment can place an extra financial burden on them and their families. And to make things worse, for many of those who are able to work it is very difficult to find a job and make a living.
An innovative project from the EBRD’s Small Business Support (SBS) team is aiming to address this latter problem. With the help of donor funding from the EU, SBS teamed up with expert NGO NESsT to promote the inclusion of disabled people through supporting the social enterprise sector. Social enterprises can be thought of as a business created to address or solve a critical social problem in a financially sustainable way.
The two partners had to start from scratch, explains Caroline Bosa, Principal Manager for the Bank’s SBS team. Where exactly is the assistance needed? Who are the organisations that are actively supporting access to work for people with disabilities? And how can they be helped to have the best impact on the ground?
“The social enterprise sector was very under-developed in Kosovo at the beginning of our project,” says Bosa. “That’s why we researched and mapped out the sector in Kosovo so as to best identify the existing social enterprises which are assisting groups seeking better inclusion in the workforce.”
Skill comes with practice
Based on the findings, NESsT and the SBS team organised two skill-building workshops for the organisations, as well as private businesses, which are best suited to improve the quality of life of disabled people. The training was conceived to help them break the cycle of short-term, ad-hoc projects and funding and equip them with coherent long-term strategies.
The workshops taught the participants to develop a business plan to increase their organisation’s impact and make them more financially sustainable in the future. They learned how to analyse their target market, manage their finances and how to efficiently market and brand their products. After the training, NESsT offered individual advice to the participants to finalise their business plans.
Along with these mentoring activities, the SBS team also launched the first social enterprise competition in Kosovo, awarding monetary prizes to the winners. This created a further incentive for aspiring entrepreneurs to come up with sustainable business ideas and provided the social enterprise sector with another, much-needed boost.
The first social enterprise competition
This resulted in some promising new business ventures.
Gratë në Biznes, a women-in-business association, was one of the competitors. Their business idea is to rent a commercial spot in central Pristina to sell the products of its members, including entrepreneurs with disabilities.
The store will offer several hand-made delicacies like jams, pickles and honey and potentially be combined with a catering business and take-away food stall. To attract potential customers, the shop will also include a coffee shop and an attractive “anchor” tenant, such as a well-known local bakery, to guarantee a solid flow of people.
The additional income will help make the association more sustainable and less dependent on donor funding. To set up this new business, Gratë në Biznes needs €110,000 in total, for which they have secured €70,000 from private sources and the Dutch government, according to the Director. On top of this, they won the first prize in the social enterprise competition: a €10,000 grant provided by SBS team’s EU funding.
“We highly appreciate the prize as this presents recognition that the work of our association is reaching a social impact through a business perspective,” explains Hamide Latifi, Director of Gratë në Biznes. “The prize serves as a great mobilising instrument for us to further continue our directive to support disadvantaged women to reach their full potential.”
The second prize went to Hader, an organisation helping to better integrate mentally disabled people in society. They are doing so by protecting the rights of people with disabilities and preparing them for education and employment. Their business idea is to produce children’s clothes, mostly school uniforms and traditional costumes. This won them a grant of €8,000, which they will use to further develop their business plan.
Infec, a small enterprise owned by a woman with special needs, won a €7,000 grant – the competition’s third prize. The owner’s idea is to design, manufacture and sell disabled-friendly packaging. Her prize money will therefore be used for further advisory assistance to solidify these plans.
A long-lasting impact
“We wanted our initiative to have a long-lasting impact on the ground, so we decided to organise a roundtable at the end with all relevant stakeholders to disseminate the findings and define future steps,” explains Osman Rraci, who is heading the EBRD’s Enterprise Growth Programme (EGP) in Kosovo. “This was an important step to raise awareness about the benefits of developing a social enterprise sector to help improve the situation of vulnerable groups in Kosovo.”
The three competition winners received their prizes at the event, which was attended by representatives from government, international organisations and NGOs. The participants engaged in a lively debate on the potential impact of social enterprises and discussed concrete steps to promote a support system for them in Kosovo.
“This drive to develop the social enterprise sector is on the agenda in many Balkan countries, following in the footsteps of many eastern European countries that have prospering social enterprise sectors with government backing. SBS will definitely consider rolling out this project in other Balkans countries,” explains Bosa. “It would be an excellent way for us to enhance inclusion of disadvantaged groups and provide direct advisory assistance to non- and for-profit entities so that they can develop a profit-making arm and become more sustainable.”