In Focus: Some government policies, initiatives & grants for women entrepreneurs in the Republic of North Macedonia
#WomenEntrepreneursMK #GenderEquality #MacedoniaBusiness #EmpowerWomen
In the Republic of North Macedonia, a significant gender gap persists – with 56.2% of women classified as economically inactive, highlighting a substantial disparity with the male counterparts at 30.8%. Amidst this landscape, the past decade has witnessed a noteworthy shift – with an encouraging 6% increase in the percentage of women engaging in business activities.
Despite these positive strides, women entrepreneurs here remain a minority, grappling with entrenched societal norms and attitudes that become barriers to the initiation and growth of their ventures. Challenges include – gender-based obstacles, discriminatory legal frameworks & cultural practices that affect property rights, matrimonial aspects and inheritance laws.
Additionally, hurdles such as limited access to formal financial mechanisms, constrained mobility, and restricted entry to information and networks further add to the challenges faced by Macedonian women considering entrepreneurial pursuits.
Let’s delve into the dynamic landscape of women entrepreneurship in the Republic of North Macedonia – exploring the evolving statistics, persistent challenges & the transformative journey of women entrepreneurs. It is a narrative of empowerment, shedding light on the strides taken and the hurdles that still demand attention and advocacy.
> Strategy for Women Entrepreneurship Development
The Action Plan for implementing the 2019-2023 Strategy on Women Entrepreneurship in the Republic of Macedonia is based on planned objectives and activities in the same area by the European Union (as per the document: Strategic Engagement for Gender Equality 2016-2019).
The Strategy for Women Entrepreneurship Development in the Republic of North Macedonia aims at economic empowerment of women – by creating enabling business climate and providing support to the development of their entrepreneurial potential, which would contribute the advancement of existing and starting new enterprises, creation of new jobs and thus, consolidating the overall economy. The long-term objective is – to build an entrepreneurial eco-system for continuous women entrepreneurship development.
So, the vision specified in the 2019 – 2023 Strategy for Women Entrepreneurship Development in RM Strategy is: empowered women entrepreneurship by means of consolidated and coordinated activities, by including various stakeholders. The idea is to make women entrepreneurship a strength that contributes to the development of the entrepreneurial climate and economy.
> Women in the Economy (WIE)
The NGO Women in the Economy (WIE) is on a specified mission – to support farmers
through dignity and empowerment activities.
WIE is a relatively new organization trying to achieve a difficult balancing act – to grow and support existing members with very limited resources. They had primarily focused their efforts on events and resources that recognize and empower the disenfranchised women their organization serves. They wanted to gain insights into potential business solutions for small-scale female entrepreneurs working in the agricultural sector; and they wanted to improve the long-term sustainability of WIE. Many of their current business support is offered ad hoc and they want to offer more services besides empowerment activities.
> Roadmap to support female entrepreneurship launched in North Macedonia
In May 2023, an EBRD-funded study on encouraging female entrepreneurship in North Macedonia, entitled “Roadmap for a Gender-Responsive Investment Climate”, was launched in Skopje. The launch event was kicked off by the Minister of Economy for North Macedonia, Kreshnik Bekteshi; and the participants included the EBRD (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development), the National Bank of the Republic of North Macedonia, policymakers, business representatives and civil society.
The Roadmap, developed by Marija Risteska under the umbrella of the Western Balkans Women in Business (WiB) programme, is set to inform policymakers and other stakeholders about ways to increase female entrepreneurship.
The EBRD has long supported women in accessing entrepreneurship opportunities, most prominently through this Women in Business (WiB) programme.
North Macedonia’s economy has taken a toll for the past two years. But active anti-crisis measures addressing the negative consequences of COVID-19, managed to save jobs and directed credit where it was most needed.
The policy documents regulating gender equality, Women Employment Study for North Macedonia such as the “National Strategy for Gender Equality 2013-2020” and the “National Employment Strategy 2021-2027” (NES) provided insufficient frameworks to adequately respond to the crisis. The NES aims at addressing both the short-term labour market consequences of the COVID-19, as well as the structural challenges affecting employment growth and integrates the gender perspective as one of the strategic objectives.
The Government has committed itself to specifically support women in business, in post-COVID-19 recovery. However, North Macedonia is expected to grow at a rapid pace, as it is in the recovery period after the health and associated economic crisis.
In October, 2021, the Government of North Macedonia launched a Plan for accelerated economic growth in the period 2022-2026. The document looks at raising annual average real GDP growth above 5%, an increase in employment reducing unemployment rate to 8.6% and total investment expenditures of EUR 12 billion along with fiscal consolidation (The Government of North Macedonia, 2021). The goals should be reached through traditional and innovative financial instruments.
Regarding women as one of the vulnerable categories that face many challenges in the labour market, the economy adopted two important strategic documents, namely – the “Strategy for development of women entrepreneurship in the Republic Macedonia 2019 – 2023” and the “Strategy for gender equality 2013-2020”.
Women entrepreneurship in North Macedonia has now become more prominent in the policies of decision-makers. It is noticed that until 2019, there was an absence of any formal recognition of issues regarding women’s entrepreneurship. Most activities to stimulate women to engage in business, have originated in business associations and CSOs; but lately there has been growing support from government institutions. For example, in May 2021, the Government supported the National Platform for Women Entrepreneurship, with the aim to stimulate women’s engagement in business and innovation. More focus is also notable in the “Strategy for Women Entrepreneurship Development in the Republic of Macedonia 2019-2023”, which is the overarching plan guiding government policy on this issue (Ministry of Economy, 2018).
It is commendable that the Economic Reform Program 2022-2024 (ERP 2022-2024), promises a gender perspective in the distribution of these funds. Increasing youth and women employment is also targeted in the “Programme of the Government of the Republic of North Macedonia 2020-2024.” And the Government plans to provide direct financial support for women entrepreneurship (and youth) through grants from 5 000 to 15 000 euros for starting their own business (Government of the Republic of North Macedonia, 2020). “The National Strategy for Small and Medium Enterprises 2018-2023” also puts attention on several target groups including the SMEs owned by women and young people.
> Association of Business Women – Macedonia
Association of Business Women was launched in In January 2021 – a new project granted Under IPA Civil Society Facility and Media Programme.
This gives support to “National platform for women entrepreneurship”. Through project activities they will focus on – building a national platform for WE as a main social partner for policy-making and reform processes; facilitate structural dialogue, networking and consultation among WE stakeholders at national and local levels; to enhance capacities of WE CSOs for policy, advocacy and cooperation with national and local authorities; and to promotе women entrepreneurs as drivers of change in WE-related public policy and (youth) economic empowerment.
> Startup Macedonia
Promoting start-up opportunities and resource information is what is done by – Startup Macedonia. This is an organization that supports innovation, development, and networking between startups and all the local stakeholders, which are part of the ecosystem in order to build a better startup community.
The Macedonian Government in 2018 for the first time launched a project for state support of business accelerators in the country. In September 2018, Fund for Innovations and Technological Development signed agreements on financial support for the opening of three business accelerators (elected by the Committee for the approval of investments) for startup companies founded by young entrepreneurs and innovators.
With this project, young people who have creative business plans are offered the opportunity and support for the development of specific businesses and start-up companies. Crowdfunding is also a funding opportunity for young people who want to start their own business. Macedonian citizens are usually using this opportunity for humanitarian reasons, and usually the custom to use these funding opportunities for startups was not there. But today, there are several platforms that provide such service, such as eCrowd and MladiPretpriemaci.mk.
> Democracy Commission Small Grants Program 2023
The Embassy of the United States in North Macedonia announced an open competition for organizations/independent media to submit a statement of interest (SOI) to carry out a program (or programs) that support the development of democratic institutions.
The FY 2023 program has five priority areas:
1) rule of law and government accountability;
2) citizen participation;
3) cybersecurity and disinformation;
4) youth development and women empowerment; and
5) environmental protection.
Funding is available for projects including Youth Development and Women Empowerment. The main idea is that – the projects should prepare young people, and especially women, to start their own businesses; combat youth emigration and promote greater minority participation in North Macedonia’s economy. By addressing these issues, projects should contribute to an improved business climate and economic policies; promote private sector growth and entrepreneurship; attract foreign investors; and create jobs too.