Women Entrepreneurs Forge a New Path in Serbia’s Business Landscape

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In focus: Some government policies & initiatives for women entrepreneurs in Serbia

In the heart of the Balkans, Serbia is witnessing a remarkable rise in women entrepreneurship. The Serbian Business Registers Agency paints a compelling picture, reporting a substantial 31% (equivalent to 32,733) of registered companies, founded by women in 2020. Within the same timeframe, Serbia proudly hosted a bustling community of 96,949 female entrepreneurs, indicating a significant and growing presence in the country’s business landscape.

Yet, the journey did not stop at these impressive figures. As of 2022, 97,600 self- employed women continue to contribute to Serbia’s economic vibrancy (despite a marginal decrease compared to the previous year). Serbian women entrepreneurs, with their resilience and dynamism, are key players in the nation’s commitment to fostering a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Serbia’s strides in entrepreneurship are further underlined by its commitment to the Small Business Act (SBA), showcasing a well-developed approach to SME policy.

#SerbiaRising #BreakingBarriers #BusinessMavericks

Here’s taking a look at the country’s proactive measures & programmes designed to stimulate private sector development, which have become instrumental in creating an environment where women entrepreneurs not only survive but thrive.

#SerbianEntrepreneurs #EmpoweredWomen #BusinessInBalkans #SMEPolicy #WomenInBusiness

> Entrepreneurial learning

The Ministry of Economy of Serbia launched the Year of Entrepreneurship in 2016, and this has since grown into a Decade of Entrepreneurship. As part of this it has substantially enhanced overall financial and non-financial support to SMEs, and increased the scope of business support services to include a wider range of customized programmes; and the uptake of these services by SMEs is remarkably high.

So, Serbia has made great progress since 2016. The score for entrepreneurial learning has increased to 3.70, while the score for women’s entrepreneurship stands at 4.35. Significantly, this makes Serbia one of the leaders in the region in this policy area, alongside Turkey and closely followed by Montenegro.

Serbia has been gradually building the policy and legislative basis for developing entrepreneurial learning as a multisectoral government priority, and as part of an overall policy framework for national entrepreneurship support and human resource development.

Both the Strategy for Entrepreneurship and Competitiveness 2015-2020 and the Industrial Policy of Serbia 2011-2020 are part of this framework. The Strategy for Entrepreneurship and Competitiveness 2015-2020 and the National Youth Strategy 2015-2025 actually include measures for enhancing entrepreneurship and youth employment. This keeps in mind the provision of practical entrepreneurial experience. The action plan for implementing the Government of Serbia’s Work Programme 2017-2019 had set goals for establishing a functional education system and developing entrepreneurial competences at all levels of
education.

Women’s entrepreneurship

The Strategy for Supporting the Development of Small and Medium Enterprises, Entrepreneurship and Competitiveness 2015-2020 and its action plan include women’s entrepreneurship as a sixth pillar.

Women’s entrepreneurship involves cross-sectoral policy support, as it also features in the Annual National Employment Action Plan, which aims for the equal participation of unemployed women in the labour market through support to women’s entrepreneurship. Moreover, the National Employment Service ensures a specific focus on supporting women’s economic engagement within the employment policy.

Gender sensitivity is a government priority. Serbia had a comprehensive gender policy framework, consisting of the National Strategy for Gender Equality 2016-2020 and the Implementation Action Plan (2016-2018), as well the Strategy for Prevention and Protection against Discrimination and Implementation Action Plan (2014-2018). Both promoted women’s economic activity, creativity and skills development to unlock their economic potential in Serbia.

The Ministry of Economy and the Development Agency of Serbia both support women’s entrepreneurship promotion events through the communication measures of the Strategy for Supporting the Development of Small and Medium Enterprises, Entrepreneurship and Competitiveness 2015-2020.

Serbia demonstrates good practice in the region through offering state finance to activities implemented by non-government providers that prioritize women entrepreneurship.

State of play and key developments

The Ministry of Economy implements SME supported measures for skills development under the Economic Reform Programme (2017-2019) financed by the state budget and co-financed by donor funds. A major support package for SMEs is included in the Programme of Standardized Set of Services for SMEs operated by the Development Agency of Serbia.

The Strategy for Supporting the Development of Small and Medium Enterprises, Entrepreneurship and Competitiveness 2015-2020 and the Implementation Action Plan gives focused attention to the specific quality assurance measures of the training supply. This includes the accreditation system of training providers and the training needs analysis (TNA), which has become a regular activity since the last SBA assessment, as part of the SME skills intelligence framework. The Serbian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Educational Centre conducts an annual TNA for SMEs.

https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/sites/354bd091-en/index.html?itemId=/content/component/354bd091-en

> Ministry of Economy’s new initiative

In 2021, the country’s Ministry of Economy launched a new initiative to review the state of women’s entrepreneurship after a little more than ten years and to identify changes, achievements, challenges and the potential of women’s entrepreneurship that future policies should focus on.

Development Fund of the Republic of Serbia, with the means allocated by the Ministry of Economy, implemented measures to encourage the business operations of legal entities and entrepreneurs by providing financial support and loans and for the development of small and medium-sized enterprises and entrepreneurship. The fund provides a lot – like “start-up” loans for beginners in business, encourages the development of entrepreneurship through various development projects, gives special loans for business in underdeveloped and extremely underdeveloped areas, provides credit support for women entrepreneurs and young people, as well as a programme of financial support to business entities for maintaining liquidity in difficult economic conditions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Innovation Fund promotes connections between science, technology and economy and encourages the development of innovative entrepreneurship – by supporting innovative entrepreneurship, especially in the early stage of development; connecting scientific research organizations and private companies for the development and commercialization of innovations; enabling new products, technologies and services to enter the market; establishing long-term institutional support of the state for innovative entrepreneurship in cooperation with international financial institutions, organizations, donors and the private
sector.

When it comes to policies for encouraging and promoting entrepreneurship, one of the key policies is the Strategy for Supporting the Development of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, entrepreneurship and competitiveness which covered the period 2015-2020, while the development of a new strategy is planned. Today, the Industrial Policy Strategy of the Republic of Serbia from 2021 to 2030 applies. In addition, the Strategy for Gender Equality from 2021 to 2030, determines comprehensive measures aimed at overcoming the gender gap and achieving gender equality as a prerequisite for the development of society and the improvement of the daily life of women and men, girls and boys in the Republic of Serbia.

Entrepreneurship support measures and programmes

Special programmes/state support measures intended for entrepreneurs at the very beginning of their business represent a significant incentive for the development of MSMEs in Serbia. The programmes include – financial support, usually in the form of:

> Start-up programmes which represent a type of financial support (a combination of loans & grants) through which business beginners can acquire the equipment necessary to start a business, finance the current costs of maintaining the business or production premises, as well as cover basic operating costs. The programme is implemented by the Ministry of Economy and the Development Fund of the Republic of Serbia.

> The Early Development Programme of the Innovation Fund is intended for young companies that develop a technological innovation for which there is a need in the market; it was designed with the aim to support the survival of companies during the critical phase of research and development and to allow for the development of business capacities that will enable the introduction of innovations to the market.

> Training for entrepreneurship and subsidies for self-employment represents a financial support measure intended for unemployed persons who are registered with the National Employment Service and have completed training for starting their own business. These programmes are implemented by the National Employment Service.

> Programme for promotion of entrepreneurship through financial support for women entrepreneurs and young people: This programme was implemented for the first time in 2021. It is a combination of grants and a favourable loan from the Development Fund; it is intended for entrepreneurs, micro and small enterprises. The programme is implemented by the Ministry of Economy and the Development Fund of the Republic of Serbia.

https://eca.unwomen.org/sites/default/files/2023-06/UN_Women_Preduzetnistvo_zena_u_Srbiji_ENG_web.pdf

> Ministry of Industry and Technology (MoIT;Sanayi ve Teknoloji Bakanlığı)

The Women Entrepreneurship Initiative was launched in 2023. As part of the Startup Council, the Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative includes the issue of equal opportunities for women on the agenda of decision-makers and lead women-focused activities. The objectives are:

– To increase the technological potential of women entrepreneurs, provide them with access to training and mentoring opportunities and accelerate their rise to the position they deserve

– To promote professional role models in the STEM field for young women

– To enable technology-oriented women entrepreneurs to make connections that will help them build their professional networks

https://stip.oecd.org/stip/interactive-dashboards/policy-initiatives/2023%2Fdata%2FpolicyInitiatives%2F99996199

> National Agency for Regional Development grant for women entrepreneurship

The National Agency for Regional Development in 2013 introduced program of support aimed for development of entrepreneurial initiatives of women in Serbia.

Autonomous Province Vojvodina initiatives – Women founders of small companies that operate in less than 3 years on the territory of APV (Autonomous Province Vojvodina) were offered guarantees for providing loans for financing procurement of equipment. Autonomous Province Vojvodina also helps unemployed women to start up business giving loans for equipment 70 percent & working capital 30 percent.

Business networking of rural women – The project aims to connect women from both sides of the border (Serbia & Hungary) through: training, portal, business development with the economic empowerment of women as the ultimate goal. Project is result of cooperation between The Guarantee Fund of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina, Institute for Gender Equality and Adult Education Centre of Bacs-Kiskun (Hungary).

“Women’s Network” in the Assembly – This is one of the initiatives to support females to start business and become economically empowered is the Female Parliamentary Network, which consists of all women members of the National Assembly. This network is informal and will work on proposing and monitoring legislation in education and economic empowerment of female (www, Union of the Serbian Employers, 2014). This informal body will bring together women members of the Parliament, and their work will focus on topics, such as – the fight
against poverty among women, empowerment of women entrepreneurship and better health care.

Council for Women’s Entrepreneurship Serbian Chamber of Commerce – this Council aims to promote women’s entrepreneurship, promote examples of good practice, to ensure better coordination of activities in connection with the issue of female entrepreneurship, facilitate networking of women’s businesses, both at national and international level.

Governmental support for entrepreneurs
The most significant programs of governmental support for entrepreneurs according to Avlijaš et al., (2012) are:

  • Self-employment subsidy (National Employment Service)
  • Start-up loans (Republic Development Fund)
  • Innovation subsidy (Ministry of Economy and Regional Development)
  • Competitiveness subsidy (National Agency for Regional Development)
  • Enterprise competitiveness and internationalization subsidy (Serbia Investment
    and Export Promotion Agency)

https://stud.epsilon.slu.se/7637/7/ZlatkovCvetkovi%C4%87_M_150219.pdf

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