GROWING ACROSS BORDERS WITH NEW MANAGEMENT SKILLS - WeBalkans | EU Projects in the Western Balkans

GROWING ACROSS BORDERS WITH NEW MANAGEMENT SKILLS

A successful young Albanian entrepreneur gains access to the international market with support of an EU-funded programme

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If she had followed her parents’ advice, Edona would be an engineer now. Both of her parents were science graduates and their wish was for their daughter to follow the same path. But she picked a different profession. She describes beginning to fill out the application form for the Engineering faculty. “I knew that this was a big decision that would probably impact the rest of my life. I had this feeling that I should not proceed with filling in the form, and I stopped,” she says. She walked out and went to the Economics faculty, where she filled in the application form for business administration.

This might have seemed like a sudden decision, but it wasn’t. For some time Edona had had a hidden passion to become a business manager. Ten years later, her decision has been vindicated.

Becoming a successful manager
Her enrolment at the Economics faculty was the beginning of a successful career. A few years after enrolling, she became an assistant professor and was later promoted to the position of Professor. At the same time, she began work in a consultancy firm where she was soon promoted to managing partner.

“Our market was limited to Albania and Kosovo, and I was interested in exploring other markets as our staff, mainly female, is competent and ready to handle more work”

The company provides advice to businesses on the implementation of ISO (International Organization for Standardization) standards and on developing project proposals for local and international donor grant schemes. They provide services to around 200 businesses annually and the company is growing. “However, our market was limited to Albania and Kosovo, and I was interested in exploring other markets as our staff, mainly female, is competent and ready to handle more work,” she says.

Access to international markets, in particular in a consultancy business, is a challenging endeavour. This is even more the case in a country such as Albania, still facing many economic challenges. Edona needed help. A friend advised her to seek support the Entrepreneurial Network of Growth Initiatives (ENGI4NE-2). This EU-funded project provided young entrepreneurs with an opportunity to spend time with an experienced entrepreneur abroad to learn new skills in business management.

Improving skills with new technology
Initially, Edona was not sure if she should participate, as she thought it might take too much of the time she needed for the management of her company. Eventually, she was convinced, and once again she made a decision to apply for something she does not regret. She choose a host company in Austria as she was already doing her PhD there. “But I was interested in a smaller company like ours and not more prominent corporations such as Deloitte or similar big international companies. In a smaller company, the challenges would be similar to our challenges, and I was interested to see how they tackled them,” she explains.

“It was an experience that opened my eyes and made me understand how fast things are developing in our sector. In particular, I learned about improving communication using technology.”

She says that she learned a lot from her stay, which spanned seven months. “It was an experience that opened my eyes and made me understand how fast things are developing in our sector. In particular, I learned about improving communication using technology,” she says.

Edona explains that up until then she had communicated with her clients as well as inside her team with more traditional methods. Thanks to the experience in Austria she introduced applications such as Slack for internal communication, and Google Drive for communication with her clients. As a result, her company is now much more efficient in functioning remotely, which has turned out to be particularly useful in the new environment imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nevertheless, the primary purpose of her participation in the project was to explore and learn how to access international markets. Edona was successful in this regard too, as during her stay she was able to sign an Austrian company as a client.

Growing entrepreneurs
Alongside Edona, another 126 entrepreneurs (75 new and 51 established) benefitted from this project in successful relationship exchanges. The implementing consortium of the project is geographically mixed, ensuring full coverage of destinations that are attractive to new entrepreneurs, including Albania and Turkey. The lead partner was Confindustria Ancona (CA) in Italy, with the Tirana Regional Development Agency the partner in Albania.

The project was supported by Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs, which is an EU-funded cross-border exchange programme giving new or aspiring entrepreneurs the chance to learn from experienced entrepreneurs running small businesses in other participating countries. The host benefits from fresh perspectives and opportunities to build links with foreign partners and learn about new markets. Albania takes part in the programme, along with other countries in the Western Balkans.

Photo credits: Edona Bilali