EBRD support in Kosovo: Focusing on women and young entrepreneurs

In an interview for Buletini Ekonomik, Leonora Kusari, EBRD Advisor for small businesses in Kosovo revealed that EBRD supported more than 1,000 small and middle sized businesses in Kosovo in years, from consultancy, to building new capacities in human resources, management of businesses and beyond.

Mehmet Gjata

EBRD’s branch in Kosovo will continue to cooperate with local commercial banks to develop the competition of the private sector in Kosovo through financing and advising Kosovo corporations, small and middle sized enterprises on their growth.

Reklama e sponzorizuar

EBRD will continue to implement projects such women in business, the youth in business, competition and recovery, says in an exclusive interview Leonora Kusari, the EBRD’s manager for Advisory of small businesses in Kosovo and the regional coordinator of combined program for advise, finance and innovation in the Western Balkans.

Below you can read the interview:

Buletini Ekonomik: The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, EBRD, has been involved in Kosovo for a long time. What was the mission of this prestigious financial international institution and did you manage to fulfill the mission of EBRD?

Leonora Kusari: The mission of our bank is to develop competition in the private sector and to reach this objective, EBRD offers financing and advice for Kosovo corporations, small and middle sized enterprises to ultimately impact their growth. The improvement of small and middle sized businesses’ access  to finances will remain the Bank’s priority and the bank will continue to work closely with Kosovo based banks for this aim. The bank will continue the implementation of such instruments such as the programme: Women in business, youth in business, competition and recovery which intertwines finance and advice.

Buletini Ekonomik: What is the focus of EBRD in Kosovo and how effective were the assistance of your institution towards Kosovar businesses and how did the Kosovo business sector have used this opportunity of benefiting from your aid programme?

Leonora Kusari: Since 2015, EBRD has been involved in providing advice for Kosovo businesses through contributions of donors such as the European Commision, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Sweden. More than 1,000 small and middle sized businesses were supported through individual advice, through designing business strategy, marketing, ISO standards, to management production system, finance or even building human resources capacities. Additionally, EBRD has managed to build capacities of more than 600 local consultants and has trained more than 700 businesses in the field of business management.

Furthermore, during the coronavirus pandemic, we have worked closely with the business Associations, the Association of Consultants but also with Kosovo Ministry of Regional Development to offer information on the assistance of business sector during the COVID-19 pandemic, online trainings on digital marketing, liquidity management and management of employees working remotely among others. So, topics to allow businesses to overcome the difficulties on management and sustainability of businesses during COVID-19 pandemic. More than 12,000 persons participated in these activities organized by the EBRD.

Buletini Ekonomik: EBRD’s aid for women entrepreneurs is visible, particularly the aid on finances and advice. In this respect, which projects would you highlight that brought more results due to this aid?

Leonora Kusari: The Objective of Women in Business is to promote entrepreneurship to the women, starting from small and middle sized businesses led by women, to access finances, knowledge and non-financial services of developing the business. This package as a whole has impacted small and middle sized businesses led by women to enjoy economic growth, creating new jobs and a number of other social benefits, which has ultimately contributed to building a free and market oriented society.

Since the beginning in 2015, EBRD has signed an agreement on loans with TEB Bank. Between 2015 and 2018, 876 loans were supported with 8 million euros. In cooperation TEB Bank and Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, FSFM, have organised activities including 10 seminars for Women in Business across the main cities in Kosovo, where 274 women entrepreneurs participated. Simultaneously, the webpage of the programme was launched, online courses and Business Lens were provided as well.

In general, 171 women have completed the self-assessment and 618 women attended the online courses. As for the business advice, our team has helped 48 projects through local consultants and small and middle business owners and five ongoing business training projects. Furthermore, 8 women entrepreneurs were nominated for the program of mentorship that was implemented in partnership with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women. Consequently, more than 2750 women entrepreneurs were supported through different components of the program. The transfer of skills has helped these women to expand their businesses, through increasing their income and employment.

To build momentum in the first phase of the project, which was a great success with multiplying results, the second phase of the program Women in Business started in 2019 and will be implemented in a five year period. The program will strive to innovate, including new qualities, by intending to put spotlight on women entrepreneurs who are more vulnerable and unhelped to strengthen their capacities as part of the program’s aim to long sustainability of the program.

Buletini Ekonomik: How much did EBRD invest in supporting businesses and particularly on assistance for many businesses to have access to advice?

Leonora Kusari: Up until now we have invested more than 7.2 million euros for more than 1,000 companies and in building capacities and skills in more than 1,3000 consultants and small and middle sized enterprises.

Buletini Ekonomik: What was your support for the start-up companies  and more concretely, what were their key needs that the Kosovo start -ups have expressed to you and if you could please share with us any success story of a start-up that you have supported?

Leonora Kusari: We work closely with the Innovation Center Kosovo, ICK, since it was founded through mentoring, training and being part of the jury for newborn businesses. Since 2020, ICK is our key partner in implementing the program Star-Venture, a project that aims at identifying and supporting the start-ups that have potential to transcend local borders. A successful story is also Labbox which is specialised in tech education. Additionally, as part of these programs, we have other companies that are being successful beyond local borders such as Ambra, Symbol etc.

Buletini Ekonomik: How do you assess the Kosovo business enterprises that you have been working with? Are they responsible enough in management of their businesses and fulfilling the project obligations?

Leonora Kusari: We are really satisfied with the sincere cooperation with the businesses and partner associations because their success has enabled us to benefit from donors in order to contribute to the development of the private sector in Kosovo. We wish to have the same cooperation in the coming years.

Buletini Ekonomik: How many businesses benefited from ERBD’s programs in Kosovo and can you share with our readers some statistics that imply the increase of imports or creation of new jobs due to the support that EBRD provided to those businesses?

Leonora Kusari:  Between 2018 and 2020, we have managed to help around 180 companies who a year after our support have reached the following results:

77 of the companies have managed to increase the annual turnover up to 30 percent. All collectively have had another 96 million euros turnover;

33 percent of the companies have increased the imports up to 9.5 million euros;

27 percent of the companies received finance aid up to 36 million euros;      

1,754 new jobs were created.

Buletini Ekonomik: What is the vision of EBRD for the future in supporting the business community in Kosovo?

Leonora Kusari: We are at the final phase of drafting EBRD’s five year Strategy for Kosovo. Our main focus will remain the development of the private sector, spotlighting the increase of competition, regional integration, digitalization, green energy and inclusiveness, particularly of women and youth.

This interview was initially conducted in Albanian and then translated to English.