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EU enlargement to the Western Balkans: What role for women entrepreneurs?

23 November, 2016

Ambassadors and diplomats, university professors, business professionals, and women entrepreneurs attended the lively panel discussion held on Monday, November 21, in The Hague's Europe House. The European Commission Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR) organized the meeting, in collaboration with WEP – the pan-European Women Entrepreneurship Platform.


Madeleine Infeldt, Head of the Public Communication Section, Europe House, welcomed the participants and explained the important role of Europe House in the community. As the home of the Representation of the European Commission and the European Parliament Information Office in the Netherlands, it regularly hosts meetings on a variety of important topics related to Europe and Europeans.


Charlene Lambert, WEP Treasurer, introduced the discussion by reminding the audience that many studies have shown that entrepreneurship is fundamental to economic growth and social development, and an essential driver of prosperity. The magnitude and intensity of the reforms needed to adjust the candidate countries in the Western Balkans to the EU accession criteria are such that active involvement of all actors within the respective societies’ social, political, and economic structures, is critical.


Efka Heder, Director of the South East European Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning (SEECEL) and opening panel speaker, has worked at scaling entrepreneurship education efforts across Southeastern Europe, and fostering regional stability through cross-border entrepreneurship education collaboration. Despite a context of political instability and socio-economic challenges in the Balkans, Ms. Heder has been able to elevate entrepreneurial learning as a priority policy area, resulting in a unique combination of national ownership, regional cooperation and policy learning. She also discussed the Republic of Croatia's Strategy of Women Entrepreneurship Development. As one of the first countries in the world to have a specific strategy to support women's entrepreneurship, Croatia has carved out a leadership role in this regard.


Grazia Rendo, WEP chairwoman, opened her remarks with a statement from the OECD Secretary General, Angel Gurria that: "Women are the most underutilized economic asset in the world’s economy.” She went on to discuss the potential contribution of women entrepreneurs, and highlighted the Memorandum of Understanding that WEP recently signed with the Association of Business Women in Serbia and The Albanian national, professional, businesswomen and crafts.


Godana Durdevic, Member of the Association of Businesswomen in Serbia, Chamber of Commerce Businesswoman of the Year in 2008, and Director and co-owner of the company Slovo. Ltd., gave her personal impressions and experience as a business woman in the region, and explained how her network association has been able to support her. She welcomes more contact and collaboration with other networks.


A lively discussion and Q&A followed, and some of the key points raised included:


  • The need for an ongoing policy dialogue among all countries in the region;
  • The importance of cooperation among women entrepreneurship organizations to share the available funding;
  • The importance of entrepreneurial education at all levels, including with children;
  • The need for more systematic data gathering so that more is known about the current status, and potential results of entrepreneurship programs.


For further info: Women’s Business Initiative International