Albania is an amazingly beautiful country with very hospitable people, positive energy and a willingness to drive forward. Occasionally it is still held back by the traditional stereotypes from the time of Communism, especially where parents wish for their children to work in public sector. Sadly corruption exists and is ever present. It was great that the journalists looked for ways to overcome this from our conversations. However, the strong sense of optimism can overcome the traditional thinking and the starting point is ahead of most countries in the region.
The Youth are very proactive and positive. Many have a desire to leave the country …to go to London! But the desire to leave could be prevented by opening the eyes of the people and the doors to opportunities inside Albania. It would not take too much effort and little capital spend to have this trend of exit reversed.
The introduction of more foreigners who speak highly of Albania, who recognise the assets of the country, who share that Albania has more opportunities than many other EU countries, (i.e.: the grass is not greener on the other side - a European Union in crisis), plus people who can open doors and share networks will strengthen the arguments to prevent people leaving. It will also work as inspiration for many of the people.
From 21 to 24 May I was invited to Tirana, the capital of Albania by SECO –Swiss Contact as an expert on their ongoing program for Entrepreneurship support. My four days assignment was intensive with events and presentations organized for different target groups but all covering the important topics of entrepreneurship as a tool for development, empowerment of women and young girls and open discussions about domestic violence and gender based violence.
My first destination was Startup Live, an annual franchised event of 2.5 days. I was invited as their Keynote speaker on the first day to inspire the participants on innovation and an individual’s ability to drive change in all forms of entrepreneurship. As the EESC rapporteur for ‘Entrepreneurship as a mechanism to exit the crisis’ I was able to share the recommendations. Thereafter for 2 days I was a mentor to the very talented and dedicated participants before finally being a judge of the investor pitches.
In general, as all similar events of this kind Startup Live is dedicated to all aspiring young entrepreneurs who are willing to spend an intense weekend in hard work and turn their ideas in to an action, from concept to prototype. Startup Live Tirana has 75 participants which formed around 19 teams. In the 2.5 days they pitched their ideas, made a basic business model development, formed a marketing and sales plan and at the end did a final pitch in front of the jury as if they were pitching for funds/investment. In between, the participants had several presentations on a variety of subjects like business model development with a Canvas model tool and Pitching tips and tricks, an intense mentoring sessions with a group of 10 mentors, all covering different expertise. Even though there are no limitation in the product or service that the entrepreneurs can propose, the majority of the ideas were about app development or web services. Several of the ideas also covered social entrepreneurship which is relatively new business concept in Albania.
Being innovative and making a difference is always a good choice and this was proven on Startup Live Tirana. Among all ideas, the ones which caught the judge’s attention most were those with the ability to make an impact:
1-st place - IT For Equality – a product and service to help all persons with disabilities and specifically paralyzed persons. The concept is to transformed the simple wheel chair in a smart chair by setting various proximity sensors, humidity, temperature controls which are monitored by a Smartphone implemented in each chair. These sensors will enable auto avoiding, auto stop, auto speed features.
2-nd place - Touch and Pay - an application that uses fingerprint technology to make payments directly from your phone through your bank. This product will be totally safe and its simplicity and speed of transactions will help the client in the management of money and time. The transfer amounts would be for smaller payments.
3-rd place - Tooth Tour - is an agency that will provide qualitative dental service for foreigners in Albania, through a lower price and better service than in European countries, coupled with the optional opportunity to tour Albania during the stay in coordination with the dental treatments required. This has already proven very successful with Italian visitor.
This event was supported by Albania’s largest companies and government organisation from Albania and had great media coverage. The event was also partly attended by Ms Milena Harito, Minister for Innovation and Public Administration in Republic of Albania and I enjoyed a short conversation with her on changing the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Albania to help the young entrepreneurs
Startup Live Tirana
As in all the Balkans region, there are very strong women who are fighting against a culture of domestic violence, psychological abuse and a macho society. A focus on female entrepreneurship, women in leadership, politics and management must be an integral part of the trainings. This does not have to be done as a lecture or workshop which highlights the challenge of talking about domestic abuse. If a workshop is based on entrepreneurship then social rights and human rights can be integrated into the training without being obvious. The journalists and many participants highlighted that domestic abuse was an issue and in that I understood there was a cry for help.
The morning of 23rd was reserved for The Day of Women Entrepreneur event organized by Woman in Power organization. My speech on this event was dedicated to empowering the women to change their mindset and be brave to pursue their dreams by sharing my life story and my experience from a victim to a change maker. By sharing the recommendations and findings from the EESC opinion on female entrepreneurship I was able to make the women understand their added value in society which came from pursuing their dreams as an entrepreneur.
The Day of Women Entrepreneur
That evening I was invited to speak at the newly opened Incubator and Innovation Centre in Tirana at a special event ”Girls Code Fest Marathon – Empowering Girls in Technology” where I had the pleasure to speak in front of the young girls who are dedicated to coding, engineering, innovation and technology. Empowering the young girls in science and technology is a big issue across the world due to the gender imbalance. Here I was sharing stage with Milena Harito again where I committed to support the Innovation Awards and help with Internationalisation of Albanian Innovation.
Girls Code Fest Marathon
My last day was dedicated to sharing entrepreneurship with the media and the next generation of politicians and leaders in Albania. In the morning I had 2 interviews for the biggest TV stations in Albania –the first was for Top Channel TV and the second was for Report TV. I also was interviewed for the Albanian Business magazine. The objective of all the articles was to promote and celebrate success, sharing my work as an entrepreneur and with the decision making process of the European Union and by highlighting the inspirations I had seen in Tirana.
Albania has such a positive energy that it is important to share with the people of Albania the good feelings I had and my optimism and commitment to work with them further.
In the afternoon I met the regional development agency for the region of Korca and have offered support in carrying out outreach support on entrepreneurship, as well as helping them identify European partners for some of their projects in the fields of tourism and food.
The last speech was to the students of Luarasi University together with H.E. Blendi Klosi -Minister of Youth and Social Welfare. In my speech I shared with the students their ability to be the change-makers for Albania and requested them to see their country as a beautiful place full of opportunity and to stop thinking about leaving for the EU. The grass is always greener on the otherside ……but they have the power to make their own grass green instead of leaving it for someone else to take care of. I challenged them to use all their potential and to understand that they are the Now of the Albania who are able to make a change.
One of the things that I believe would work very well as a workshop and a tool for empowerment of youth, unemployed, women and civil society organisations and NGOs would be a workshop on Public Speaking. This would strengthen the engagement of civil society: Activities like debates and policy making exercises, youth Parliaments, would better express how economic, social and cultural rights make the foundations of human rights and democracy and strengthen the country. Albania has already achieved a society of harmony where there are few noticeable tensions, and almost nothing on a religious level, Something I believe even the EU could learn from.
Albania is still a young country. By removing negative images outside , promoting local culture, excellent and very affordable high quality cuisines , local crafts ( especially over Chinese imports) and promoting the unrivalled hospitality of the people; sustainable growth in Albania could be achieved and I would love to be part of it.
I loved Albania and was extremely sad to leave, but I know I will go back very soon to continue to support the great work already being done there.
Please do not hesitate to contact me for any further information firstname.lastname@example.org.
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