Kosovo, as elsewhere in the Western Balkans, suffers from high rates of unemployment, particularly among young people. In 2014, about 2 out of 3 young Kosovans in the labour force did not have a job, contributing heavily to the 35 percent unemployment rate among the population. What is worse, the current economic growth is able to create jobs for only about 29% of the 11,500 persons entering the labour market each year.
In 2015, we partnered with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland and Kosovo institutions to pioneer the Self-Employment Programme. We’re supporting job seekers with skills to launch their own enterprises with a start-up grant and mentoring services.
So far, Kosovo now has 43 proud new entrepreneurs who themselves hire more people to grow their start-ups. While more will come in 2016, you now have a chance to meet a few of them.
For many years now, Ajnur Arifi from a small town Janjevë/Janjevo in the east of Kosovo has been hoping to revive a tradition and a craft store that his grandfather had opened decades ago. However, the old equipment that once used to give life to a thriving metalsmith store in the hills surrounding the town could not meet the requirements of a modern business. Despite their experience in a relatively demanded craft, no member of the family was employed, and they relied on social assistance to make ends meet.
After having been awarded the grant, Ajnur has reinvigorated the tradition. He rented and renovated a new workshop. He built a steel melting furnace and secured all the equipment needed for a good start. Now he is an entrepreneur doing his work with extraordinary passion.
He plans to expand his business which is already serving clients outside of his hometown. Anjur has already employed two other people, and made his first line of products including 120 axes and other tools for carpentry, which he sells in markets around Kosovo.
Ethnic minorities, especially the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians are significantly excluded from the labour market in Kosovo. Young and older workers, women, and ethnic minorities are more likely to be jobless or employed in informal or low-wage jobs. Thus, the Programme aims to ease their access in the labour market, by giving priority to business ideas submitted by people who belong to different ethnic minorities.
Mirjeta Hoxha from Cërnicë/Cernica has always dreamed of designing clothes. Her passion led her to pursue design studies in Turkey where she was eventually offered a job with one of the leading fashion houses in the country. However, Mirjeta returned to Kosovo: “I wanted to make a brand new start in my place of birth, to bring my experience to the textile market here”.
Earning a grant from the Self-Employment Programme, Mirjeta may be well on her way to becoming one of the distinguished members of a new generation of fashion designers who shape modern trends. She has already received orders from all over the region, designed dozens of dresses, employed two colleagues, and markets her products under her own brand “MH”.
Mirjeta wants to lead by example in improving the working conditions in the industry: “As an educated woman, it is my duty to do so”, she concludes.
In Kosovo, textile is one of the sectors with the highest potential to grow. Businesses need easy access to finance, business development support services, and skilled workforce to fuel such growth.
“Sumeja” is a new pastry shop in Prishtinë/Priština, owned by Sanije Kuleta and named after her youngest daughter. Her husband helps with the delivery of the sought-after pastry.
For Sanije as a woman with no business experience, making a living from her passion seemed something daunting and unreachable: “I didn’t know how the customers would react to my products, whether I would be able to keep up with the competition and understand all the various requirements of running a business.”
That has changed with the Self Employment Programme. Sanije is now planning to provide employment to other women who to help her grow her business.
For women, access to finance is the main obstacle in starting a small business in Kosovo. The access to financing, such as loans, or financing from micro-finance institutions has especially been difficult to secure by women who had no property. In such cases, grants from donors were often the only means to help them stand on their feet.
*References to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999)