Nurturing Bosnian Entrepreneurship
Bosnia and Herzegovina’s high unemployment rate and limited professional opportunities are driving many young people to leave the country. The Mozaik Foundation is working to change this.
Being a “preduzetnik”, or Bosnian businessman, is usually associated with being shady. Bosnians, when they hear the term, often think of a thief, a liar, a tax evader, or a pretentious BMW driver whose employees struggle to make ends meet. Most young people do not aspire to be a “preduzetnik”.
The Mozaik Foundation aims to change this negative image of entrepreneurship by helping a new generation of visionaries and achievers found innovative businesses that address social issues and create opportunities for economic growth and development.
Tamara, thanks to Mozaik, is now a young entrepreneur with a successful business. But her background is one that many of her generation in Bosnia and Herzegovina share.
She grew up in a small town outside Sarajevo, the capital. Her father worked in a factory, and her mother toiled as a cleaning lady when she could find the work. They had to take out a loan to fund Tamara’s university education, and she became the first person in her family to study. But after she graduated from law school, she struggled to find a job.
Tamara began volunteering as a social worker for NGOs in her hometown and, in 2015, applied for a Mozaik grant to host a two-day workshop on inclusion. Within a week, she recruited more than 250 kids to participate, nearly 100 of whom had special needs. The workshop was a huge success that led Mozaik to follow up with an offer of financial support for her to start a business. Tamara soon opened an agency that provides cleaning staff, and hired her mother and other women over 40 who had never had permanent jobs. It was another success. Tamara transformed herself from an educated but unemployed young woman to an accomplished entrepreneur.
“If it wasn't for us, she probably would have left the country,” says Vesna Bajšanski-Agić, Mozaik Foundation CEO. Tamara was looking for work as youth unemployment in Bosnia and Herzegovina loomed above 50%. “Today it's about 3%, but not because we've found ways to employ young people, but because many people have left the country to find work elsewhere. In 2021 alone, about 170,000 left,” Bajšanski-Agić laments.
Brain drain is a major issue facing Bosnia and Herzegovina, as many young people seek better job prospects and higher salaries abroad. The trend hinders the country's economic and social development.
That young people make this decision is understandable, explains Bajšanski-Agić. “I don't think we have the right to keep anyone here. But for the young people who want to stay here, we have to create opportunities for a decent life. So, if they want to stay, if they want to come back, if they want to give something back, we need to create a system for them to participate, for example by starting their businesses.”
Creating Role Models
The Mozaik Foundation believes that young people have enormous potential and can be the driving force for positive change in Bosnia and Herzegovina. By providing them with tools, resources, and mentoring, the foundation empowers them to pursue their ideas and transform them into sustainable businesses. “Our goal is to develop a new generation of young social entrepreneurs who will create new social and economic value, which, in turn, will create new jobs and serve as role models for other youth," Bajšanski-Agić explains.
Another important way in which the Mozaik Foundation supports entrepreneurship is through coaching aspiring businesspeople on business plan development and on understanding how markets function. The organization also provides early-stage financial support for developing product prototypes or expanding business operations.
The impact is evident in the success stories of the businesses whose founders Mozaik has supported. Greens successfully grows and sells organic vegetables and herbs in Sarajevo, and includes people with disabilities and other marginalized groups in the production process. Collectivibe develops innovative 3D platforms for online events and has already attracted Silicon Valley investors.
Go On … Take a Chance
Starting a business always involves significant risk, but many in Bosnia, whose society frowns on failure, are reluctant to gamble with such uncertainty. “There are only a few crazy people who are willing to take that risk," Bajšanski-Agić admits. But Mozaik has mechanisms in place to protect young entrepreneurs whose businesses falter. “That's something that sets Mozaik Foundation apart from other incubators,” she says. “If the business doesn't work, we recognize [it] in time, end the business, and give the fund to another entrepreneur. They are safe to leave and apply to us again.”
Through its work, the foundation sees an ability to spur change in a country that faces a litany of political challenges. Bajšanski-Agić sees two types of people who are willing to join Mozaik’s efforts: revolutionaries and evolutionaries.
Revolutionaries protest, serve as a watchdog for politics, identify problems, and advocate for solutions. Evolutionaries build on what already works well and offers opportunity. One cannot be both at the same time, Bajšanski-Agić believes, because they demand contradictory positions. Revolutionaries oppose the government, while evolutionaries cooperate with it.
Although both are important, Bajšanski-Agić sees Mozaik on the side of the evolutionaries. "If you want to change something, focus all your energy on building the new, not fighting the old," she says. “I don't always want to focus on the many problems we have in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We need to see what works, what can be done, and then move in that direction.”