Behind Every Great Woman… Is A Woman
Women experts help women’s businesses grow in Western Balkans
Due to the challenges posed by the pandemic, many small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the Western Balkans are struggling to hold on to their markets and access much-needed liquidity to stay in business. Even before the pandemic, the lack of suitable and affordable finance was one of the most common obstacles to growth for SMEs in the Balkans. This barrier continues to stand in the way for SMEs, particularly those owned, led and managed by women.
The USAID CATATLYZE Engines of Growth (EoG) Activity identified a local pool of specialized financial consulting companies and individuals (Business Advisory Service Providers — BASPs) to mobilize capital to viable SMEs to restore productivity and retain employment.
The BASPs work with women-owned, -managed, and -controlled micro, small- and medium-sized enterprises (W-MSMEs) to determine their capacity to obtain financing and formulate growth strategies, develop business plans, and perform financial analysis.
“Women in business have less information about opportunities they can consider when it comes to access to finance. In my work, I have noticed that women can use help from consultants in approaching loans and alternative financing as important tools for growth in the company. Encourage, inform, and support — this is what our work is all about,” shares Meriha Manojlovic, one of the independent consultants involved in USAID CATALYZE EoG activities in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Through the work of BASPs, USAID CATALYZE supports selected firms in presenting their plans and financing needs to financial institutions and other investors, resulting in increased access to finance. Also, together they identify financial investors (banks, financial institutions, equity investors etc.) potentially interested in targeted SMEs and sources of potential financial support offered by public innovation funds, government programs, and other commercially-based financial programs that are directed towards private sector investment.
“In the context of our communication with the banking sector, it is important to explain to the beneficiary relevant terms that he/she does not understand well, which are unknown to him/her, and help them to make the right decision. This is an important step — that leap of trust — so they start perceiving us as relevant support, for future cooperation and concrete measurable results,” notes Dragana Bulatovic, who provides advisory services through a BASP in Montenegro.
Arjana Dugajlic, a Serbia-based consultant with 21 years of experience in banking and access to finance, helps W-SMEs work with commercial banks and other financial institutions to obtain sources of funds that are necessary for the implementation of the business growth plans. “This means that I suggest different possibilities, but I also participate in the very act of negotiation and follow the project until the end of implementation,” said Arjana.
Work of business advisory service providers goes beyond support in finance.
“The companies I have worked with so far are companies where the woman does absolutely everything and burnout occurs at some point. In an effort to help them, I try to point out the challenges they have in managing people, hiring additional labor, managing working capital, and of course with the flow of information that is inaccessible to them for different reasons,” adds Meriha.
The USAID CATALYZE-supported BASPs noted that most companies are not ready to write projects due to the complexity of the paperwork nor ready to negotiate possible loans and access to finance appropriately.
“It is very important that after entering into the analysis of a company, we advise them even (if it means) changing the business concepts so that all financial indicators are in alignment with a bank’s risk policy. In the market, it often happens that the company is excellent, but that the indicators are not properly presented, and therefore, they do not get the positive response from banks,” said Arjana.
Success stories of BASP-supported entrepreneurs show that there is great potential for growth and development.
“I am from Novi Sad, and I have a registered farm in Titel. I entered the Faculty of Agriculture (at the University of Novi Sad) because my family has been farming for years. I am currently studying for a master’s degree and plan to start my own business,” said Jelena Rošul, owner of an agro-business in Serbia and a client with a USAID CATALYZE-supported BASP.
“Through USAID CATALYZE EOG Project, I got in contact with Arjana Dugajlić. We decided at the first meeting that we would work great together to achieve goals of my company. Arjana had several conversations with different bankers and together we made decisions. She helped me collect the necessary documentation, and I managed to get a grant, so my savings were as much as 50%,” concludes Jelena.
Meriha notes that in transitional societies, it is necessary to change the perception of women that it is harmful to take an external form of financing.
“I have been working with the company “Beemed” for almost a year so that it could separate from the incubator and start investing and building its facility,” said Meriha. “Their growth serves as encouragement for other women-entrepreneurs in Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
Arjana believes women entrepreneurs have a great potential for growth and progress precisely because they are educated and brave.
“We need to provide them with special types of assistance — for example, in the food industry, where there are a large number of female entrepreneurs who need the help of consultants in certification and placement. So BASPs’ support is not only with financing but expands further in different directions. The most important: through USAID CATALYZE EoG, we need to respond to needs of women entrepreneurs,” said Arjana.
Learn more about USAID CATALYZE Engines of Growth in the West Balkans here.
USAID CATALYZE, implemented by Palladium, is an 8-year program designed to mobilize $2 billion in private capital for development impact, especially in underserved social sectors and frontier markets across the globe, complemented by a cross-cutting inclusion of gender-lens investing. CATALYZE supports blended finance solutions working with local and international businesses and investors to explore and find commercially-viable opportunities and approaches to creating jobs, developing sustainable social services, tightening and rationalizing supply chains, and advancing inclusive growth. We work across 28 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean, with 190 partners, including financial institutions, business advisory service providers, anchor firms, and job trainers.