”Our children will turn Kosovo into the new Switzerland”

With annual GDP/per capita of less than US $3700, Kosovo is one of Europe’s poorest countries. Young people see little opportunity; as a result, many will leave the country after completing their education for Switzerland, an EU country, or the United States. SDC’s “Promoting Private Sector Employment” (PPSE) project, which Swisscontact is implementing in Kosovo, supports economic development and therefore is making sustainable improvements to the job market. PPSE focuses on entrepreneurs, especially women, who wish to expand their businesses further.

45-year-old Havushe Bunjaku is one of those women entrepreneurs. As a trained biologist, she markets medicinal teas grown locally and organically. Earlier she had worked as a teacher, but she prefers to be her own boss, in her own words.

One new women-owned business. Additional income for 15 families

Those around her were sceptical at first: ”You can’t earn any money from these weeds,” was what she would hear. Meanwhile, her business now employs her husband and one more employee. In addition, Havushe has built a network of 15 women who are planting herbs and berries for her teas. Many families in Kosovo only own a tiny plot of land, too small to get subsidies but too large to leave it unused. By planting herbs for Havushe, many families are now able to earn additional income. She is in contact with 20 more women interested in producing for her.

Shared costs

Swisscontact is helping Havushe to develop her marketing skills and supply her vendors with seedlings, irrigation systems, and other tools. The PPSE Project and Havushe’s company are sharing the costs for these investments.

Her children are now teenagers. Will they also want to immigrate to Switzerland when they grow up, as so many other youth? “No, they will make Kosovo into the new Switzerland,” laughs Havushe.

From 30 to 100 employees

A few kilometres south of Prishtina in the town of Ferizaj, Fatmire Maliqi is looking for a way through the construction site. In just a few weeks she will open her new baklava factory. More than 10 years ago she launched her bakery business, initially right from her own kitchen. After just a few weeks and with a supermarket chain as a client, she expanded her business. Meanwhile, her company “Edona 5” employs 30 women. With the new factory, in one stroke she will employ 100 people and export her baklava to Belgium.

Difficulty accessing finance

The road has not been easy. As a divorcee with five children and no land for collateral, it was difficult for her to raise the investment capital she needed. “I had hoped for more support from the banks,” says Fatmire. Even after securing the purchasing agreement from a supermarket chain in Belgium she has only been able to get credit haltingly from the banks. For that reason she was happy for help from the “Opportunity Fund”, through which the project supports promising companies.

Baklava export

Edona 5’s growth potential is far from exhausted with the new factory. Baklava is in demand, even abroad. The businesswoman has inquiries from supermarkets in Germany and North Africa. But she doesn’t want to overextend too quickly and prefers to go one step at a time.

Havushe and Fatmire are two examples of successful businesswomen in Kosovo. Their stories should motivate other women and show the way to opportunities in their own country. This is also why Swisscontact is working in Kosovo.

800 new jobs

The PPSE project has created 800 full-time jobs within three years. The programme focuses on two sectors:

In the food processing sector, the focus is primarily on improving competitiveness of market actors, market linkages, increasing the presence of domestic products in the market, and import substitution.

In the tourism sector the focus is on developing new products and services as well as improving skills to ensure sustainable job creation. Interventions in this sector are helping directly to increase the number of tourists spending more and staying longer at their destinations.

Entrepreneurial ecosystems, Sustainable tourism
Promoting Private Sector Employment
Kosovo has grown moderately at an average rate of 4% in the last few years (pre-COVID 19) and is constantly facing growing labour force, while the labour market falls short of generating the jobs needed to absorb the new entrants (around 30,000 annually). Formal employment makes around 75% of the overall employment, with public sector accounting for 25% of formal jobs. Youth, women, and minorities (particularly the Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian) remain the most excluded groups. The COVID-19 pandemic did not spare Kosovo’s economy from its devastating impact.