Dragana Djurica, Senior Expert for Competitiveness at the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC), South-Eastern Europe: Exclusive Interview

By on 07/05/2017 | Updated on 22/07/2017
Dragana Djurica, Senior expert for competitiveness, Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) secretariat

Conflict and culture have constrained women’s success in business and government in South-Eastern Europe, says the region’s competitiveness coordinator. Stav Dimitropoulos learns what Dragana Djurica is doing to help release the potential of female entrepreneurs

“Statistics shows that approximately every fifth company in the South-East Europe [SEE] region is run by a woman,” says Dragana Djurica, Senior Expert for Competitiveness at the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) secretariat. But this is a picture of triumph over adversity rather than easy success in a benign environment. “Most women entrepreneurs own micro or small enterprises, often in the informal sector, and face many obstacles – including limited sector choices or policy support, as well as lack of information and access to markets, business opportunities and financial capital.”

Djurica is quick to add that some women entrepreneurs are making the leap from traditional trades such as textiles or handicrafts to electronics, engineering, IT and telecommunications. But female potential remains an underutilised economic resource in SEE nations; and these Balkan and former Eastern Bloc countries can’t afford to miss out on opportunities for growth.

Communism and the conflicts in former Yugoslavia, says Djurica, created economic, social and political volatility that instilled in the region’s women a “lack of motivational reasoning”; and the Great Recession wreaked further havoc in local economies.

“The severe global recession led to a rapid reduction of capital flows into SEE countries, including foreign direct investments, remittances, and access to foreign assistance,” she explains. “It depressed foreign trade, domestic demand, employment, and business opportunities. Around 800,000 workplaces in the region were lost since the crisis struck, and the burden of the crisis was borne to a large extent by the long-term unemployed, the young and women.” Unemployment rates hover around the 30% mark in many countries.

The RCC succeeds the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe, which ran 1999-2008, and aims to support integration, growth and collaboration in this historically troubled corner of Europe. Reaching from Greece and Turkey to Romania, Serbia and Croatia, it prioritises connectivity, competitiveness, skills, Roma integration, the rule of law and security cooperation.

“We work very closely with all the governments and relevant regional cooperation mechanisms in the region, addressing needs such as economic and social development, energy and infrastructure, justice and home affairs, and institutional and human capital,” says Djurica. It’s her role to get people talking to each other across the region, building shared industrial and investment policies that, for example, make it easier for businesses to access capital, make investments, build efficient supply chains and enter new markets.

In Djurica’s view, projects that support female entrepreneurs can be particularly effective in supporting economic growth. During her days working for Serbia’s investment agency and its diplomatic service, then whilst coordinating the regional scheme “Women Entrepreneurship – A Job Creation Engine in South East Europe“, she developed a conviction that female entrepreneurship should be “mainstreamed” within broader economic growth initiatives. And she believes that the agenda is progressing fast.

“The subject of female entrepreneurship has now become accentuated in the region’s legislation, either specifically or as part of small and medium enterprises competitiveness strategies,” she says. The ‘job creation engine’ project “helped detect the training needs for female entrepreneurs in the SEE countries,” she says – and the RCC has capitalised on the training programmes and coordinating groups established at that time. These days, she says, “female entrepreneurship has become a part of the European Union pre-accession process” – building support amongst the candidate countries of the Balkans.

“The gender-based economy is a now a critical component of the ongoing efforts to support economic competitiveness in the SEE region,” says Djurica. “We hope to see stronger motivation and persistence among business women and women entrepreneurs, and stronger governmental and international community support, in this endeavour in the future – both in policy and pragmatic terms.”

To realise her goals, though, Djurica believes the “lack of motivational reasoning” – a product of culture and circumstance – that has kept women out of key positions in the public and entrepreneurial sector must be challenged. “We should start considering the participation of women as not only normal, but also desirable,” she concludes. “And the growing number of successful business women and women entrepreneurs throughout the SEE countries show us that this mindset is changing.”

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See also:

EU gender equality report reveals ‘mountain to climb’

Christine Loh, Under Secretary for the Environment, Hong Kong: Exclusive Interview

Progress on female ministers has stalled, says UN

Electing women can boost gender equality in both appointments and policies, research finds

About Stav Dimitropoulos

Stav Dimitropoulos is a writer who has reported for CBC and CBS Radio about the Greek crisis and written for major international outlets. She holds an MSc in RCDM and a Diploma in Journalism among others, and has attended seminars in Micro/Macroeconomics, Political Theory and EU Institutions.

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