Serbia is a southeastern European country with an upper-middle-income economy. It ranks relatively high on the Human Development Index (63rd), Social Progress Index (53rd) and the Global Peace Index (54th). However, the nation suffers from high unemployment, especially in the youth population: Serbia recorded a youth unemployment rate of 30.3% in 2019. The lack of entry-level jobs consequently drives many young Serbians to flee their home country in search of work elsewhere. However, USAID has invested in an inventive solution to this problem: initiatives to promote youth entrepreneurship in Serbia.
Impact Hub Belgrade—Fostering Youth Entrepreneurship
USAID’s most notable endeavor is Impact Hub Belgrade. Impact Hub is a USAID-funded global network focusing on establishing entrepreneurial communities in cities worldwide. Serbia’s Impact Hub is located in Belgrade, Serbia’s capital city. It specifically focuses on youth entrepreneurship, helping youth-led start-ups to attract potential regional and international investors. In particular, it helps hone and validate young entrepreneurs’ business models, providing them with the materials and skills needed to turn their ideas into reality. Insufficient access to finance is the number-one challenge young entrepreneurs face. Therefore, Impact Hub dedicates itself to eliminating this obstacle and creating boundless opportunities for young Serbians. The program celebrated its fifth anniversary in December 2019.
Impact Hub Belgrade also prioritizes gender equality in its work. While Impact Hub Belgrade has a special focus on youth, it also recognizes the unique barriers that young female entrepreneurs face. On its anniversary in December, Impact Hub launched Women Entrepreneurs (WE) Founders, the first Serbian female investment group dedicated to fostering and supporting gender-diverse entrepreneurial teams and companies. Some of its techniques include ensuring women have an equal role in decision making, building trusting relationships between men and women in the workplace and encouraging women to take leadership positions.
Junior Achievement is another USAID-funded entrepreneurial program. The program is a training curriculum with the intention of teaching Serbian high school students the essentials of entrepreneurship. These essentials include writing business plans, identifying product placement and forecasting earnings. It ensures Serbian high school graduates enter the job market with the technical skills necessary to successfully establish a business. And while Junior Achievement programs are present throughout Europe, Serbia’s is among the strongest; in 2018, Belgrade hosted the European Student Company Competition, where 39 student-led companies from across the continent convened to present their businesses to a jury of prominent Serbian entrepreneurs.
Non-governmental organizations also support young entrepreneurs. A notable example is Smart Kolektiv, an independent nonprofit organization with the stated purpose of promoting youth entrepreneurship in Serbia. Smart Kolektiv assists young entrepreneurs in establishing their businesses. Its hope is that Serbia’s youth will use their power to drive positive social change.
Success in Entrepreneurship
Young entrepreneur success stories abound across Serbia. One example of lucrative youth entrepreneurship in Serbia is Nikica Marinkovic’s Box System, an eco-friendly replacement for styrofoam designed to transport organic produce. Thanks to Impact Hub, Marinkovic gained funding from Austrian investors and U.S. markets that allowed him to expand his business.
Encouraging youth entrepreneurship in Serbia is just one way to encourage young Serbians to stay in their home country and fulfill their dreams. However, the popularity of these initiatives and their encouraging results also demonstrate that fostering youth entrepreneurship is a lucrative option for Serbia’s economy. Prosperous, youth-led operations continue to emerge throughout Serbia, from independent coffee shops to cutting-edge technologies.
– Abby Tarwater