One can draw a sad conclusion about Kosovo’s youth, notes Zana Maloku, a founding member of Finance in Motion’s Regional Office in Prishtina. “Young people study and then hope they can leave the country.” Regrettably, she has the evidence to back up this theory in her own household: The eldest of her two sons has transferred to the University of Vienna following two years of studies in Prishtina.
Zana has long been watching Kosovo’s brightest minds set out for what they consider greener pastures far from home. It’s the type of brain drain hurting many other areas in Southeast Europe. “Young people don’t see any prosperity,” she notes with a tinge of sadness. “The economy is not strong – growth is very slow.”
Young Kosovars are not wrong when they voice concerns about their future. The Kosovo Agency of Statistics says last year, the youth unemployment rate was close to 60%. While some may consider this number a good reason to hoist a white flag, others are rising to the challenge. In September 2016, the Development Facility of the European Fund for Southeast Europe (EFSE DF) partnered with Child and Youth Finance International to organize the Ye! Pitching Event. The competition selected the best young entrepreneurs aged 16-27 in Kosovo and provided cash grants and interest free loans to spur the development of the winning business ideas, which included furniture for the disabled, a system to calculate cost savings from a switch to solar power, and a digital marketplace for student housing. (See more here: http://www.efse.lu/news-events/news/detail/top-youth-run-start-ups-win-big-in-kosovo-young-entrepreneur-event-moves-to-ukraine/)
The event was only one way for the EFSE DF, which is managed by Finance in Motion, to work toward its goals of increasing youth employment and entrepreneurship in the markets it serves. It also cooperates with local partners to help financial institutions develop products and increase their capabilities for serving micro and small enterprises and low-income households. The event was such a success that organizers are planning the next pitching competition in the Ukraine and considering further contests in the other 14 countries the EFSE serves in Southeast Europe and the European Neighbourhood Region - East.
With competitions like the pitching event, the EFSE DF is also providing something that cannot be measured by a statistics office: Hope. Zana’s face lights up when she talks about the Kosovo competition. “This event returned my faith and hope that there are still young people willing to take chances and make a change,” she says. While this may have been the first such contest in Kosovo and the first time the EFSE DF has supported this type of event, for Zana, something more important stood out: Both her sons belong to the generation for which the competition was conceived.
Zana’s connection to the event was about to become more personal than she ever could have imagined. As she circulated through the event and warmed to the optimism in the faces of the young entrepreneurs, she noticed something familiar about one of the finalists. The young man politely introduced himself and explained he had been in the same elementary school class as Zana’s younger son. This is when it all hit home. More than a decade of working with the EFSE had often given her hope and positively impacted her life, but this was a step beyond. Here was someone who had learned the basics in the same classroom as her own boy, and now he was pitching a search engine that finds jobs close to home, a tool to fight one of her biggest concerns about her homeland and her family, brain drain.
Zana sums up her feelings about the experience. “This event made me feel so proud about what I do because it also encourages and creates opportunities for the biggest treasure that Kosovo has to offer, its youth.”