It all started in July 2015 over a cup of macchiato in downtown Prishtina. I was meeting Besa Zogaj Gashi - then Deputy Minister of Economic Development and now Head of a think tank focusing on Kosovo’s future - who wanted to brainstorm some ways to best support women through ICTs. The conversation was timely, as days earlier the Minister of Finance had asked my team to strategize about “soft investments” to complement the Kosovo Digital Economy Project, which focuses on expanding access to fast broadband internet to rural areas.
The idea was brewing in my head, in parallel to the sound of the coffee machine. In 2014 my colleagues successfully ran a series of workshops in Nigeria to connect local youth to digital jobs. Why not pilot a similar activity here? To my delight, the Deputy Minister quickly embraced the idea, agreeing to a technical assistance “cooked” on the spot.
The technical assistance - named Women in Online Work (WoW) – has now trained over 150 young women from five Kosovo municipalities in front-end web development, graphic design and digital marketing to work on digital job marketplaces. It was fully funded by the Korea Green Growth Trust Fund.
Shortly after our meeting with the Deputy Minister, I ran into the managers of the Swiss Cooperation’s Enhancing Youth Employment (EYE) Project, implemented by HELVETAS-Swiss Intercooperation & MDA.
Another cup of macchiato worked its magic: the ice was “melted” and, after a few weeks, our organizations agreed to join forces on the WoW - which was reflected in a Memorandum of Understanding in 2016.
What secret ingredient is in Kosovo’s macchiatos that gives them the power to spark ideas?
Since then, my team and the EYE project have been successfully cooperating and coordinating our activities in the Western Balkans. In 2016, the EYE project provided remedial English language classes and entrepreneurship courses to WoW graduates under the Bank program. Over time, the EYE scaled up the WoW to two more municipalities.
This past July – again, over a macchiato in Prishtina (!) - our respective teams reflected on the results of this rather unusual cooperation. Under the Bank’s WoW program, two-thirds of the program graduates obtained online contracts and six graduates found jobs in the local market in 2016-2017. Two years later, according to some quick research, with the help of the Upwork Foundation, over half of the program graduates still freelance on at least one major platform, with some finding huge success - including two graduates who have earned over $50,000 each since 2017 from data entry and graphic design contracts.
Under the EYE Project the WoW trainees continued with a follow up training, called Females in Business (FIB). FIB was a result of an assessment of WoW trainees and the need to add more soft skills and entrepreneurship courses. The WoW training was adjusted accordingly - merging technical courses with more soft skills and entrepreneurship courses into one training package.
The EYE project decided to finance the last cohort of WoW training by adding two new municipalities and introducing joint classes with young women from Albanian and Serbian ethnic communities. The EYE project contributed to building the local capacities of non-formal training providers, which led to immediate job matching on online freelance portals. EYE believes that WoW could become sustainable with the right partner as a training provider, who could charge end users for the trainings and, thereby, scaling the benefits for youth across Kosovo.
The Women in Online Work pilot proved that online work has the potential to offer huge opportunities for Kosovo - a small, landlocked country, with a young and tech savvy population. It also has the potential to provide new avenues for job creation, even in the most remote and rural areas. In the meantime, I wholeheartedly invite you to try the macchiatos in Kosovo (yes, the local hospitality industry deserves this boost, as a major source of youth service-sector employment…and inspiring ideas)
This blog was jointly drafted by Natalija Gelvanovska-Garcia, Zhenia Viatchaninova Dalphond, and Lea Shllaku, Zenebe Uraguchi.