Empowered through business incubators
As part of the “Contribution to social inclusion of the Roma and Egyptians from the Konik area through education and employment activities” project, the Red Cross of Montenegro has established the first business incubators for Roma and Egyptian entrepreneurs in the country, with support from the Italian Red Cross. One carpenter, four hairdressers, one beautician, two electricians, and one tailor now have customers in their shops. These business incubators have been established in Camp Konik near the Capital City Podgorica which used to be the biggest refugee camp across the Balkans.
Roma and Egyptians represent the most vulnerable minority in Montenegro. According to the most recent census data, there are 6,251 Roma and 2,054 Egyptian people (1.01% and 0.33% of the total population in Montenegro) – over half of whom are children. Material deprivation, limited formal education, high unemployment rates, inadequate housing conditions and social exclusion combined with ethnic prejudices, make these communities very vulnerable to poverty and economic shocks.
A particularly marginalised group of Roma and Egyptians lives in conditions of extreme poverty. Mainly residing in Podgorica, they are families who moved to Montenegro from Kosovo during the armed conflict in 1999. Currently, 357 households (comprising 1,869 people) live in Camp Konik which hosted thousands of displaced Roma and Egyptians for more than two decades. Nowadays, they are still affected by various compounded socio-economic and health difficulties. For example, many have not benefited from a consistent school education and lack professional skills and job qualifications, causing high rates of school dropouts and unemployment and resulting in limited financial means. In addition, child-begging, early marriages, human trafficking and family violence represent important challenges. Finally, low health awareness is resulting in a high average mortality and high rates of infectious and non-communicable diseases.
"We are providing for our family with this and it means a lot to us. I hope we will be able to work when Coronavirus is over and we will have everything we need then”, says Isenaj Sadik, electrician, a participant in the business incubators.
The project aims to support Roma and Egyptians´ employment prospects through education and vocational activities that can help them to become more competitive in the labour market. In addition to the business incubators, the Red Cross of Montenegro organised vocational training for 25 people, as well as psychosocial training for 30 people in accessing the labour market. To gather and inform employers, the Red Cross of Montenegro also hosted two roundtables on employment opportunities for the Roma and Egyptian communities.
The entire project, including the establishment of business incubators, has been realized within the EU Multi-Annual Action Programme for Montenegro on Employment, Education and Social Policies, 2015-2017 (IPA II), funded by the Montenegrin Ministry of Finance and the Italian Red Cross, which is also co-partner in the project´s implementation.
Tailor Pakiza Pajazitaj, participated in vocational training: “I attended the course for three months and I learned to sew something: for example, I know how to sew curtains for the house. Now, I plan to sew masks.”, she says.
The business incubator idea grew up as a long-term solution for Roma and Egyptian communities who decided to live and stay in Montenegro and expressed the desire to establish their own businesses. The Red Cross will continue to support the work of business incubators until 2023.
“In addition to the training organised last year, we provided all the material to ensure the quality of the work; for instance, we involved an accounting agency which introduced the participants to the administrative obligations” – Jelena Dubak, Secretary-General of the Red Cross of Montenegro.
The Italian Red Cross is one of the most active partners in providing support to the Red Cross of Montenegro in the work with its Roma population. During this project, the Italian Red Cross has provided technical support, in particular sharing best practices and knowledge on social inclusion and employment for the most marginalised groups, such as Roma and migrant communities. The business incubators are one of the successful results of this joint initiative and long-lasting collaboration.
Flavio Ciriaci, Italian Red Cross Regional Delegate in Montenegro, hopes that this project will represent a great opportunity for Roma families to improve their quality of life: "For the first time in 20 years, we have business incubators established in Konik. They will serve both as centres to promote job opportunities, as well as places to make a living for Roma and Egyptians communities.” he says.
“This means a lot to me. I've been living here for 20 years now and I used to work outside, in front of the building, in the basement. We didn’t have tools or anything else. Thank God we got everything we need now” says carpenter, Hetaj Škeljzen. Hetaj is one of nine people who have received support from the Red Cross of Montenegro and its donors to start his own business.
Business incubators for Roma and Egyptian population in Montenegro
Italian Red Cross, Red Cross of Montenegro, EU Multi-Annual Action Programme for Montenegro on Employment, Education and Social Policies (IPA II), Montenegrin Ministry of Finance