Driven by a passion for healthy food and nutrition, Edis Agani and Albina Duraku founded Fresa SHPK in 2017, a business that provides catering and food services for multiple schools and hospitals across Kosovo, with a focus on natural ingredients and nutritional balance. Since the fall of 2020, Edis and Albina have participated in an intensive, six-month coaching and mentoring program for a cohort of 20 women entrepreneurs from Kosovo. A partnership between MCC, Millennium Foundation Kosovo (MFK), GFA Consulting Group, the Santa Clara University Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, and the Institute for Free Market Economics, the program is supporting women entrepreneurs through personalized business coaching and mentoring in areas such as management, finance, and how to improve energy efficiency in operations.
The women entrepreneur program is one of a series of investments in women’s economic empowerment that MCC has been supporting in Kosovo through the threshold program agreement, signed in 2017. The $49 million grant supports investments in data use and market-driven approaches to lowering energy costs and encouraging energy efficiency. The grant program includes a substantial focus on women’s economic empowerment, in response to the significant under-representation of women in Kosovo’s labor market.
The women entrepreneur program in Kosovo aims to address a key issue: the need for women-owned businesses to invest in and benefit from energy efficiency. Women in Kosovo often run businesses that involve heavy energy usage, such as textile firms, hotels, bakeries, or manufacturing companies. Energy is a significant cost burden for many, often second only to labor costs. However, according to a study by Nathan Associates, female entrepreneurs are often unable to take advantage of energy efficiency because they lack the knowledge and or access to finance to making such investments.
To address this need, in addition to the intensive coaching and mentoring program, MFK is offering women entrepreneurs in Kosovo the opportunity to apply for a matching grants program. The program offers three types of partial grants to help women entrepreneurs invest in energy efficiency. The grant sizes range from small, to medium and large, with a maximum investment of up to €135,000 ($160,350). This tiered system was developed to support women’s businesses in a range of sizes, sophistication, and growth potential. Funding can be applied to production equipment, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, building related energy efficiency measures, or renewable energy solutions.
The call for applications for the large and medium grants received over 400 applications. The small grant program is launching soon and will target lower income women, including those in rural regions and ethnic minorities, with investments of up to €10,000 ($11,878).
Edis and her peers have also provided some constructive feedback on the program, that has been taken on board. Based on requests from the participants, the coaching and mentoring program incorporated limited content on digital marketing into its training modules. Edis sees the need for additional support and co-investments, in particular for “marketing related assistance, building up and further developing our website, and developing digital tools.”
Edis and Albina, who applied for the large grant, have a clear idea of how to use the investment: “We want to replace ovens in our school kitchens that are of traditional design and function into ovens that will shorten the baking time from 3 hours to 45 minutes. This will also make a difference in terms of the quality of food.” Prior to applying for the grant, Edis and Albina received a personalized visit from a program technical specialist. Edis says the specialist was knowledgeable about different types of equipment, what energy savings would be possible, and what would make most sense for her business. According to Edis, this visit was very helpful in validating her proposed investment plan.
“We are not only employing persons but are empowering these women. A few of our employees have now leading positions in other kitchens or restaurants. We see the changes in these women daily, which are striking. We are quite proud of that.”
Investing in women’s businesses is important for helping the women and their families, and for supporting female employment more generally. Women-owned firms in Kosovo represent just 11.4 percent of active companies in Kosovo, according to Open Business . They are, on average, smaller than male-owned businesses, and employ fewer workers. Moreover, women entrepreneurs often hire other women in their business operations. Edis and Albina, for example, have 24 employees of whom 22 are female. According to Edis, “Most of these women have for the first time been formally employed, [it is their] first time reading and signing contracts and opening bank accounts. We are not only employing persons but are empowering these women. A few of our employees have now leading positions in other kitchens or restaurants. We see the changes in these women daily, which are striking. We are quite proud of that.”
MCC is invested in the success of Kosovo’s women entrepreneurs and looks forward to supporting them and replicating the lessons from Kosovo into its growing portfolio of investments in female entrepreneurship. The Kosovo program is just one example of MCC’s increased focus on women’s economic empowerment—MCC is making every effort to ensure that women entrepreneurs benefit from our programs.