JASMINA Ilinčić, Director of development
CODD Civil Organisation for Development Dalj
RCC - Workshop on Enhancing
Women Entrepreneurship in SEE
Sarajevo, 1st October 2009
While preparing this presentation, I held a
meeting (24.09.2009.) with 12 women
entrepreneurs members of the CODD social
enterprise called “Handwoven souvenirs” .
We discussed main problems, obstacles,
solutions ...
The presented findings come from their point
of view ... from real women at grassroots
The situation in the post-war Municipality of
Erdut (8,500 inhabitants living in 4 villages) is
quite problematic.
High rates of unemployment, depopulation and
emigration of people, and low interest of young
people for life in the rural areas hinder the
development of this territory, rich in resources
and tradition.
But, in such a situation it is sometimes enough to
identify and initiate ideas that will revive the
forgotten potential of this region, and
significantly contribute to the quality of life of
local people.
Many donors and official Croatian institutions
introduced „social entrepreneurship“ and
„social enterprises“ as a model for job
creation and local community development
for the social excluded a few years ago.
The nongovernmental association CODD,
operating in this region since 2002., saw this
direction as complementary to it's strategic
goal of empowering rural and marginalised
women, not only psycho-socially, but also
Any private activity conducted in the public
interest, organised with an entrepreneurial
strategy whose main purpose is not the
maximisation of profit, but the attainment of
certain economic and social goals, and which
has the capacity to bring innovative solutions
to the problem of social exclusion and
(definition by OECD, LEED Programme)
group of women enthusiasts, members and
activists from CODD, recognized this new
opportunity in a revival of traditional crafts,
handweaving on Slavonian looms.
 The idea was, that establishing a social
enterprise can revitalize the rich culture of
the Slavonian region, while at the same time
promote employment and sustainable
 Therefore,
12 women started the CODDsocial enterprise “HANDWOVEN
SOUVENIRS” with the initial help of various
donors (Japanese Embassy in Croatia, just to
mention one) for equipment purchase
(handweaving looms, sewing machines etc.).
 The long-term intention was to form a
cooperative when the social enterprise
develops strong enough.
 The
business idea was that production of
handwoven souvenirs can contribute:
 ...to the advancement of the region (where
rural tourism as one of the priority strategic
directions of the Municipality of Erdut), and
 ...to the employment of rural women.
Slavonia, specifically Erdut Municipality, has
a wealth of high quality traditional
handcrafted products with a great potential
in the tourist market.
This sector is particularly important due to
the fact that the vast majority of producers
are unemployed women in rural areas that
were heavily affected by the homeland war
in the 90's.
 The
richness of culture and history has
brought a wide range of products such as
golden embroidery or handwoven products.
 The general situation in Croatia is that
tourists leave with the impression that there
is little to buy in way of handicrafts, and, at
reasonable prices compared to
other tourist destinations.
 Women
were trained in hadweaving
techniques by experts from the Textile
Faculty from Zagreb.
 They obtained elementary business skills
training and funds to buy initial raw
materials for production.
 They obtained some funds for participating
in exhibition shows and fairs.
At first, the enterprise produced
various things in order to somehow
explore what the market want's.
Bags, rugs, cloth, table cloth,
linen, and many other products.
Women linked to the local and
regional Tourist associations and
participated in many fairs and
events across Croatia in order to
promote products, gain income and
–even more important- to see
which product is the „bestseller“.
This was done through grants and
subventions from various donors, who were
pushing the „female social enterprise idea“ .
The goal was to get to the market, link to
souvenir shops or retailers, and continuosly
sell products which tourists like the most.
This would leed to the establishment of a
cooperative which could provide employment
not only to the 12 women entrepreneurs who
started the business, but to many others.
However, women from the “Handwoven
souvenirs” enterprise soon discovered that
the market for these products is diminishing
as people turn to mass-produced and cheap
There is a limited amount of tourists cruising
on the Danube where Erdut Municipality is
situated, but even those producers with
centrally located shops are having trouble
attracting customers (mostly Americans) and
selling their traditional handicrafts.
 Therefore
a limited amount of
people will buy traditional
handicraft items.
 Slavonia is not a tourist
hotspot and presents not the
main market for those
handwoven products.
 In other words, tourism in
Erdut Municipality is in it's
„baby shoes“ and therefore
can’t be the main souvenir
 On
the other hand, the tourist-rich
coast (Istria, Dalmatia etc.) is
flooded with visitors during the
summer who have money to spend
on souvenirs, but Slavonia rarely
sees these types of visitors.
 IDEA 
 If they don't come to us, let's get our
products to the tourists!
 ... how to get to them?
 The
women from the “Handweaving
souvenir” enterprise are tucked into their
villages far from the classic tourist
destinations and are isolated from market
information and linkages.
 This makes it nearly impossible for them to
understand what the market is looking for
and how to reach it.
In order to get the products into the right
hands, women soon discovered that they
need to modify their products in order to
meet market trends.
They must explore new distribution channels
to get the products out, both on the coast
and through inclusion in the regional tourism
activity or souvenir shops.
Women asked: How to know what foreign
tourist want and how much they are willing
to pay?
 We
have the equipment,
 we have the raw materials,
 we have the neccessary production skills,
 we even have the (right?)products,
 we attended many fairs and promotion events
(...while we had the money to do so ...)
 but
what we don't have is THE RIGHT MARKET and
the RIGHT TOURIST to BUY our products.
How to get to the „touristic hotspots“?
How to get to „the right people“?
How to know “what foreign tourists want”?
... if ....
... you don't have the money, the means and
the knowledge?
Are there any support centers?
Who can help us?
 During
this afternoon meeting with women
entrepreneurs, we came up with some
conclusions that can bee seen as problems of
all rural women entrepreneurs:
Women from rural areas try to start businesses suiting
to their resources and knowledge. Most of them are
limited to food and handicraft products.
Rural women have family responsibilities. They have to
take care of children and in-laws which takes away lots
of their time and energy.
When facing non-support from family members it is
difficult to concentrate on the business.
There is the problem of age and educational level of
rural women.
Younger women are leaving rural areas.
Problem of mobility due to traditional values, or lack of
transport opportunities.
Location of work (urban versus rural)
Some identified problems:
Rural women are unwilling to move beyond comfort
zone (local community etc.)
Sometimes they are just unable to move beyond
their community due to lack of infrastructure, lack
of transport opportunities, lack of finances etc.
Due to low self confidence they fear to face risks
and troubles that may come up in a business
Some possible solutions?
Trainings for motivation and self confidence building
Training and assistance in business planning for any
aspect of the enterprise (production, marketing,
financial management).
Encourage participation first in local, and then
regional and national fairs/events.
The local level (local authorities, local
development agencies etc.) should provide
loans/subventions for start-up activities (for
example, to cover travel costs for participating at
fairs, education etc.)
 Erdut
Municipality is a region
with very rich handicraft
tradition ... but is this enough?
 Do
we have enough evidence of
what the market wants,
whether local, national, or –
especially – international?
Some identified problems:
Selling “sand in the desert”, products that already
exist in a better/cheaper form
Rural women entrepreneurs have little info on market
The majority of products are still strongly based in
traditional colors, designs and function
Inconsistency in product quality (variations of raw
materials due to imports from other countries); Poor
packaging and marketing materials;
Women expressed frustration not knowing how they
could produce things that would be purchased.
There is great appreciation for their work (even from
donors, embassies, ministries, companies etc.), but
often little sales.
Some possible solutions?
Support in market investigation and market
Expert support to identify niche markets.
Support to improve product design, quality,
packaging etc.
Marketing material, such as brochures, should be
published in various languages.
Establish linkage with relevant stakeholders to
provide additional skills training.
 How
to avoid the often heard sentences?
 ......“I
can buy a cheaper souvenir.”
 Or
 ......“This
is to expensive.”
Some identified problems:
Flood of cheap imports to Slavonia (from
handicraft to food) and Croatia in general.
Products made in China or India are cheap
and trendy, and, as such, the interest in
traditional local products tends to die out (to
expensive etc.).
High cost of raw materials and inconsistency
in their supply and quality.
High cost of the workforce (even though
women work for minimum wages!). You
can’t compete with Chinese wages.
 Possible
o Analyses
of market
o Move into new areas
o Products must have unique design &
o Products must have a story attached
can rural women, handicraft
producers, be hooked with clients
and other actors involved in the
Some identified problems:
To much reliance on family, neighbours or
previous contacts in local area.
Women can’t run around for marketing,
distribution and money collection.
Sometimes middlemen tend to exploit them.
Little use of market information
Rural women have less possibilities to enter
markets such as Istria or Dalmatia: no
contacts, no information about events/fairs,
lack of money to participate in events, no
means of transport such as a car etc.
Possible solution:
o Link to retailers interested in products.
o Try to directly hook producer to trader.
o Help set up stands, vending points at
touristic hotspots.
o Strengthen sales skills, confidence.
o Provide funding for transport and
o Establish webshop.
Some identified problems:
Start-up financing for raw materials, marketing
and other costs is a common challenge.
Major problem to rural women is liquidity.
Family is the primary source of finances.
Most women have never used a credit or applied
to any kind of subvention.
For small levels of production, registration costs
are significant and beyond womens financial
means. The majority of rural women
entrepreneurs in the handicraft business are
registered as non-profit associations, which have
a cap on the amount of revenue that they can
generate per year (85,000 kuna).
Possible solution:
o Provide initial credit/loans/subventions +
technical assistance at local level.
o Assist in finding domestic or foreign sources
(subventions from ministries, EU preaccession funds etc.).
o Provide support and assistance to women in
actually obtaining those finances!
o Pursue registration as a cooperative, as the
next step.
 Support
rural women in learning more about
product design and development, general
business management – including accounting,
costing, pricing and marketing.
I have a handwoven souvenir – who want’s it? Is
it good enough? Should it be modified?
 For
example: Organise gatherings between
designers, hotel owners, souvenir shop
owners and handicraft producers
 Organise study tours to examples of good
 Increase
the tourist flow into Slavonia so that
customers are able to have direct contact
with producers and their work.
 It would be good to create spaces that would
be of interest to large tourist groups.
 Establish
a regional/local ...
for rural women entrepreneurs.
 market -supply and demand
 loans, credit and subvention offers
 new regulations in the field of finance and
 fairs, business and education events
 Finances and investment
 Marketing
 Human resources
 Public relations
 Import-export
 IT and E- business
EDUCATION regarding
Start up programs – for women entering the
business (motivation, orientation, business
plan, registration etc.)
Improve your business program – for women
entrepreneurs (new regulations, marketing,
product/service quality, new technologies
Tailor-made education programs (women in
food cooperatives, women in handicraft
business etc.)
NETWORKING activities
With other successful business women and
enterprises (examples of good practice)
Linking producers with buyers
Meetings, fairs or other contact making
Database of women entrepreneurs, retailers,
shops ...
Website presentation
Like with most handcrafted products, not
only with the “Handwoven souvenirs” social
enterprise, current sales are limited by a
lack of market linkages, unattractive design,
poor product development, no marketing
strategy, little access to finance, inadequate
contact with the products’ target market (or
no knowledge of what the target market is
in the first place), overall weak business
management skills and registration
constraints ....
The souvenir market is known as a market for
cheap, mass-produced items.
Yet handcrafted products have a deeper
meaning in many senses.
They can meet a need of a tourist who is
looking for an interesting gift or something
that reminds them of their visit. And these
products can also convey and celebrate a
country’s unique cultural tradition, while
giving the customer a beautiful high quality
Most importantly, however, the sale of
handicrafts can build communities by
strengthening micro-enterprises and
cooperatives that are managed by women in
regions with great economic need.
This is certainly the case in the Slavonia
region. Handicraft development initiatives
can play an important role in increasing job
creation and income generation in Croatia.
... If you are interested in the CODD “Handwoven
souvenirs” products, if you know someone who
could be interested ...
... if you want to know more about my organisation
... Visit:
S. Kolara 2, Dalj 31226 – Croatia
... For you attention.
Don’t hesitate to contact me personally for
further information.
Jasmina Ilinčić,
E-mail: jilincic@inet.hr
Mobile: +385- 98 - 922 92 56

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