Last week the Second Conference for the diaspora from Bosnia and Herzegovina took place in Sarajevo, under the guise of ”Making Steps Together”. For WBBG, our managing partner Sandro Slijepčević was attending the conference, where he was invited to hold one of the opening speeches for the conference and to also join on the business panel that would be held later on the first day of the conference. A great opportunity for WBBG, but especially important for the position of the diaspora in the Netherlands, as there is a certain responsibility that lies with the diaspora in helping the country and the region forward, something Sandro also advocated in his speech.
The conference itself took three days, with the first day revolving around speakers and panel discussion on a number of topics, including the way in which the worldwide Bosnian diaspora can strengthen its ties with institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and what young entrepreneurs among the diaspora are doing from a business perspective. The second day was reserved for a visit to parliament, where another meeting was organised with diaspora in the country who had experience with coming back to Bosnia and Herzegovina. This was especially interesting as it showed the opportunities that do exist if you are willing to make the step. The third day was more informal as it took the participants to a few places in Bosnia and Herzegovina, getting to know the country better and stimulating social contact between participants.
The conference was a great success, stimulating the diaspora to think about what they can do for the country and the wider region, but also offering the chance to get into contact with each other and to learn from our different experiences all over the world. This is what makes the diaspora of Bosnia and Herzegovina – and diaspora’s in general – very interesting; it is obviously a tragedy that a diaspora exists, but the diaspora lives in so many different countries, has so many different types of knowledge and expertise. The diaspora of Bosnia and Herzegovina is relatively well-educated and motivated to do something back for the region where they are from. Organising and channeling this potential is an opportunity which the country should make use of, and by organising this conference, the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina is showing that they are aware of the potential that exists here, and are making efforts to organise and channel it for the benefit of the country.
During the business panel of the conference, where Sandro was also on the panel, we again underlined the main proposition of WBBG as a company with regards to doing business with the Western Balkans. It is necessary to develop a way with regards to doing business with the region which is built on a more solid foundation than currently exists. We still see that many companies, entrepreneurs and investors from Western countries only look towards the region when a colleague or employee from the same organisation suggests to give the region a shot. While positive, this does not offer a solid foundation, as the factor of chance becomes the most influential factor here. Instead, we should work on developing ways in which business opportunities in the region can be exploited in a systematic, scaleable, durable and systemic way. This is something which we have been developing at WBBG, and which we continue to do, and the conference last week again underlined the necessity of this when looking to stimulate international business and to attract projects and investments from the West.
It was very interesting to hear from former diaspora who returned to Bosnia and Herzegovina to work, teach and live there. It shows that the country is full of potential, just waiting to be grabbed by diaspora, but also by people currently living in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Sandro said the following on the topic:
”We as a diaspora have a certain responsibility towards Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Western Balkans. Not just to help the region forward by using our various kinds of experience and expertise in projects which we setup, but also by offering our help to the people. We should all make an effort of highlighting the positive parts of the region, showing which opportunities exist here and how outside business can exploit them, but also how people living in the region can make use of these opportunities. We should take the responsibility of organising the diaspora in the countries where we live, but also to talk to the people that we know in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Western Balkan region, to tell them that they also have to take their responsibility and work hard for a better future. That way, we can combine our forces and work towards a better future together.”
One of the attendees at the conference, Ahmed Spahić from Germany representing the Network of Bosnian Professionals, Academics and Students in Germany (nbsad e.V.), correctly reminded us all that the most important day will be the first day after the conference. Now that we have built new networks among the diaspora, and that we know where our strengths lie, we have to make an effort to translate this into concrete initiatives and projects. Connecting and taking the aforementioned responsibility does not end with the conference, but starts after the conference. WBBG will definitely keep playing its part, by maintaining its ties with the worldwide diaspora and helping wherever we can.