New Skills Energize Serbia’s Creative Sector

Trainer and consultant Goran Djukic coaches trainees from Serbia on how to develop a business plan for their cultural industries initiatives. Credit: Ivana Damnjanovic.

Small to medium enterprises have been the backbone of Serbia’s economic growth over the last decade. But the country’s cultural industries have not managed to take off due to limited access to finance and skills to jump start businesses in the creative sector.

With funding from UNESCO’s International Fund for Cultural Diversity, the Serbian non-profit association Academica launched a hands-on training programme to help bolster the sector in Mokra Gora, Drvengrad, Kragujevac and Belgrade. The focus was on creative entrepreneurs from rural and impoverished areas where employment opportunities are scarce.

In total, 164 participants from 33 municipalities/communities completed 12 training courses successfully. The curriculum was vast and innovative. It merged theoretical and practical modules covering topics such as entrepreneurship, music industry, and interactive software, which were carefully designed to help trainees set up dynamic businesses and participate more actively in national and regional cultural marketplaces.

“We gave entrepreneurs the techniques to shape their business ideas, define their product and present it in the market. We taught them how to approach and listen to customers and, most importantly, we encouraged them with great examples of other successful entrepreneurs,” said Aleksandar Djeric, Programme Director of Academica.

How to build partnerships and raise funds from the private sector was tackled extensively across the training. Initiatives using digital media and start-ups in the music production industries also received special attention through additional modules.

Participating entrepreneur, Vladimir Gojkovic, joined the course to refine a business idea for developing a music web portal, because “[my colleagues and I] wanted to [learn how to] provide all sorts of information about existing bands. Especially we wanted to [learn how to] promote original music and the music genres not so frequently followed by the media,” he explained.

Orhan Maslo Oha highly appreciated the opportunity provided by the training to review his business model for audiovisual production in the Balkans region. “I learned some new ways to simplify my business idea and present it to a wider market as well as to investors who will, hopefully, in the future invest in it,” he enthused.

But skills training was not the only support provided by Academica. Six of the most promising organisations and small companies attending the course were selected to receive seed funding from the NGO’s pilot fund to support regional cultural industries. The grants are conceived to help kick-start some of the most creative and viable business models.

As part of the programme, Academica also boosted awareness raising about the development potential of Serbia’s cultural industries and the 2005 Convention. Through discussion panels with sector experts including some from the neighbouring countries of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia, televised debates and bold media engagement, the organisation managed to create an unprecedented buzz amongst cultural professionals, entrepreneurs, government officials and civil society organisations.

The set of articles written by the expert panellists were compiled into a publication entitled Cultural Industries and Cultural Diversity, which aimed at spreading awareness about the sustainable development potential of cultural industries in Serbia. The publication was distributed widely to key government ministries and institutions, universities as well as cultural organisations and professionals in Serbia and its neighbouring countries in the Balkans.

Academica’s team continues mentoring the entrepreneurs who received grants and, through their social networks, they also keep in regular contact with the other trainees. The success of the courses has triggered interest from the London-based Greenwich University, which is considering accrediting the programme. This, alongside the NGO’s plans to impart the modules through summer camps, webinars and internships, has injected new energy into Serbia’s creative sectors. “We have considered the achievements and potentials of this program and concluded it can continue to develop and even become accredited as vocational education,” said Mr Djeric.

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