It's a strange feeling the first time you come to Sarajevo. Knowing what has happend there, it felt strange to sit in the taxi on the way to the center of Sarajevo and see signs for Mosdar. Looking up at the houses, you can still see th bullet holes in the walls. There is a stark contrast between the old, war-worn houses and the new ultra-modern buildings.
I was going to be a moderator and speaker at a conference on innovation opportunities and prospects in the Balkans. The audience consisted of a mixture of Serbs, Bosnians, Croats and Slovenes.
In this crowd, there was no tensions between the different nationalities - only a passion for innovation and entrepreneurship.
It was bubbling with ideas and ambition to build new businesses and structures to facilitate innovation and development.
The big question was "how can we attract foreign companies and investors to the region?" And "how can we evolve to become attractive to the outside world?".
Despite this desire and commitment, you encounter problems due to the the fact thatthe governments are too traditional and that there is too much bureaucracy. The governments have yet to understand the values and opportunities for innovation and the importance of a system that encourages innovation and entrepreneurship.
A recurring problem in Central and Eastern Europe is that the relationship with the West is weak and that they stick to doing business in your their part of Europe. An important step in creating opportunities and better transparency is to remove this barrier to let innovators and business builders begin to socialize and meet like-minded people from other parts of Europe.
The major organizations such as EBRD, U.S. AID, IFC and SIDA is doing theoir part in supporting this process. They have taken threi responsibility and are investing a lot of money in the region. Initially, these funds have gone to building new infrastructure. Now they have realized the value in supporting and investing in the SME sector. However, this money is only a temporary solution and the region must build a foundation to stand on its own feet and fend for itself.
Hopefully it will help to build a structure of science parks, get research and incubators, and that you get support to set up funds that invest in the SME segment.
To get the region to take off, it is important that the countries finds ways of closer cooperationm, Not only looking to the single country but to the Balkans as a region. Are you willing to invest long term, I think there are good prospects for the future. There are plenty of qualified individuals with an enormous drive. To really get them going you need to broaden their perspective outside of the Balkans.