Western Balkans Women Entrepreneurs of the Year for 2023 are: Rigerta Loku – Green Woman Entrepreneur; Ilda Humić – Social Star Woman Entrepreneur; Hana Qerimi – Young Woman Entrepreneur; Nikolina Kovačević – Tourism Woman Entrepreneur; Irena Chaushevska Danilovska – ICT Woman Entrepreneur; and Marija Ivanković Jurišić – Artistic Woman Entrepreneur; as announced at a ceremony organised by the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) held in Sarajevo tonight. 

“Out of about 250 nominations this year, the jury had a tough job selecting six women entrepreneurs of the year for 2023, but I believe they chose well. Thanks to all the nominees, and congratulations to those who won this prestigious title tonight. To you I am bowing my head and applauding you for letting us take the inspiration from your success. I know that behind each of you there is a story of hard work, sleepless nights, sacrifice, but also strength, persistence, dedication and bravery. Women entrepreneurs are vital contributors to the prosperity of the Western Balkans and through this initiative, we give a humble recognition to brave and fierce women who dared to fight stereotypes and bring about the change,” said Amer Kapetanovic, Head of RCC Political Department in his welcoming speech on behalf of RCC Secretary General. 

“To illustrate persisting stereotypes I’ll mention just a few data. One in two women in the Western Balkans is out of the labour market, while only one in four business owners are women. Just 18% of board members in the largest companies in the region are women. We cannot turn over these stereotypes and bad statistics only on 8 March with the nice bouquet, a box of chocolates, and certainly not only with words. We need a paradigmatic systemic change that comes from a sheer understanding that women represent an important share of human capital in our societies. We in RCC do live what we are preaching. Not by coincidence, we established a Regional Network of Women in Entrepreneurship, which recognizes the importance of support networks in nurturing women entrepreneurs, and this recognition is a part of that initiative,” concluded Kapetanovic

Besides Mr Kapetanovic the introductory speech was given by Ms Anna Vezyroglou from the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations, while Ms Nafisa Latic, International News Anchor, was the moderator of the event. 

Due to the high interest and quality of nominations received, this year RCC decided to introduce a Special Jury Recognition for 6 more remarkable women, namely Ivana Gazivoda for reshaping societal gender norms; Blerina Bombaj for promoting healthy lifestyle; Zorica Đukić for promoting Balkan Cuisine; Liridona Osmanaj for promoting mental health; Ksenija Nikolova for empowering women; and Danka Živković for development of family business. 

The initiative launched two years ago in the framework of the Common Regional Market Action Plan 2021-2024 and RCC’s Women Economic Empowerment Agenda is aimed at recognising women who have started and developed a business while contributing to new and sustainable jobs for other women and men in our region. The project is financed by the European Union.

Short bios of Western Balkans Women Entrepreneurs of the Year for 2023:

Rigerta Loku returned home after living in Italy for 12 years to give life to the abandoned land of her grandparents. She has set up a breeding farm, where they raise about 200 goats of autochthonous breed to process and sell biological milk by-products of goats raised in nature. 

Ilda Humić is a mum of three, soon to be four, a fashion enthusiast and founder of HI by Ilda. Well known for her social media personality. Thanks to Instagram account, Ilda started her company of around 15 employees, producing handmade fashion products. 

Hana Qerimi started two big tech companies, Digital School, a leading coding institution for kids and teens founded in Pristina, with a presence in over 20 countries through its franchising model; and StarLabs, a software development company. 

Nikolina  Kovačević’s career has spanned from enriching experiences in the USA to managing a family hospitality business, and ultimately founding a luxury venture, dedicated to making Montenegro a synonym for luxury travel. 

Irena Chaushevska Danilovska is an accomplished neurotech entrepreneur, start-up mentor, and fervent advocate for space exploration. She actively supports the next generation of start-ups and is dedicated to developing neuro-technologies for high-demand professions and neuroplasticity under zero gravity to expand our understanding of the brain’s potential. 

Marija Ivanković Jurišić is a textile designer and owner of Marija Handmade weaving atelier for over 10 years. The artistic pieces of textile work are a result of Marija’s research of traditional weaving techniques, and are based on principles of sustainable fashion production.

Jury members: Andriola Kambo, Union of Albanian Municipalities; Brankica Rakovic, Editor in Chief of Lola magazine, and owner of digital marketing agency Dot Media; Shqipe Breznica, Country Director at Hilfe zur Selbsthilfe e.V.; Branimir Zugic, Co-founder and Programme Director, Creative Industries and Media Forum Kotor; Zagorka Blazevska, CEO Vita Nova; and Jelena Mihajlović-Tanasijević, Head of Department for Local Economic Development, Association of Local Authorities in Serbia.

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