Long before there was a formal partnership between Vushtrri in Kosovo and the Swedish town of Växjö, the two towns had a connection. Around 1,000 Kosovo Albanians live in Växjö and in 2012, Vushtrri’s mayor paid a visit to the town. It was then that the plans for a joint project were hatched.
Vushtrri, in common with the rest of Kosovo, has extremely high levels of unemployment, and it is virtually impossible for young people to find work. At the same time, Växjö is working to increase awareness of social enterprise amongst its own young people.
“The project aims to boost awareness of social enterprise in both municipalities. We want to be able to meet with entrepreneurs and provide concrete, tangible support. The long-term goals are to generate social benefit and to counter unemployment,” says Maja Debeljak, who is a Project Manager at the Institute for Local and Regional Democracy in Växjö.
The project has worked hard to establish a wide-ranging collaboration with multiple stakeholders in both Växjö and Vushtrri, in order to ensure the project’s longevity, even after its official completion.
“Our partner in Växjö is a social enterprise that provides support for people who want to start up their own companies, and they’re very involved in the project. Öppna Kanalen, which is another social enterprise, has made a film about social enterprise that can be used to spread the word, while from the academic sphere, the Linnaeus University has also been involved,” says Maja Debeljak.
In Vushtrri, the project group includes a member of staff from their equivalent of the Swedish Public Employment Service and another who is responsible for agricultural and rural development, along with representatives of a local voluntary organisation.
The project is designed to provide students and young entrepreneurs from the social enterprise sphere in both Vushtrri and Växjö with training in entrepreneurship in general and social enterprise in particular. It also aims to ensure that both municipalities allocate resources to support trade and industry, with the emphasis on social enterprises.
“We’re aiming to build support for the project’s goals in society at large so that we create something lasting that doesn’t simply peter out when the project officially ends. It’s important that other people can benefit from this work down the line,” says Maja Debeljak.
In Vushtrri, the primary goal is to introduce social enterprise as a new means of reducing the massively high levels of unemployment, while in Växjö, the goal is to continue promoting and working with social enterprise in order to launch more young people onto the labour market.
“Analysing our methodology is important to us as well – the project offers an opportunity to examine the ways in which social enterprises and the municipality can not only work together, but work more proactively to counter unemployment,” says Maja Debeljak.
Social enterprise targets groups who normally find it difficult to break into the labour market, so there are huge benefits to be reaped on a number of different levels.
“Social enterprises are aimed at everyone, but they’re particularly suitable for groups with various disabilities,” says Maja, and continues by emphasising the benefits for both municipalities.
“In the long term, this project will yield social benefits and counter unemployment in both municipalities,” says Maja Debeljak.