How it all started

By the end of 80’s a small group of researchers at the Department of Economics in Osijek started to research entrepreneurship. By using one american research study, we wanted to establish the understanding of the basic concepts children have when they are about to enter formal education (seven-years-old) and to compare the results with the studies that had been conducted in countries like Hong Kong, New Zealand, the USA etc. The idea was to indentify the contribution of the environment to children’s understanding of these notes, before they enter the education process. Although the war broke out, the research was continued in 1991 and 1992. The study was never completed, because of other priorities.

Nothing was like before: the war was physically destroying people, their relationships and belongings, and the change of political and economics system demanded a chain of changes. However, the canges happend neither with the expected intensity nor sucessively. At the same time, a numerous foreign humanitarian donors were not willing to discuss the economics developing (It’s too early, were the usual answes). Those who were willing, were only interested in a particular aspect of helping the economic development (money, technical help), but rarely connecting these aspects.

Expirience with a number of experiments focused on East Croatia only confirmed what we had alredy known, namely that the impact could only be achieved by attacking development problems at the same time. Neither money, nor technical help alone can give the necessary effects. It is necessary to ensure the totality through the following:

  • Knowledge (academic, practical)
  • Money
  • Environment (political, legislative, economic, from state to the local level)

East Croatia was the “ideal” area to start te project:

  • Economic structure destroyed by privatization and war (big companies ceased to exist, unemployment was well above the state average) was a great challenge how to step from the waiting for Godot phase into the phase of entrepreneurial initiatives by individuals.
  • Existence of the university with not enough resources used in dealing with the regional developing programs was a callenge how to make the university a lever of the regional developement, by empowering young people to act in an enterprising way.
  • Centralized government presents a challenge how to transform the helplessness of the local administration into a level of the regional developement by means of initiatives and decentralization.

Led by these challeges, we started a number of projects that made our dreams come true:

  • Money (micro credit program – NOA – savings credit cooperative, which started in 1996, and preserved more than 3500 jobs, and created 1500 new jobs)
  • Technical support (non-academic support of the entrepreneurial development, Center for entrepreneurship, started in 1997, where more than 7000 people asked for advice, and which has 200 constant users).
  • Academic knowledge and skills (Graduate program Entrepreneurship, started in 2000)
  • Policy interventions (project of policy think-tank group CEPOR, Zagreb focused on the sector of small and middle- sized companies, started in 2001. Local government strengthening projects were started in 2002 in the cooperation with a non-government organization Croatian Institute for Local Government and the Osijek Law School).

The chronology of these projects is not accidental: the easiest part was to ensure the money, the most difficult was to start a new academic program and policy think-tank group. The value of these projects was their interconnection and mutual supplemetation, which was achieved through co-financing by the local administration, foreign donors (OSI, USAID, EU), and in certain small parts of projects, by corresponding ministries (of sience, crafts and small business). Among noumerous participants of these projects, the Soros Economics Development Program, led by Piotr Korynsky, played the key role. The recognized the importance of the wholeness, and did not restrict their support only to financing, but were and are the brokers of the ideas: from how to use different possibilities within the Open Society institute programs to connecting the best world practice.