On my most recent visit to the Kosovo Force with Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Sir James Everard, I was fortunate to meet two fascinating Kosovan business leaders. Mr. Megrim Cahani, founder and CEO of Gjirafa, runs a rapidly growing IT services firm which delivers search, e-commerce and streaming services to the Albanian language market. Think Google, Amazon and Netflix rolled into one and designed specifically for the region. Mr. Armend Malazogu is the CEO of MOEA Food Processing company. They developed the Fruitomania brand; organic fresh fruit smoothies from the best locally grown Kosovan produce.
I first came across these young businessmen in an article published in the Economist magazine. The article described how Megrim and Armend – two educated, bright and capable Kosovans – chose to establish their companies right here in Kosovo. Despite the well documented challenges to doing business they continue to thrive, providing employment and reinvestment in their community. I knew that I had to meet them and learn their secret.
Megrim and Armend took timeout from running their businesses to meet with DSACEUR and me at Camp Film City. I was struck by their dynamism, their determination and their positive outlook for the future of Kosovo and the wider Balkan region. They were quick to explain that, in their experience, Kosovo offered some unique opportunities for business development and real untapped potential. Armend is growing his business in the European Union – capitalizing on the large open market, but without some of the restrictions that member states may have. Megrim is catering for an Albanian market largely unnoticed by the big players. Their small size has been an advantage allowing them to be agile and nimble enough to react to fleeting opportunities. Perhaps there is a lesson here for the wider country…?
Most striking was their complete commitment to their homeland. Their education and business acumen would allow them to move abroad and be extremely successful if they so wished. But it was clear they are determined to build businesses, in part, to give back to Kosovo; to employ vibrant young people (Gjirafa employs over 90 people with an average age of 23); to develop clusters of mutually supporting businesses that leverage the capacity in the local workforce; to provide in-house vocational training or support online learning to develop their skills base.
The KFOR mission underwrites the safe and secure environment in Kosovo. It remains to fulfill this mission as long as the conditions demand it and challenges to stability remain. Kosovo is the youngest nation in Europe, not only by declaration of independence, but also by demographic. These businessmen paint a vivid picture of untapped potential, and a plan to unleash it.
Firstly, confront the perception that it is too challenging to do business in Kosovo. They have already done much in this regard. Engage the potential in young Kosovo and develop their skills in house. Cluster businesses to develop strength in mutual support and a robust local economy. Then regionalize…use the power of globalization to develop strong Balkan brands that can compete on the world stage. As Armend said, ‘if we can do this, we won’t have time to fight each other. To do this, we need each other!’
Bravo to both of these young entrepreneurs!
Blog by Admiral James Foggo