This summer, as many of our readers know, I am traveling through the Balkans as part of a survey of Social Business in the region. I am learning from models I observe here and also, where possible, sharing what I know from the UK. Some of my posting into the Balkans Blog are irrelevant, but one posting seems to have relevance and I have transferred it over, in edited form. It focuses on how people react when I ask them about Social Business in this region.
After I try to explain to people what I am doing here in Southeastern Europe this summer, there is usually a long pause on the telephone and then something which sounds more or less like, There are no Social Businesses here!” We continue speaking for a few minutes, normally out of politeness on their part, and then there is nearly always a sentence which sounds something like, “I know one person you could perhaps speak with”. What follows is then a description of a social business of intriguing dimensions and character.
My friend Jane, who lived for a few years in Sarajevo, had such a conversation with me. This eventually led to an introduction to BHCrafts, a business founded by women who saw their husbands, sons, fathers and brothers killed in the war. They took their fate in their hands and started producing handmade clothing and decorative items for export. These products are made from natural and chemically untreated wool and cotton, in a process which obeys strict ecological standards.
Or Lubomir, who I met through Florence, Mark and a host of others along the chain, who has introduced me to Bio Bulgaria Ltd., who are developing and marketing high quality organic food in Bulgaria. I could go on to list many others–and will certainly do so in time. But I will spare readers on this occasion!
Let me offer instead three reflections in conclusion to this anecdote. First, the people I have met and spoken to from this region are extraordinarily modest. Second, many of us fail to see the wide-ranging changes taking place in the economy all around us. I think the UK Social Business scene is far more wide-spread than we know or appreciate. Third, we have much to learn from entrepreneurs in this region who have, in far more difficult circumstances than us in the UK (or elsewhere in the OECD), succeeded. Many of them have assembled some superb, interesting and successful businesses. I am really looking forward to learning from them over this summer.