Marina Djorić has just graduated from the economic and commerce high school in Vranje, Serbia. From many options of study, she chose tourism. “From the first year on, I understood that this was my future professional calling,” says Marina. In their tourism studies, Marina and her fellow students learned about topics such as tourism management and marketing and entrepreneurship, but one important educational element was lacking: an opportunity to practise these skills in real life. This opportunity was provided through an EU-funded project during the final year of studies, just when Marina and her friends needed this support.
Another gap in educational provision was the school’s old IT equipment which didn’t work properly. The project therefore also supported the school with equipment. However, Marina emphasises the practical work experience as the most important gain for her.
“For example, we had a joint workshop and competition with students from other schools where we had to develop ideas on start-up businesses and produce a business proposal and a short film about our ideas. A colleague and I came up with an idea about a sweet shop. We had to do research by visiting sweet shops in the area in order to understand how their businesses work and identify the best examples and put them in our proposal. This helped us understand much better how the business development ideas work,” says Marina.
Practical skills and knowledge for a better start to a career
Jovan Jovanović is the manager of the EU-funded cross-border cooperation project between North Macedonia and Serbia entitled “Centres for innovative development of social entrepreneurship: contemporary perspectives for young people’s social integration”. The project idea emerged to tackle the challenges of the lack of equipment and opportunities for practical work and internships for high school students common on both sides of the border. “Because of the lack of equipment or practical experience opportunities in schools, the students had to undergo another year or more on following graduation, advancing their skills through internships before they got a job. We wanted to contribute to overcoming this problem,” says Jovan.
Apart from the high school in Vranje, the project also covers the Pero Nakov high school in Kumanovo, North Macedonia. In both schools the project is based in a centre for innovative development of social entrepreneurship and equipped these centres with modern technology, providing additional training for the teachers on teaching social and modern entrepreneurship. The project also provided targeted support for economic education profiles taught in these schools. In both schools, the project launched social enterprises that can generate income but also help students get sufficient practical experience before they graduate.
For example, the school in Kumanovo has a graphic design section, but does not have any kind of professional printer where students could see their work produced. The project equipped this school with printing machines that can also print on mugs, textile and other materials. Designs produced by the students will now be printed and offered on the market. Likewise, the school in Vranje has a culinary section which the project equipped with modern professional cooking equipment. This school will also soon launch its delicious food products on the market. “Other sections, such as sales, finance, and advertising will be part of these social enterprises, where students will get to use their skills in real-life situations and generate income for schools,” says Jovan.
As a final touch, the project is going to launch a web platform where, apart from students, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will also benefit. The portal will include a database of SMEs from the region where they will be able to showcase their products. In addition, the page will have a section where students will be able to present themselves and their skills through short videos. “In this way, we will be able to increase economic cooperation in the cross-border region, but also increase employment opportunities for the students,” says Jovan.
Jovan says that the financial support from the EU was crucial in bringing this project idea to life, as these schools generally only get funding from their respective governments for urgent needs, such as fixing leaking roofs. He adds that the mere fact that the project is supported by the EU contributes to its sustainability – the EU funding ‘stamp of approval’ gives a kind of guarantee that the project is based on detailed analysis and high standards, which in turn means that local and central authorities and other organisations take the project more seriously.
“The support from the EU is significant, in terms of the financial contribution, but also in terms of its long-term sustainability,” says Jovan.
About the project
The overall objective of the EU-funded project “Centres for innovative development of social entrepreneurship: contemporary perspectives for young people’s social integration” is to support young people to develop their potential and to start social entrepreneurship with opportunities to test their ideas in practice. The project aims to achieve this goal through activities such as the launch of centres for entrepreneurship in schools, training of teachers, implementation of study visits for students, and equipping schools with modern equipment. The total financial value of the project is over €170,000 and it is funded through the IPA Cross-Border Cooperation Programme for Serbia and North Macedonia.
Photo credits: Centres for innovative development of social entrepreneurship: contemporary perspectives for young people’s social integration
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