Before war ground business to a halt in the mid-1990s, Bosnia had been a vibrant center of engineering in Eastern Europe. Today, as the region rebuilds after years of conflict, unemployment rates top 50 percent, and the industrial sector is struggling to be competitive again on the world market.
“Bosnia has an emerging economy with huge opportunities,” says EDC’s Janice Brodman. “But most companies are working with outdated skills and tools.”
Further complicating the recovery effort are the underlying ethnic rivalries that still divide the country. Croats, Serbs, and Bosnians each dominate a different region of Bosnia and can be reluctant to work together. “The bitterness and distrust from the war still linger,” explains Brodman.
EDC is supporting economic growth in Bosnia through the Excellence in Innovation project, which brings new technologies to leading industries across all regions of the country. Armed with a business model that succeeded in Macedonia, Brodman is helping small and medium-sized businesses in Bosnia adopt new technologies and compete successfully in today’s market.
Project staff research leading industries in the country and then identify technology that can quickly and significantly boost their competitiveness. In Bosnia, the project has begun by partnering with the tool-and-die industry. “It’s a great industry to work with because it is growing internationally, and engineers here are eager to acquire new skills,” says Brodman.
The project will bring up-to-date technology to local tool-and-die shops through technology hubs known as e-BIZ Centers. For a fee, the centers offer local manufacturers ongoing training and access to cutting-edge equipment and software applications, such as CAD/CAM/CAE (computer-aided design, manufacturing, and engineering) for 3-D modeling, simulations, and other modern techniques. The centers also provide consulting services that help businesses integrate the technology into their production processes.
These resources are far too expensive for small and medium-sized business owners to purchase on their own, but they are vital to success on the international market because they enable even small shops to produce with the quality, flexibility, and tailoring that will attract large corporations.
Brodman explains, “For instance, if a small shop gets an order for engine parts, employees can develop a 3-D model at the e-BIZ Center before manufacturing to see where the stress points are. If any parts are best made on the new equipment, they can also have that work done at the center. It boosts them into a much higher end of the market.”
Building local partnerships
The centers aim to be both affordable to local manufacturers and profitable enough to become self-sustaining. Local partners own and manage the centers, while EDC provides technical and managerial expertise.
Says Brodman, “The magic ingredient is local entrepreneurship combined with successful technology and business planning. When people invest their own money in a venture like this, they become very careful about what they promise and very creative in delivering it. They’re so much more motivated when they have a financial stake in the program.”
In a country still wrestling with the aftermath of war, the e-BIZ Centers offer a way for people to work collaboratively across ethnic lines and heal some of the wounds of war. The centers are designed to serve the whole country and to market to businesses in all regions. The Excellence in Innovation project also encourages different ethnic groups to co-invest in the centers. “I’ve been talking to the business community, and the sense is that business is business. They are enthusiastic about working together,” says Brodman.
Bosnia and Herzegovina—Excellence in Innovation is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Norway.
Originally published on July 25, 2008