When women dare dream big

UNDP Albania

February 14, 2024
When women dare dream big

Eager to hear a story of a journey of change, hope, and resilience? Let me share one.

In the heart of Berat, a city steeped in history and tradition, you can now visit a recently established social business run by a group of Roma and Egyptian women returnees who had faced the harsh reality of unemployment for far too long. Their newly established business is called "Crystal”.

Olsjana, Anisa, and many others who had returned from migration faced the common challenges of finding employment, securing housing, and ensuring their children's education. Balancing work with childcare proved difficult due to time constraints, forcing them to switch between jobs and prioritize their children's needs. Many of these women had faced turbulent family situations, which cast shadows over their education and employment. However, they refused to be determined by their past.

Determined to carve out their own destiny, they embarked on a path towards economic independence and social empowerment. A social business on care and cleaning services emerged, thanks to a three-partite partnership between the EU, UNDP, and the Berat municipality. The project "Strengthening national and local systems to support the effective socio-economic integration of returnees in the Western Balkans" funded by the EU and implemented by UNDP, came to aid people like them. With grit and commitment, they set out on a journey of learning and growth, made available by the project, equipped with training in soft skills, financial management, and business development.

December 2023 marked an important milestone for Orsiana and her friends when their business was officially registered.

When women dare dream big

Soon, they secured local contracts with hotels and guesthouses in Berat. The dream that once seemed like a distant mirage is now within reach.

“All my life, I have faced untold obstacles in finding jobs and securing a decent education for my children. Migration was a big disappointment, so we decided to come back. Becoming part of Crystal not only secures me permanent employment, but my friends and I will get our share of the profits. I never dared dream of this.”

Their aspirations stretched far beyond mere employment; they aimed to transcend conventional notions of business and pave the way for a new era of social enterprise.

This was not just about profits; it was about fostering inclusion, empowering marginalized communities, and reshaping the fabric of society. Their journey was not solitary; it was intertwined with the support of a women-led NGO and the team’s solidarity.

The story of Orsiana, Anisa, and her companions speaks about the importance of tailoring interventions to women’s needs, tailored training, and support. It also speaks about the unconquerable spirit of women, the power of collective action, and the boundless possibilities that arise when women dare to dream.

The project has worked to strengthen the fundamental rights of the Roma community and other vulnerable returnees across three countries in the Western Balkans: Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia. Operating within the context of significant return migration from the EU to the Western Balkans, following the designation of Western Balkan countries as ‘safe countries of origin,' the project addresses pressing issues such as limited work opportunities, low-paid jobs, a sizable informal sector, and concerns regarding the quality of health and education services. These factors have been significant drivers of outward migration from the region.

"Central to the project's approach is its close collaboration with local-level institutions that provide services geared towards the reintegration of returnees, as well as engagement with local civil society actors and the business community," says Entela Lako, the UNDP Programme Specialist. "Here, the community of returnees is not merely seen as project beneficiaries but as active partners, ensuring a sense of ownership over the models and activities implemented by the project”.