“As businesswomen, we have ideas in our head about what we want to do in the business, but we rarely have the time and opportunity to make a concrete plan and bring the ideas to life. Writing a plan on paper helped us understand our competition, clarify our marketing strategy, and focus on the financial aspects of the business.”

—Xhylizare Selimi Dushi, owner A L Dushi

These are the words from a participant in Miller Center’s Business Acceleration Program (BAP), focused on women entrepreneurs in Kosovo. They describe the value that most entrepreneurs credit going through the program with — spending time on the business, not just being in the business. Miller Center partnered with the United States government organization, Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), to provide this opportunity to 20 women-led enterprises in Kosovo from November 2020 – May 2021. The entrepreneurs learned a lot during the process, and so did Miller Center. MCC has given us permission to share our lessons learned report broadly.

While the engagement with MCC included both Kosovo and Tunisia, this blog post delves into the learnings of the BAP program in Kosovo. First, a little bit about the program. It was designed in 2019 to use a learn-by-doing model with the bulk of the activities taking place in Kosovo complementing a broader program to encourage women entrepreneurs to invest in and benefit from energy efficiency. MCC had already planned to offer a partial grants program for eligible women entrepreneurs that were either working in the energy sector or had businesses in which improved energy efficiency could help the business reduce energy costs and reap cost savings, as well as generate business growth.

Twenty enterprises were selected for the program, travel plans to Kosovo were being made for a spring 2020 kick-off training, and then Covid hit. At first, we postponed the kick-off until late summer/early fall but as the months of March, April, May, June wore on, we realized how foolhardy that was. We then made plans to do everything virtually. The kick-off meeting took place in November 2020 and the closing training in May 2021. In between, the entrepreneurs worked with their mentors on their business. Despite Covid and the interruptions it caused to their businesses, all 20 enterprises completed the program. This is a strong testament to the resilience of the women leaders and the value they were deriving from the program.

In addition to learning from Miller Center’s co-facilitators, Derene Allen, long time Miller Center mentor, and myself, about all aspects of a business, business models and financials, sales and marketing strategy, growth plans and forecasts, and scalable operations, each enterprise had an experienced woman Kosovar business executive that accompanied them through the program. Sadije Deliu of Plan-A Consulting remarked, “What is special is that the support of the program was suitable for our needs. The mentors advised us on the areas we most needed it (sic), especially around marketing, finances, and adapting to the virtual world”.

The other clear value the women received from the program is the learning from and support of each other. By the end of the program, they were attending other seminars and doing yoga together. There was clearly a camaraderie developed over the course of the six months.

Partnerships were a key aspect of the success of the program. Miller Center identified a local organization that provides business services, including acceleration to businesses in Kosovo. The Institute for Free Market Economics (IETL) worked with Miller Center to contextualize and translate the training into Albanian. They also recruited local mentors to accompany the women entrepreneurs throughout the program. Their credibility and local knowledge was extremely important.

In addition, Miller Center partnered with Millennium Foundation Kosovo (MFK), the accountable entity established by the government of Kosovo, with MCC oversight, and GFA Consulting Group, MCC’s implementing consultant with expertise in energy. The saying, “it takes a village,” comes to mind.

There were two overarching learning objectives:

  • Contribute to MCC knowledge regarding what specific capacity-building tools and approaches can contribute to women entrepreneurs’ growth and success.
  • Demonstrate whether intensive coaching and mentoring can be an effective and efficient complement to interventions designed to support female entrepreneurs, and the potential for its broader replication in other country contexts.

The report addresses the six learning questions developed at the beginning of the program:

  1. Does mentoring make a difference to the business performance of women entrepreneurs who receive it? For example, do women who receive mentoring and financing on average do better than women who only receive financing?
  2. Is mentoring or other types of capacity building more important/just as important/less important than financing for the performance of women entrepreneurs’ businesses?
  3. What are the main types of behaviors or changes that women entrepreneurs implement in their businesses as a result of the mentoring initiative?
  4. Does the mentoring initiative help women entrepreneurs understand how energy efficiency improvements can lower their energy costs and empower them to self-monitor the savings?
  5. Provide input into how MCC can design entrepreneurship-focused interventions.
  6. Are there policies or other steps MCC can recommend, promote, and support that the governments of Kosovo, Tunisia, and other MCC partner countries can use to spur greater female and youth entrepreneurial participation and success?

Spoiler alert, the report contains data responding to these questions, and more data needs to be collected because, as you all know, it takes time to see the value of changes made on a business. To this end, Miller Center has recommended annual surveys be conducted for the next two years.

It was such a pleasure to partner with MCC, IETL, MFK and GFA Consulting Group to support these women leaders. I look forward to the day when I can meet the women in person.