By Olivera Popović
While the global economic crisis in 2008 affected many countries worldwide, the shock to Serbia’s society and economy was magnified due to the ongoing transition processes there. For the past fifty years, women in Serbia were most often employed in the public sector as part of Yugoslavia’s socialist planned economy. In the past two decades, the transition from socialism to liberal capitalism and an open market economy has initiated changes in approaches to work and ultimately led to a greater presence of women in business.
In making this transition, women face an uphill battle – in gaining greater access to capital, technology, networks, and acquiring the knowledge to start and grow their businesses. On top of those challenges, the social and economic landscape is characterized by poor labor market outcomes, a high youth unemployment rate, and large long-term unemployment. According to the Regional Cooperation Council (2013), the country’s per capita GDP is currently only 38 percent of the EU average.
Data from the International Labour Organization (ILO) shows that the overall unemployment rate in Serbia is 23.9 percent, with almost 25 of women unemployed. Youth unemployment is remarkably high (51 percent) and even more astonishing, 57 percent of young women are out of work. Equally important, universities in Serbia do not foster enough entrepreneurial spirit among students. Consequentially, students fail to fully consider entrepreneurship as a viable career option.
Recognizing this need for support to aspiring and established women entrepreneurs in a complex economic situation, the Association of Business Women in Serbia (ABW) created “Inspiring Women Entrepreneurship,” a project to strengthen the leadership and entrepreneurial capacity of young women in Serbia.
Recently there has been a lot of discussion surrounding the gender gap, especially when it comes to economic participation. For everyone who is interested in human rights and understands that involving women in all aspects of government and business only improves dialogue and strengthens democracy, while at the same time rapidly improving the living standards of these women and their families, this fact is frustrating.
No one can deny that women are industrious, innovative, and enterprising, and that given the opportunity and resources, women can be very successful in business and in democratic and economic reform processes. We’ve moved beyond the debate of whether women “can” to the debate of “If they can, why aren’t they? What’s preventing them?”
In Serbia, an inflexible and outdated labor code has been a major inhibitor for the competitiveness of domestic companies and, in turn, the Serbian economy as a whole. Reform of this legislation was the focus of a recent event hosted by CIPE partners the Serbian Association of Managers (SAM) and the Center for Liberal Democratic Studies (CLDS) in Belgrade.
The event gathered close to 100 participants from government, private sector, civil society, and media to discuss the key barriers and recommendations for possible solutions for improving labor legislation and reducing red tape.
In 2003, the Belgrade-based Center for Liberal-Democratic Studies (CLDS) partnered with CIPE to survey the state of corporate governance in Serbia. At that time, the predominant form of ownership was socialist, with all its associated inefficiencies and governance challenges. Management usually reported to the state/ruling party, employees, or self-reported, and the private sector had only begun to take root with onset of privatization. Whether public or private, large or small, firms lacked formal structures for ensuring accountability on a daily basis.
In 2008, CLDS conducted another survey to assess progress and to investigate what else could be done in this important area of the country’s transition. This Feature Service article takes a closer look at the survey results and gathers lessons learned. In the last five years, Serbia has seen the privatization of state-owned enterprises, introduction of regulatory innovations, and passage of new laws on corporate governance and business operations. Yet, firm-level implementation and understanding of these new laws remains incomplete and larger institutional and governance problems persist.
Like the 2003 survey, the 2008 survey also helped identify concrete reform recommendations to move corporate governance reform in Serbia to the next level – beyond simply introducing relevant corporate governance laws and structures and instead focuses on enforcement and compliance.
Article at a Glance
- Five years of corporate governance reforms in Serbia reveal a mixed picture of progress and persistent shortcomings.
- The Center for Liberal-Democratic Studies (CLDS) has been working with the Serbian private sector to gauge the current state of corporate governance and produce concrete reform recommendations.
- Corporate governance reforms at the company level can only succeed if they are a part of a larger systemic transformation that builds the institutions of good governance and market economy.