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Empowering Bosnian youth social entrepreneurs grounded in peace

Empowering Bosnian youth to create sustainable small businesses that make their lives and communities more prosperous and more peaceful.

Photo of Helena Puig Larrauri

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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

Over two years, we will work with Bosnian youth to identify opportunities in their communities that build social cohesion and generate income. Through tailored training, mentorship, and financial support, we will accompany innovative social enterprises, grounded in peace, from idea to pilot to sustainable business. A social entrepreneurship program grounded in peace fills a critical gap in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The country has struggled to rebuild its social fabric since the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement. A stagnating economy, high unemployment, ethnic cleavages, and a complex political situation create an atmosphere where many feel there is no hope for the future. This is most visible among young people. Bosnian youth face a critical decision about their future when they complete their formal education. According to the Institute for Youth Development (KULT), approximately 80,000 young Bosnians have emigrated to Western Europe since 2015. Many end up in unskilled and low-wage jobs. Our fellowship program offers skills and resources to build a livelihood option that does not require migration and contributes to social cohesion. Concretely, we will: - Run open application process for recent high school & university graduates; - Select 30 young people to participate in a 6-month initial phase focusing on participatory market research (to identify viable pathways for income generation) and training in conflict sensitive, user-centered design (to ideate business ideas that contribute to peace); - Form 4 - 5 working groups with a concrete idea for a social enterprise grounded in peace; - Pair each group with a lead mentor who will accompany them from idea to pilot to sustainable business over 18 months; - Connect fellows with relevant local and international networks, including other social enterprises, peacebuilding initiatives and potential investors. We’re starting in Krajina region, building a model that can be rolled out across the country

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

We will engage 30 recent high school and university graduates, aged 18-25, from the Krajina region. KULT estimates that 88% of youth plan to leave Bosnia to find jobs; this fellowship provides an opportunity to stay. Krajina, being home to different ethnic groups from both Bosnia and Herzegovina, provides a chance to engage youth across ethnic lines. Fellows will gain knowledge, skills and financial support to ideate, design and launch a social enterprise grounded in peace. They will: - Attend trainings on social enterprise development, participatory methods, & conflict sensitivity - Receive a stipend and enterprise start-up budget - Gain mentorship to provide technical advice, problem solving, and connections The program will indirectly benefit the fellows’ communities. The process will engage young people from different ethnic backgrounds to identify common needs and work together to create enterprises that will strengthen their communities both economically and socially.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

Social entrepreneurship is not adequately supported in Bosnia. There exists vocational training with limited impact on sustainable jobs. The entrepreneurship ecosystem also fails to link income generation to particular challenges of post-conflict society. Our initiative fills these gaps by empowering youth to launch successful enterprises that address social cohesion. As peacebuilders in the social enterprise space, Build Up brings a strong social focus and experience working with diverse stakeholders in challenging environments. The project methodology builds on our fellows programs, that have incubated 10 initiatives in 6 countries (including Bosnia). The project team is led by Elma Selman (Build Up Associate & Bosnian civic activist), who brings extensive knowledge of Krajina, gained through 7+ years working with youth & her personal history; and incorporates the expertise of Kate Mytty (Build Up Associate & MIT lecturer), who has run & advised youth social enterprise programs.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Prototype: I have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing the idea.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

Build Up amplifies citizen participation in peace by working with civic activists, peacebuilders and authorities to identify and apply innovative practices that help them achieve their missions. Information about our work, including our existing fellows programs, is available here:

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered company.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

Earlier this year, we trained a youth group in Prijedor to make films about their vision of the future. We envisage this as a peacebuilding intervention, but almost all the films addressed economic migration and its detrimental effect on communities. One film ends with the narrator saying: “What will you do Bosnia, when everybody leaves? Who will help you rebuild?” This experience made us realise that peace and prosperity are critically intertwined in Krajina and in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

Peace and prosperity are critically intertwined in Krajina and in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bosnian youth strongly associate peace with their ability to lead a ‘normal life,’ one of prosperity. Yet lack of opportunities for young people leads many to migrate. Peace is influenced by this economic migration: young people do not see their future in their local community and want to separate themselves from the experience of the war of an older generation - they leave, and the climate of frozen conflict becomes harder to change. The promise of a better life in Western Europe not only squanders the economic potential of young Bosnians, it also painfully disrupts close-knit relationships between youth, their families and communities, as well as opportunities for youth to apply their talent, energy and creativity to create a future Bosnia they would want to stay and be a part of.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

First, we train fellows in user-centered design, and work with them to regularly consult their community. Young people will consult and co-design their social enterprises with key community members, including local peacebuilding organisations, local authorities as well as their potential users and clients. Second, we build a network of mentors who can support the fellows throughout their journey. We will connect with strong industry players in Krajina (raspberry fields, mining factories, timber export, remote programming, etc.). We will also approach others working on youth livelihoods (entrepreneurship incubators, youth organisations, unemployment bureaus), as well as the municipalities and local authorities that can support the registration of new business. In other programs, we have found that the combination of user-centered design and mentorship ensures a rich network of stakeholders. We are already well-connected to many of the relevant stakeholders in Krajina.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

The region has a surplus of young people who, given the right support, are motivated to work and build strong communities. We know from our work on the ground that youth in Krajina region want to be financially independent and live in constructive communities. The region also offers competitive opportunities for enterprise, including rich natural resources (water and woods), viable agriculture and tourism possibilities, strong IT competencies, and a tradition of craftsmanship.

Geographic Focus

Krajina region, north-west Bosnia & Herzegovina.

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

The project will be implemented over 24 months. Months 1-6 will cover participant selection, participatory market research and initial training on social entrepreneurship and peace values. At the end of this first phase, participants will ideate and form teams around specific business ideas that contribute to social cohesion. In months 7-12, participants will prototype and test their social enterprise. Months 12-24 will focus on strengthening and sustainability of the enterprises.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No
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Team (4)

Helena's profile
Michaela's profile
Michaela Ledesma

Role added on team:

"Michaela Ledesma (Build Up Programs Director) is the technical lead on peacebuilding and social cohesion. She has nearly 20 years of experience helping diverse groups collaborate effectively towards social and political transformation. In recent years, she has led piloting of arts-based approaches to reconciliation and consultation, accompanied partners to embed innovative methods and tech in ongoing peacebuilding work, including collaborating with Elma on a youth project in Krajina region."

Elma's profile
Elma Selman

Role added on team:

"Elma Selman (Build Up Associate & Bosnian civic activist) is the project lead. Elma brings extensive knowledge of Krajina, gained through 7+ years working with youth and her personal history. Elma is a trained psychotherapist with particular expertise in the use of visual and performing arts in dealing with trauma. She has worked on a number of peacebuilding interventions, many involving youth, in Prijedor and Sarajevo."

Kate's profile
Kate Mytty

Role added on team:

"Kate Mytty (Build Up Associate & MIT lecturer) is the technical lead on social enterprise development. Kate ran a social entrepreneurship program at MIT for three years, and currently advises youth social entrepreneurship programs in Kenya, Turkey and Sierra Leone. Kate also lectures and researches models for economic inclusion, with a focus on urban planning."


Join the conversation:

Photo of Mahmoud Bustati

I had the opportunity to be in the Digital Steps program and I learned a lot about how to apply innovative practices in order to contribute to social cohesion and peace building. I think it's vital to youth in post conflict zones.

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