Serbian Biz Owner Gives Advice to Other ‘Geeks’

Sinisa Rudan is one of the millions of students around the world participating in Global Entrepreneurship Week Nov. 15-21. He is founder and owner of Magic Wand Solutions Studio, an IT consultancy and outsourcing company. Sinisa is also the multimedia editor of InfoM, a Journal of Information technology and multimedia systems. To learn more about Sinisa’s work, visit his website.

Sinisa Rudan

Magic Wand Solutions (MWS) offers clients innovative IT solutions — information systems, Web/CD presentations, Internet marketing campaigns — driven by everyday research, enriched with a multimedia approach.  I would like to share with others some principles that have helped MWS become the successful company it is today.

Entrepreneurs should find the balance between their personal mission and the mission of their business.  I choose clients and partners that offer challenging interdisciplinary projects that cry out for creativity. At MWS, we have several well-known organizations and celebrities as clients or partners in Serbia and around the world.

Most IT “geeks” have not finished studies that would give us management skills, and that is a problem. Even if you are the best in your field, you still need to make your team the best. I suggest attending a variety of business management seminars among others.  After receiving certification in internet business planning and marketing, we built several business plans for our projects and offered more complete solutions to clients, from development to marketing. Now we focus more on complex international projects.

Often beginners make the mistake of focusing only on production. Never devote less than 10 percent of your resources to research and improvement of your processes. Only this way can you provide cutting-edge solutions.

Although it is nice to be an IT consultancy and outsourcing company, it is even nicer to enjoy building our own products. At MWS, we are finding new ways to make our own ideas appeal to investors and customers.

I put myself 100 percent into a project, but I often see people who — after putting themselves 75 percent into it – say, “I have put enough of myself into this” or “I don’t want to lose more time!” The truth is, if the project doesn’t achieve success, then all of the invested time is lost.

We are taught to take business rationally, to focus on profit. However, I suggest that if you feel a particular project is good for you — even a non-commercial one — take it, because it will advance your skills or expand your network, possibly bringing you other, more-profitable projects. Choose projects you love. Do your business from the heart, and business comes to you!

Challenges to Democracy in Serbia

[guest name="Milica Bakic-Hayden" biography="Milica Bakic-Hayden is the president of the North American Society for Serbian Studies and visiting lecturer at the Department of Religious Studies, University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania."]

Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism, America.gov, as part of its feature “The Unfinished Work of Democracy,” is asking academics and journalists from the United States and elsewhere to comment on the challenges to democracy that still lay ahead for countries of the former Eastern Bloc. What follows are their responses – and yours are welcome as well.

The challenges that Serbia faces today I don’t see as particularly different from those experienced by other post-socialist countries, or for that matter many other societies around the world. The global nature of the economic and financial crisis has only revealed correlation between Serbia’s internal democratization processes and the ones outside of its borders. (Fewer foreign investments have slowed down privatization of the manufacturing and other industries, for example.) So one set of challenges is simply tied to the current global situation, and the other set of challenges is more of an interior nature and tied to the stage in democratization processes taking place since 2000, the year that ended Milosevic’s rule.

Despite various criticisms, launched at different times by different political factors, NGOs or citizens of Serbia themselves, there is no question that in the past nine years Serbia has advanced in its democratization despite many challenges of moral, political and economic nature that tend to shake up the country, whose democratic institutions are not yet stable. The moral challenges pertain to rebuilding the system of values that was shattered in the wars of Yugoslav disintegration, in which process it is crucial that various religious communities (especially the Serbian Orthodox Church as the most influential) and the civil sector find common agendas and work at the grass root level to reinforce the culture of civility, human dignity and tolerance.

The political challenges are many, most notable being the unilateral declaration of Kosovo’s independence and the awkwardness it created, amplified by the division of the international community itself, in which the status of Serbia’s southern border remains ambiguous. This problem can ultimately be resolved (for I don’t believe it could ever be “solved,” given the radically different views of it) only with full membership in the European Union, which would then help redefine the meaning of the borders for both parties. Further strengthening of the independent judicial system, and better implementation of the anti-corruption laws will bring Serbia greater stability, as will its continued participation in the Partnership for Peace (but not NATO), and integration in the EU. The economic challenges are tied to Serbia’s realistic approach to its resources, natural and human, and careful evaluation of the effects of foreign investments and privatization on its citizens, so that worsening of the economic situation does not threaten political stability in this vulnerable period of transition.

Learn more about Milica Bakic-Hayden, Ph.D.

Town Priorities

I recently met Milan Arsovic, mayor of the 30,000-person town of Prokuplje, Serbia. The town, which has a 30 percent unemployment rate, is celebrating the arrival of a German car parts factory that will bring 2,000 new jobs to the area. I asked him what his goals for the town are. He listed five:

1. Reduce unemployment
2. Improve infrastructure
3. Bring more cultural and sporting events to the town
4. Further develop the town’s local agricultural industry
5. Develop the town’s tourism industry

I find it interesting that all of these priorities are somewhat economic issues. Even cultural and sporting events are a way to draw people into town to participate in local events and spend money in nearby shops.

How important is a strong economy to the governance of a town? To me it seems it is very important. What do you think?

Sports Bringing People Together?

Over a traditional Serbian meal on a working farm outside of the university town of Novi Sad, I talked with Mihajlo Delic, director of a summer basketball camp that brings high school aged students from Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Slovenia and Kosovo together. The students not only train in the sport, but they receive lessons on conflict resolution and learn how to work as a team.

It was a very interesting interview, and I will have more details to share in a few days in an article I am writing for America.gov. But there is one point Delic – who has traveled the world playing basketball – made that sticks out to me: sports can be a tool to bring people together. These students come from different countries and different ethnicities, but they all share the same enthusiasm for basketball.

The students in his camp all came from neighboring countries that share many cultural similarities including shared interests in music and sports, Delic said, but because few had traveled before they had little experience with one another. These cultural similarities are “something that needs to be celebrated and emphasized and not pushed aside,” he said. “It’s one of the most important ways we can connect our countries.”

In an era where athletes make headlines for getting into trouble off the court and even fans are known for rioting and causing violence, how can citizens change the culture of sports to make it more of a uniting force?

Volunteerism and Activism

Fresh off a plane from the United States, I joined a group of Serbian and Montenegan high school and college-aged students as they cleaned up the banks of the Danube River. These students, past participants of the American Serbia & Montenegro Youth Leadership Exchange (A-SMYLE), gained experience in volunteerism while staying in the United States as exchange students. Now back in Serbia, they have spent the past year cleaning school grounds and parks in their own communities.

The students decided to take on the cleaning duties not only because of their interest in environmental preservation, but because of the opportunity to promote the importance of civic activism to their own citizens, said participant Dunja Rapic. Although they received assistance and small grants from the U.S. embassy and other organizations, the students have done a great deal independently to gain supporters. By organizing musical performances, art shows and other activities to coincide with cleanup events, they’ve attracted participants of all ages.

As young people, said 19-year-old Ana Brzakovic, “we may not have much experience, but it doesn’t mean we can’t organize and do something successfully.”

The students learned a great deal about organizing for a good cause with the help of the NGO Fractal, an organization that considers civic activism to be one of its top priorities. One aspect of organizing the students have learned quite well is the importance of publicizing their cause. When many of their peers would likely be hesitant to talk to a reporter, the student organizers can skillfully articulate their goals and successful outcomes to the press. This experience is one reason why Brzakovic is now considering a career in public relations.

Heading to Serbia

Soon I leave for Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, my first stop on my quest to learn more about what it takes to build – and sustain – a democracy.

Some useful facts about Serbia, from the U.S. Department of State: This relatively small country has about 7.5 million residents, the majority of whom are of Serbian ethnicity. Serbians have maintained their identity for decades, even as others occupied the region. Serbia became an independent country in 1992, as communist Yugoslavia collapsed. Since then the regions of Montenegro and Kosovo have formed their own separate nations.

Serbia’s earliest years as a country have been notably marked by conflict. In 1999, NATO launched a bombing campaign on Belgrade, seeking an end to attacks on Kosovar Albanians. Much progress has been made since then. Today the nation often collaborates with its European neighbors, and it even has a relationship with NATO, as a Partnership for Peace country.

One of the first things I hope to do in Belgrade is visit with a group of students who are helping to clean the banks of the Danube River. This initiative is part of an effort to not only educate students on the importance of environmental preservation, but to encourage youth activism.

How important is youth activism for a young nation? I’d like your thoughts.

How to Build a Democracy Part 2: Let’s Find Out!

A few weeks ago, I discussed the complexities of establishing a democracy. I asked people to weigh in on what a new democracy needs in order to thrive. I was really impressed with the answers I received.

Whether through comments on this blog or in other conversations, I kept hearing the same message again and again: democracy is more than just a system of governance. It is a way of life.

Democracy “is flowering of a nation’s cultural ethos, which comprises tolerance, open dialogue and rule of reason,” Jitendra Kaushal wrote. “Democracy is not a set of institutions. It is a mindset,” says Sankar of India.

Readers also noted that building institutions is not enough to make a democracy work. People I talked to often cited improving education and strengthening tolerance of others from different backgrounds as two important elements for a strong democracy.

On Wednesday I am embarking on a journey that I hope will help all of us more closely explore this question. I will be visiting Serbia, Kosovo, and Bosnia and Herzegovina (typically referred to as BiH.) Serbia and BiH became new nations after the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1992. Kosovo – one of the youngest nations in the world – declared its independence from Serbia just a year and a half ago. All face a number of challenges, yet much progress is being made, in part with the help of U.S. and other foreign aid and assistance.

I will be blogging, tweeting and even uploading photos during the trip, so I hope you will follow along and share your thoughts.

Bad news, good news and even better news

Bad news first: tomorrow will be my last Obama Today blog posting for a few weeks.

Good news: The blog will continue to be updated, thanks to my friend Stephen Kaufman, who has graciously volunteered to keep the conversation running. Stephen follows the Obama administration as closely as I do, so I know he will have great stories to share.

Even better news: I’m still blogging (and tweeting!) Over the next few weeks, you can find me on America.gov’s By The People blog. I will be traveling through the Balkans, visiting the young countries of Serbia, Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina. I will be exploring the challenges each faces in establishing new democratic institutions and the progress being made. I’m looking forward to the assignment and hope many of you will virtually join me on the blog!

How to Build a Democracy

“Which came first – the chicken or the egg?”

It’s a question that many say has no right answer. A chicken lays an egg, but an egg hatches a chicken. They are intrinsically connected.

Let’s say you are creating a new country, and you want it to be a democratic one. What do you do first? You’re going to need some leaders who respect the will of the people. Institutions are necessary too – like a judiciary. Some processes – from the complex ones like tax collecting to the mundane like garbage collection – will have to be established.

I have been thinking a lot lately about how a new government is formed because later this month I will be travelling to some of the world’s youngest democracies – Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Kosovo. The United States has built its system of governance over hundreds of years, and as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said before, it “is still not perfect.”

All this makes me think that building a democracy must be one of the world’s toughest tasks. So while you may never have a perfect democracy, one has to start from somewhere. What does a new democracy need in order to thrive?

Biden tours the Balkans

Vice President Joe Biden is in the midst of a tour of the Balkans as part of an initiative to demonstrate “intensified U.S. engagement” in the region. Yesterday he was in Bosnia-Herzegovina, today he is in Serbia and tomorrow he’ll be visiting Kosovo.

Speaking to Bosnia-Herzegovina’s parliament May 19, Biden told the legislators that the United States has been worried about the direction of the country. “For three years we have seen a sharp and dangerous rise in nationalist rhetoric designed to play on people’s fears to stir up anger and resentment,” he said.

“You must focus your talent and energy on issues of undisputed interest to all Bosnians — creating jobs, growing the economy, educating your children,” Biden said.

In Serbia, Biden met with the country’s president, Boris Tadic. “The region cannot fully succeed without Serbia playing the constructive and leading role,” Biden said. Biden’s visit was the highest level visit by a U.S. official to Serbia in more than 30 years.