When a Community Steps Up
Women Founders Network Albania evolved into a genuine community-driven organization. How did that happen, and what was the role of Swiss EP in the process?
Women Founders Network Albania is not a typical organization but a genuine community where members actively create and run their activities.
Women Founders Network Albania (WFNA) is a community that encourages women entrepreneurs to be more successful and unrestricted about their work. Since 2017, the community has supported different initiatives started by local female founders. At first, those were small-scale events (such as meetups or panel discussions on digital marketing), but with time, the initiatives grew.
In the last few years, WFNA intensified collaboration with Swiss EP. With trust already in place, experts who mentored women entrepreneurs and shared their knowledge in free workshops and training sessions helped WFNA establish thought leadership and become the go-to community for female founders in Albania.
Two significant educational programs made WFNA very relevant for developing female entrepreneurship in Albania:
- The first Accelerator for Women Founders in the region, organized in 2020 with the support of Swiss EP, Spring Activator and EU 4 Innovation.
- The first Investment Readiness Program for Female Founders, organized in 2021, with the Serbian community Preduzimanje, supported by Swiss EP and Efino.
Equipped with knowledge and tools to expand and develop their businesses, community members gained a new type of confidence and strength. In addition, all the events, meetups, mentoring sessions, and workshops taught these women new skills and how to share them with their peers. As a result, various founders saw an added value in belonging to a community that champions and motivates them.
As a new entrepreneur, I have found that WFNA has provided me with role models, stories, wisdom, and friendships to walk with me along my journey. 'We believe in you!' This sentence stands for strength and confidence, and I associate that with WFNA. Thank you!
Denisa Vasili, Founder of Keiko
Even if the WFNA community was quite active and participatory, in 2021, an extraordinary thing happened—it became entirely driven by its members. Women found an excellent mechanism to organize events they found valuable.
Among events entirely facilitated by community members, two stand out:
- The Fall Soirée - it was a mixed event of cultural and networking. After local contemporary dancer Rossella Pellicciotti performance, speed dating with other women entrepreneurs, casual networking, and light mentoring with Swiss EP Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR) Isabelle Swiderski took place. To cover the catering expenses, organizers charged for the event. And despite that, it was well attended and very successful.
- Working Mothers - community members who are also mothers shared and discussed daily challenges. The event was moderated by Pranvera Rrokaj, founder of Pinca.al, with the participation of Denisa Vasili, founder of Keiko, Aneida Bajraktari, founder of Balkans Capital, and Jonida Brahollari, SEO Copywriter and DJ. Even children could take part with their mothers in this activity.
As Blendina Cara, co-founder of WFNA, explains, the transition to a self-organizing community was seamless, but only because of the system and expectations that the community was setting.
Everyone is considered a member and a contributor in our community, which creates a true sense of belonging. Because, a community should ideally be self-structured and self-regulating. Every community member is responsible for the value she adds to the community. Of course, this did not happen since day one. It took a lot of work, experience, failures, and frustrations to build a sustainable community. In this respect, the support of many Swiss EP experts has been fundamental. Being a collective based on volunteerism meant none of us had the experience and resources to build a structured setup. Talking with Swiss EP experts helped us understand the dos and don'ts, structure best practices of support for women founders to grow their business, and set a horizontal structure where all members have ownership of the community. Most importantly, Swiss EP’s support was crucial in helping us establish the messaging to reinforce the mission, state of the community, and priorities.
Blendina Cara, co-founder of WFNA
Success is guaranteed when entrepreneurs design the event's scale, type, and topic around the kind of support they need. As we can see from WFNA’s experience, communities must step up and become the foundation of tailor-made support for entrepreneurs and a vital component of a viable entrepreneurial ecosystem.