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September 2017

The Regional Forum ‘Diaspora Direct Investments – Experiences from the Western Balkans’

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Our research manager Brendan Filipovski was part of the Regional Forum ‘Diaspora Direct Investments – Experiences from the Western Balkans’. The forum was held in Vienna and it explored the possibilities for stimulating private sector growth, especially SME’s, by making ‘smart’ transnational connections, for example by introducing financial instruments and mechanisms that can facilitate the use of remittances and know-how towards productive investments in the Western Balkans.

The forum marked the conclusion of the first phase of the Link Up! project funded by the Austrian Development Cooperation. As a one-day multi-stakeholder event, it presented a unique opportunity to gather key government stakeholders, financial institutions, international organizations, academia, the private sector, investment funds and NGOs, amongst other, from Western Balkan countries (i.e. Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo*, The Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia) to network and discuss topics related to diaspora engagement.

“There is no general model but we can learn from the experiences of other countries. Networking is key.  Further, we are now in a world that has never been more networked. Diaspora can now take an active role in the home country despite living outside. It is no longer the case that migrants leave the home country and are forgotten. Technology and communication have changed the notion of diaspora. They are no longer lost assets but an evolving and ongoing resource.

However, they cannot just be seen as a source of money. They have knowhow, and experience too. We should also be asking what we can do for them.” – Says Brendan.

Macedonia2025 hopes that these types of forums will manage to motivate all parties to deepen their cooperation and networks and also give them insights on how to tackle certain bottlenecks that the Diaspora faces.

Michael Stakleff, owner of Macedonia Importers, Ohio: Exclusive products from one of the few unknown locations in Europe!

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Tell us something about yourself, and what do you do?

I’m an entrepreneur and active investor in businesses related to commercial real estate, food and beverage sales, and international business development. I try to add value wherever possible by solving problems and bringing people together. I enjoy learning about different economies on a macro level then applying those lessons to the individual projects that I am involved with.

I feel that moving outside you own comfort zone is one of the best ways to grow and to uncover new opportunities. This is one of the reasons I like to travel and meet new people.

You mentioned you have a company that works on importing certain wine and food. Tell us a little
more about the idea behind this company.

Macedonia Importers, LLC was started by myself and several business partners who are Americans of Macedonian ethnicity from Akron, Ohio. Upon our return from a vacation to Macedonia we felt inspired to start a business to import the best wine and food products we could find from Macedonia.

We feel that the quality and awareness of Macedonian wine is underrated globally and even more so in America. We embrace that challenge by educating our customers and retailers about the wine and the country in general. We know most people may have a hard time picking Macedonia out on the map and likely have not traveled there in person. In our opinion, that’s what makes selling Macedonian wines or other Macedonian products fun since many of our customers and retailers regard our products as an exclusive, somewhat exotic item from one of the few unknown locations in Europe.

Our group is passionate about Macedonia and as members of the diaspora we are proud to contribute any way we can to the economic development of Macedonia.

You have taken an active part in the Macedonian Businessmen’s Club. What is the purpose of this
club, and what are the activities that are connected to Macedonia?

The Macedonian Businessmen’s Club is a non-profit social club that was founded in 1950 and remains headquartered in Akron, Ohio, USA. It is believed to be the oldest continually operating business professional’s organization for Macedonian Americans in America.

The goal of the Club is to unite Macedonian Americans by preserving and perpetuating Macedonian cultural heritage. The Club operates several fundraising events each year with the main focus on providing higher education scholarship awards to students of Macedonian descent. Many of our scholarship recipients have become active in the organization as adults.

As a member and Past President, I have had an opportunity to meet many great people who are proud of their Macedonian heritage and continue to find ways to give back to the community with their time or financial resources. Our membership consists of a wide range of ages which makes our events fun and educational with historical items or current topics.

I joined the Macedonian Businessmen’s Club in college and through my experiences as a member I became more charitable and was inspired to visit Macedonia.

Although you live in the States, you try to have a lot of business relationship with Macedonia. How
do you see the diaspora impact on Macedonia and its development?

The diaspora is very valuable to the development of Macedonia. Members of the diaspora can make the most direct impact by sharing and exchanging information or knowledge gained in their respective fields of expertise through organizations like Macedonia 2025 or other contacts they have in Macedonia.

Try to speak with people that you know who reside in Macedonia or have recently arrived in your community from Macedonia. Learn from others about what is needed and try to uncover opportunities.
Decide what you are passionate about, then take action to try to help anyway that you can. Every person in the diaspora is capable of contributing. Some people can give their time, some are great at connecting people, while others may make financial contributions.

Can you tell us a little more about Multimex Americas? What services do you provide, and how many companies have you helped so far to set-up in Macedonia?

Multimex Americas consults and advises American companies on their business relationships in the Balkans. We use our specialized knowledge of local markets and industries to help grow international sales, improve relationships with suppliers and manufacturers, and ultimately help each company exceed their stated goals while doing business in the Balkans. We have a sister office in Belgrade, Multimex Trading, which helps us stay current on issues in the Balkans.

The partners in Multimex Americas come from a diverse business background. We work with and are interested in working with businesses related to advertising and marketing, food and beverages, tourism, automotive, medical, professional services, finance, and real estate


As part of the diaspora, by your opinion, what should the government do in order to enhance the cooperation between both sides?

My hope is that the government can bring people together for a common good. There should be a calling for the diaspora to find a way to contribute their knowledge or expertise for projects related to economic, legal, or humanitarian causes. It would be great to have an advisory council established from which the government can tap into the knowledge base of the diaspora.

The findings or suggestions from these sessions should be made public so the citizens and the diaspora have a dialogue. Drawing from the hundreds of thousands of members of the diaspora, I believe there must be people who could help make an immediate impact on certain topics or projects.

I also believe that a ministry of diaspora should be created which would be focused on communicating and fostering cooperation with the diaspora.

What is your recommendation to anyone who is interested in investing in Macedonia?

Be open minded and diligent. Try to establish a local partner or contact in Macedonia. There are many people in Macedonia who are looking to roll up their sleeves and work on new projects.

Macedonia should continue to promote its geographical location as a logistical hub for sales, manufacturing, and distribution of products for the Balkans and Europe.



Pierre Gurdjian will tell us about the economic perspectives and growth of Armenia at the MK2025 Summit

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Pierre Gurdjian is Philanthropy Partner with the RVZZ Foundation. In addition he is an expert in executive leadership and change management.

He is also the President of the Board of Directors of the Free University of Brussels (ULB), one of Belgium’s largest universities, Vice President of the board at UCB (a Belgian biopharmaceutical company), and Board member of America Bank.

Pierre was a Senior Partner at McKinsey & Company for 27 years, including 7 years as Managing Partner of the Belgian-Luxemburg office and international responsibility for McKinsey’s Human Capital practice in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

Pierre is a member of the Young Presidents Organization (YPO), and past President of YouthStart Belgium and Harvard Club of Belgium. He has also been involved in numerous leadership forums, with an emphasis on building leadership with wisdom. Pierre also teaches a graduate course on ‘The CEO Perspective’ at the Solvay Business School of the Free University of Brussels (ULB).

Moreover Pierre helped develop the ‘Armenia 2020’ Think Tank and is involved in numerous humanitarian and entrepreneurial initiatives in Europe and Armenia.

Pierre holds a degree in Commercial Engineering from the Free University of Brussels and a MBA from Harvard Business School.


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The Full Potential of Diaspora Investment in Macedonia Remains Yet to be Seen

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77% of diaspora investors would recommend Macedonia as a good place to invest. However, they experience many difficulties in opening and running a business in Macedonia. More needs to be done by government to maximise the impact of diaspora investors and to attract even more diaspora investors. The full potential of diaspora investment in Macedonia remains to be seen.

Macedonia2025 has once again provided a voice for diaspora investors through the second annual ‘Diaspora Investor Roundtable’and survey. After the success of last year’s inaugural event, Diaspora investors once again presented their suggestions and problems direct to key representatives from government agencies. By working with diaspora investors, government agencies can help diaspora investors help make Macedonia stronger. Improved conditions and success stories will also encourage more diaspora investment in Macedonia.

Our 2017 Diaspora Investor Survey was held between July and August 2017. The survey was sent to over 40 diaspora investors and had 20 respondents.

The survey found that 55% of diaspora investors experienced problems in opening a business in Macedonia. Their problems included unhelpful government agencies (selected by 36% of respondents), too much paperwork (27%), the length of time taken for finishing the entire administartive procedure (18%) and too many requirements (18%).

“Starting a company and other administration should mostly be done online. This would speed things up and reduce the potential for corruption.” –  said one of the respondents.

In doing business in Macedonia respondents faced the following challenges: legal complexity (selected by 39% of respondents), corruption (31%), government administration (31%), lack of practical skills among graduates (31%) and an undeveloped business culture (31%).

The key findings from the roundtable include having a key contact person in government institutions for diaspora investors. Diaspora investors also need to know where to take their problems when they reach an impasse. Streamlining administration, bringing more processes online and having all necessary documents translated in English was also highlighted; which would also help with the ongoing and vital fight against corruption.

Thankfully over 77% of the respondents said that they would recommend investing in MacedoniaLow tax rates still remain an important factor for the foreign investors. Other reasons for investing in Macedonia also include low labour costs (selected by 38% of respondents); the low cost of doing business (31%); and a skilled workforce (31%). However, unlike other foreign investors, they also care about friends and family in Macedonia (31%), and have strong patriotic feelings (31%).

Diaspora investors are a unique and valuable source of investment for Macedonia, and their potential to impact the country is large, however, they cannot be taken for granted. It is part of Macedonia2025’s mission to work with government and government institutions to help diaspora investors help make Macedonia stronger.

During the event a working group was also established for the purpose of continuously working on resolving the detected problems and challenges diaspora investors face in Macedonia.

You can find a summary of the Diaspora Investors Survey here

Who are the trend shapers, and what opportunities and challenges are lurking behind the corner in the media and telecom industry

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The border between the global telecom providers and the media are coming to an end. We are first-seat viewers in the process of convergence and almost seamless links between the “classical” telecoms or cable operators with the media companies, where the services like communication, content distribution, and content production are not anymore only in the hands of the standard players.

With the rise of technology innovation and the new ways of content distribution, the entrants like Amazon, Netflix, YouTube, Zattoo, etc. brought huge disruption to the traditional business models. Even the very big players are pressed to innovate rapidly and adapt or just disappear. As a matter of fact, a recent survey showed that 74% of the brands could disappear overnight, and people would not care.

Trends come and go. The technology twist within the telecom industry echoes for faster growth, better service, and cheaper prices. That’s why we witnessed the Comcast’s $30 billion takeover of NBC Universal and AT&T’s blockbuster $85bn agreement with Time Warner. Just looking for customers’ money without initial before-hand investment is ludicrous nowadays. Netflix and Amazon spend between 4-6 billion dollars per year on original content alone. And although the tech firms are the ones that will lead the innovation march, broadcasters can add value to the system in so many ways.

But what is the next thing in which the major players will invest themselves in? And what other opportunities or challenges are lurking behind the corner and what are the risks of creating larger communications groups? What about the dominance of technology giants and the public trust in technology behemoths? (Think Fake news, data privacy, lack of regulation, etc.). And last but not least, what should be the role of the regulators?

Dr. Vlaho Kostov, R&D Executive and Head of CEE and Mediterranean region at Panasonic, Germany, will chair this interesting panel for which we are sure many of the present guests will have something extra to say or comment. Branko Stanchev, CCO at Makedonski Telekom, will address the transformation and the challenges within the Telecom industry. Stan Baaijens, CEO at Funke Digital TV and Steering Board Member at DVB, Holland and Ivan Skenderovski, Founder and Managing Partner of Salience, Dubai, and Francesco Sciacchitano, at Italian communications authority for AGCOM, Italy, and senior legal expert for Media and Telecommunications Law,  will discuss the broader aspects that occur in the world of media and telecommunications. Darko Ratkaj, Senior Project Manager at the Technology & Innovation at the European Broadcasting Union, Geneva, will contribute to the technological developments from the perspective of the public service media.

This panel and dozen others will make this year’s Macedonia2025 Summit. We invite you to be part of it.

Suan Hiang Lee and his Stand on the Economic Perspectives and Growth of Singapore

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Suan Hiang Lee, a former senior civil servant in Singapore served as Deputy MD of Economic Development Board and CEO of Standards Productivity and Innovation Board, National Productivity Board, Singapore Institute of Standards and Industrial Research and National Arts Council.

He was also Chairman of PSB Corporation; Chairman of Singapore Note & Coin Advisory Committee; Deputy Chairman of Old Parliament House Ltd; Deputy Chairman of International Federation of Arts Councils & Cultural Agencies; and Council Member of International Standards Organisation (ISO).

He is currently President of EDB Society; Chairman of Anacle Systems and Global Cultural Alliance; and a Director of several listed companies including Perennial Real Estate, Viking Offshore & Marine, CITIC Envirotech and Advance SCT.

He was awarded the Singapore Public Administration Gold Medal, World Academy of Productivity Science Award, World SME Association Award, JETRO  Award (Japan), Asian Productivity Organisation Award, Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres (France) and NTUC Friend of Labour Award.


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Diaspora Investors round table, where Diaspora and governmental institutions come together

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On September 21, for the second time Macedonia2025 will host the 2017 Diaspora Investors round table, an event that aims to gather the diaspora investors in Macedonia and provide them with a platform where they can share their investment story, and talk about their main challenges and their positive experiences so far.

As an international, independent, nonpartisan and non-profit “think and do” tank, Macedonia2025’s mission is to proactively contribute to the economic and democratic development of Macedonia. Being an organization founded by Macedonian expatriates, we understand the importance of events like the roundtable in reaching out to the diaspora and building stronger bridges between them and Macedonia.

This is the second year we are organizing this type of event, you can read last year’s recap HERE

We can confirm the presence of representatives from key governmental institutions who will be part of the open roundtable discussions. It will be discussed why it is important to invest in Macedonia and how there can be mutual collaboration to help improve investment opportunities.

The round table discussion will start with presenting survey results from the Diaspora Investors Survey 2017, which will give voice to the key concerns and experience of diaspora investors. Based on these results, the discussion will center around two main topics:

· The benefits and obstacles of investing, cooperation with the government, and opportunities for institutional aftercare;

· Government perspective for addressing issues that diaspora faces.

With an increased focus being given to the diaspora and diaspora relations at this present time, Macedonia2025 is looking forward to assisting the development of a collaborative and communication platform between government and diaspora investors.

If you are a diaspora investor or you already have some experience on the topics, please join us. The event will take place at the Diplomatic Hall of Skopski Saem in Skopje, at 10:00 am.

Ivan Skenderoski will talk about opportunities and challenges in the media and telecom industry at the MK2025 Summit

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Ivan Skenderoski is a founder and managing partner of Salience, a telecom management consulting and professional services organization. He has been with the company since its launch in 2010 and is based in Dubai, UAE since 2008. Ivan is the Engagement Lead on a number of Salience projects, strategist on National Broadband enablement and lead on the New Operator Launch practice. He is a board member of Salience, management team member and is involved in setting the company’s strategic vision and direction. In addition, he also has a hands on approach in the financial and operational management of the company.

He has over 17 years of dedicated telecom experience across Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Prior to Salience, Ivan was working for the UK incumbent operator, British Telecom (BT) on numerous roles – Principal consultant in the Middle East, Specialist technology and service advisor for BT’s bid to acquire telecom license in Singapore, Head of the Asian Innovation Centre in Malaysia as well as the UK based technology roles at the BT Labs in Martlesham. He is also a Board Member of Awasr Oman, the first regional fibre only operator.

Ivan is a recognized thought leader, speaking frequently at Telecom conferences covering broadband strategy. He has contributed to several Salience whitepapers on National Broadband, Next Generations Access Networks and Fibre to the Home. He holds MSc in Telecom Engineering from Macedonia.

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Viktor Nelepa to talk about renewable energy sources and smart solutions at the MK2025 Summit

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Viktor Nelepa is a successful Macedonian businessman based in Dubai. He is the founder of both Didea Media and PME International. Didea Media is an innovative marketing, animation, and industrial design firm that is best known for its ‘Smart Palm’ project in Dubai. Smart Palm is a solar-powered recharge, information and wi-fi access point. PME International provides a complete range of specialized aviation and logistic services.

Viktor started his career in Skopje in marketing and logistics before moving to Dubai with Supreme Foodservice GmbH as International Transport Manager. In 2006, he was appointed General Manager Aviation of Supreme Aviation in Dubai, which helped supply the US Military and NATO in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

Viktor has a bachelor’s degree in economics from Pristina University and a master’s degree in law from FON University in Skopje.

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