July 2018 – After Dragica Antonijevic lost her factory job in 2009, she started to think about how she could support her family financially. With two children and an unemployed husband, she had to find a way to generate income to survive.
Fully equipped with family recipes passed down from her grandmother and mother, Dragica started a baking business. Using the tools she had at home — just three pans, a small oven, and a refrigerator — Dragica began producing cakes and other baked goods. However, she struggled to find people and stores to buy her creations.
Determined to get the word out, Dragica began going door to door, pleading with shop owners to sample what she baked.
“No one knew the quality of my products, so I decided to find my own market,” she remembers.
Little by little, Dragica convinced different stores around northern Kosovo, where she lives, to carry her products. As the popularity of her products increased, her business — named Milos and Marta after her children — started to receive more orders.
Dragica and her husband, Bojan, were delighted that demand for their products had increased, but now they faced a new problem: producing enough for their customers with their existing equipment.
In 2015, the couple applied for a grant under a USAID program to supplement a bank loan they secured, and bought new cooking equipment including a commercial-grade oven and mixer. They also constructed a larger processing facility to increase production, improve the quality of products, and diversify their product range.
After these upgrades — and with more orders rolling in — Milos and Marta hired nine additional employees, ramped up production, and won a large contract to provide baked goods to the main university student center in northern Kosovo. The company also began shipping its products to different areas of Kosovo and to neighboring Serbia.
Since receiving USAID support, the company’s sales have quadrupled.
USAID assistance marked a turning point for the business, says Dragica: “Without USAID support, we would not have had the budget or the capacity to achieve the success our business is experiencing.”
These days, Dragica is happy that customers are coming to her and that she no longer needs to ask people to try her sweet treats. She and Bojan are now focused on keeping up with orders.
“By 2020, we hope to build a two-story production facility. This growth will enable us to employ more people and expand our business to reach more markets,” says Bojan.
“Success, from where we started and what we have achieved up till now, makes us very proud,” adds Dragica.
The five-year USAID EMPOWER Private Sector project aims to create jobs in Kosovo by helping businesses identify and pursue opportunities for growth. To date, the project, which began in 2014, has assisted 364 Kosovo businesses like Milos and Marta to expand their production and sales. By fostering and encouraging growth opportunities, USAID has stimulated $83.8 million in sales among its beneficiary companies and helped create nearly 3,000 new jobs since 2015.
,“When we initially started the business, I never thought we would become this big. I never thought we would get to this stage of growth.”