Realizing Potential and Profits at a Small Macedonia Business

Mrs. Rabije Sinani, owner of the bakery
Bakery owner Rabije Sinani
Ivan Mickovski
As production triples, disadvantaged women reap varied rewards
“Every woman has some talent, has the ability to work, and for that she deserves respect and recognition.”

April 2018 — “I want to work. This is the only thing I know how to do well.”

This is one of the first things one hears when speaking with Rabije Sinani, who has become an unofficial leader of the disadvantaged and marginalized women from the village of Kamenjane in the Polog region of Macedonia. She is well known locally for her sweets and wedding decorations.

While she works hard to expand her business portfolio, Sinani is doing her best to engage every woman who is able to work. Many in this rural area think of her as not only an entrepreneur, but also as an “employment incubator” for local disadvantaged women.

When she started a business decorating cars for weddings in 1992, Sinani traveled on a daily basis through surrounding villages to find greenery for her projects. Her creative approach became widely recognized.

With time she expanded her product offerings by baking and decorating cakes for weddings. She managed to bake and decorate up to 25 cakes per day with the assistance of disadvantaged women from her community. However, she was working hard with only basic equipment in her own kitchen.

In the past six years, Sinani has invested in a small workshop and additional equipment. Every summer, when Macedonian diaspora come back to the villages from throughout Europe, Sinani gathers more than 10 unemployed women as seasonal workers. In addition, all the ingredients she uses, including butter and eggs, are locally produced by women. One beneficiary, for instance, is a very poor woman working hard to support a family with milk from just one cow.

Through USAID’s Small Business Expansion Project, Sinani received assistance in 2013 to purchase a refrigerator for storing cakes, as well as a laminator for spreading dough. The laminator allowed her to offer new products, including a popular regional pasta.

As part of her cooperation with USAID and as a result of the rapid growth of her business, she provides on-the-job training for 14 women, employing four full time and 10 part time. Thanks to USAID support, the production capacity of her workshop has almost tripled to 70 cakes a day. The increase in production has also allowed her to supply four restaurants instead of only two. Her family’s income has improved and is more stable as a result, as is the income of her employees and those in her supply chain.

Sudbije Imeri is one of Sinani’s employees. When asked how her life has changed as a result of stable employment, her response was telling: “I’m a new person now. I forgot to smile and keep my head up. While living with my family, I was overwhelmed with the struggle for daily existence. Now, I have an opportunity to work and gain back my dignity as human being. Rabije gave me a chance to prove myself. I was hoping for this moment for many years. I’m now the lead in the team of women and my responsibility is making pasta with new laminator provided by the USAID project.”

Who exactly is Rabije Sinani? She is a woman breaking barriers in her community by motivating unemployed women to fulfill their potential and improve their livelihoods.

She was very young when she was married and had to move to Sarajevo in 1983. For a long time she couldn’t find work, but with strong support from her husband, she learned new skills. When the war in Bosnia began, she returned to Kamenjane with her husband, where they laid the foundation for fulfilling her dreams.

“It was very hard at the beginning. Sometimes, I was skeptical in which direction I should go, but I followed my intuition,” says Sinani. She never forgets to thank her husband for his support; the couple is a model for others in a very traditional, conservative part of the country where women remain the minority in business.

Still full with new ideas for her business, with a smile on her face, promoting her own homegrown brand, Sinani continues to motivate everyone around her. She no longer struggles to make ends meet day-to-day, but she never forgets where she came from.

“Every woman has some talent, has the ability to work, and for that she deserves respect and recognition. My mission is to lead them through this path. I hope, as long as I’m healthy and alive, more women will bring back smiles on their faces.”

USAID’s five-year Small Business Expansion Project, which ended in 2016, was designed to strengthen the private sector to drive regional economic development and job creation within selected regions of Macedonia. The project worked with over 100 local partners and led to the creation and/or retention of 8,000 jobs and $73.7 million in public and private investment for local economic growth and development of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).

Building on the Small Business Expansion Project’s success, USAID continues to support the development of Macedonia’s MSMEs and business support organizations through the Business Ecosystem Project, which runs from 2017 to 2021. The project is designed to transform the competitiveness of MSMEs by strengthening business and financial services, market linkages, growth and productivity. Through this support, USAID is helping Macedonia to develop a sustainable business ecosystem, a big step toward the path to self-reliance.

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Last updated: April 18, 2018

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