The Hellenic Business Association has successfully adapted to working online and plans to continue such activities, considering the uncertainty that the economy is facing. Even the traditional cutting of Vasilopita, which represents the central event during the course of a year, was organised in an online format, to the satisfaction of HBA members
Can a business association function successfully under the conditions of working online? Fanina Kovačević-Popaz, executive director of the Hellenic Business Association, considers that the answer is yes, and here she shares with our readers HBA’s recipe for success.
“The outbreak of the pandemic caused changes in the way of work, with an emphasis placed on safety and preserving the health of employees. Greek companies in Serbia, as well as the most of our members, continued their operations through a system of working from home, conducting business activities through tools of digital communication. The newly emerged situation demanded that we adapt quickly and have good coordination. The shift in the focus of work – from the organisation of events that imply public gatherings, to the intensified exchange of information relating to the impact of the pandemic on the operations of our members, as well as transitioning to a regime of online activity, proved crucial to the successful work of the association in an altered business environment,” explains our interlocutor.
How possible was it to fulfil the plans that you set in 2020 and how much were they adapted, given the situation?
– We are very glad that, immediately after the outbreak of the pandemic and the declaring of a state of emergency, the HBA responded to the needs of members in a timely manner and took on the role of an information hub. We informed members about all the measures taken by the government during this period, and also provided relevant data related to the course of the pandemic and its impact on the regular operations of companies in Serbia. We regularly informed members about the regime for crossing borders between Serbia and Greece, given that we received lots of inquiries on this topic. We are still sharing this type of information with our members. Already during the first months of last year we participated in a joint initiative of 12 chambers of commerce, which was launched as a response of the business world to the market changed by the pandemic. These chambers used this occasion to send a joint letter to the Ministry of Economy, with the aim of combatting the negative consequences of the pandemic on the work of companies. In addition to this, planned activities that didn’t necessarily require the physical presence of members were redirected to online implementation, while we adjusted the work plan.
Which online activities would you single out as being the most important and how do you organise them?
– During the previous period, in cooperation with our members, we had an opportunity to organise webinars. Specifically, we organised a webinar on the topic of the legal environment for doing business during COVID-19 with the Rokas office, a webinar on the topic of strategic communications with V+O Communication, as well as an internet seminar on the topic of current tax issues with Eurofast Global, as well as other similar activities.
Among last year’s activities, I would single out the online dialogue with the customs administration on the topic of the new customs law, which was jointly organised in cooperation with the Belgian-Serbian Business Association and the Swiss-Serbian Chamber of Commerce. We also participated in the realisation of the first online Speed Business Meeting, with the aim of directly acquainting and improving cooperation between three business associations: Hellenic, Belgian and Slovenian.
We expect this year’s Member2Member publication to be realised soon, as well as the holding of our regular general assembly
What are the most important lessons you’ve drawn for 2021, and what topics and activities will you focus on this year?
– The inability to organise business gatherings, as well as their complete exclusion from the programme of activities, represented one of the biggest challenges that we faced. Quickly adapting to a system of working online imposed itself as the only solution for the unhindered continuation of activities related to the provision of support to members in business and their mutual interconnection. Taking into consideration the uncertainty faced by the economy, we are planning to continue such activities. And during the course of this year we’ll continue to inform our members about all factors relevant to doing business in Serbia, as well as about factors related to the pandemic, the influence of which – judging by current estimates – will continue to change business trends and habits. We will also remain focused on providing support to the companies hardest hit by the crisis, and they include small and medium-sized enterprises. We will also focus on more intensive exchanges of contacts and marketing promotions of members within the association itself, through internal communication channels, but also through cooperation with similar associations.
You recently organised the traditional cutting of Vasilopita in an online format. How satisfied are you with the implementation of this event?
– As a result of the pandemic, many regular and traditional events cannot be organised in the way we are used to experiencing them. That’s why the HBA decided to embrace technology and support its tradition. The cutting of Vasilopita, which is the central event during the course of the year, and which brought together the largest number of members under pre-pandemic conditions, was organised in an online format.
The board of directors used this occasion to address members from a fully equipped studio for internet events, belonging to our member Congress Rental. In the continuation of the event, we presented traditional awards to companies that marked the tenth anniversary of their membership in the HBA, and we organised a raffle for the nomination of this year’s “lucky” member, who received a gold coin.
Under these conditions, how much interest was there in Greek investments in Serbia and establishing new business contacts between Greek and Serbian companies?
– During times when the organising of meetings, business gatherings and marketing activities is limited, business associations represent a unique platform for exchanging business contacts, through communication channels that are already developed. The number and diversity of sectors in which Greek companies, – our members operate, also attracts Serbian companies that join our association. In that sense, we recorded new members even during last year, including both Serbian and Greek companies that clearly recognise the importance of connecting through membership during the pandemic. Despite this new crisis, new Greek companies still registered their business presence in Serbia during the previous period.
Which of the HBA’s upcoming activities would you like to share with our readers?
– We are looking forward to the online business meeting with the representatives of other Greek business associations from the Balkans, at which representatives of management boards will discuss current economic topics in each individual country, as well as the work of the associations themselves. We believe that this meeting, which is expected to be held soon, will provide a good foundation for the further interconnection of the Greek business community across a broader geographical area. We plan to continue online activities in the period ahead, and to organise online seminars that relate to legal, accounting and tax issues in the country. Cooperation with other associations and chambers will certainly be an important aspect of improving and exchanging business contacts.