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Danijela Fišakov, President Of The Slovenian Business Club

Government Must Be Constantly ‘Online’ With Business

It must be an imperative of the Serbian state’s economic policy to focus on simplifying tax procedures, reducing bureaucracy and increasing the efficiency of public administration, alongside the intensifying of digitalisation.

When you check out the website of the Slovenian Business Club (SBC), you will notice at first glance that this business association has been very active despite switching to work online.

“Although we were hit by this terrible plague, the Slovenian Business Club didn’t halts its operations, in terms of the providing of services to members. We adapted to the situation and shifted from working offline to online. We adapted the formats of events to the new rules that are applicable when working in a virtual environment. However, in the second half of last year we nonetheless managed to organise as many as three successful live events,” says SBC President Danijela Fišakov.

What is your recipe for maintaining a spirit of cooperation and informing your membership in a quality way?

– The recipe is simple. You just need to listen to the needs of your members and offer them support in their operations. Just as in a regular situation, we keep updated by monitoring all relevant content and information that may be of importance to businesspeople and accordingly inform the membership in a timely manner. We are in interactive, daily contact with members and maintain links with the membership and the flow of information to the greatest extent possible. Our activities on networking and connecting members, securing contacts and one-to-one work are unfolding intensively through the utilising of opportunities provided to us by modern technologies.

However, I must stress that we can hardly wait to again start organising events that include the personal presence of participants and have the kind of positive atmosphere that generally prevails at the Slovenian Business Club, which we have accustomed our members to throughout all these 18 years. We’re planning to open the season of members socialising outdoors again already during June.

We’re planning to open the season of members socialising outdoors again already during June

One of the more recent topics of your digital breakfast was investing in Serbia and the advantages and challenges that could be faced by investors. What are your members’ experiences like and how much has the investment climate changed over the last year?

– Serbia is already attractive for investment and its business environment is ever improving by the day. It is very important for the state not to now halt with the implementing of reforms initiated at all levels, but rather to continue with their practical implementation.

The problems that hit the country as a result of the pandemic are not local and specific, but rather global and cannot be any possible excuse to discontinue. It must be an imperative of the Serbian state’s economic policy to focus on simplifying tax procedures, reducing bureaucracy and increasing the efficiency of public administration, alongside the intensifying of digitalisation. Transparency is the most effective instrument against corruption. The government must be constantly ‘online’ with the economy, participating actively in dialogue with the economy and respecting its needs and specificities.

We are seeing businesspeople starting to renew physical contacts and chambers of commerce and business clubs taking an active role in providing the data that business leaders need before deciding on such a step. How many such requests has the SBC received and do you expect the re-establishing of pre-pandemic connections soon?

– I can confirm from my personal experience, but I’ve also noticed among others, that the month of April opened the season of inperson meetings, of course mostly outdoors and at a safe distance. It is known that the number of meetings is higher when the weather is nicer. When we arrange a meeting, we jest that we have to first check the weather forecast and use that as the basis to determine the date. Of course, vaccination has contributed significantly to business life slowly returning to normal. An increase in the number of meetings with businesspeople coming from Slovenia has especially been noticeable this month, i.e. during the month of May. I hope that will continue, because it’s an indicator that the general situation is improving. Without the living word, there can be no quality presentations, negotiations of conditions and, ultimately, no agreement on a job itself. After all, we humans are social creatures.

How did these circumstances impact on the dynamics of the economic exchange between the two countries, and can we even discuss expectations for 2021 at this juncture?

– The pandemic definitely impacted on total trade between the two countries, but not to a great extent. Our trade exchange is extensive and statistics show that the Slovenian side exported goods to Serbia worth almost a billion euros, while the value of exports from Serbia to Slovenia totalled nearly 600 million euros. So, total bilateral trade in 2020 amounted to slightly less than 1.6 billion euros. This represents a minimal fall compared to 2019, when trade between the two countries amounted to slightly more than 1.6 billion euros.

It is expected that opportunities for cooperation between the two countries will be even greater in all fields in the future, when epidemiological conditions improve and business can be conducted under better conditions. For example, information technology, agriculture, environmental protection and construction are all sectors with huge potential for mutual cooperation, and all are a long way from reaching the maximum possibilities of cooperation. When countries reopen to foreign tourists, the great potential of the tourism sector will also come to the fore, given the fact that Slovenia is a favourite destination among Serbs and Slovenes contribute as much as five per cent to the total number of foreign tourists in Serbia. Potential and possibilities exist on both sides, we just need to exploit them.

Among the topics you’ve dealt with during the previous period, it would be easy to conclude that digitalisation, and its impact on facilitating business operations, enjoys your attention. From this perspective, what are the main positive advances that have occurred; and where have your members faced implementation challenges?

– Even before the epidemic, we were paying a lot of attention to cultivating topics in the field of digitalisation, i.e. Industry 4.0. We noticed that such events provoked great interest among our members. We also noticed that our members had been previously paying a lot of attention to the digitalisation of business processes in their companies, because they were aware that they would lose out to market competition if they didn’t do that on time. This was only accelerated even more by the pandemic that befell us. Companies had to adjust their operations to the new situation overnight, whilst also taking care to ensure the safety of their employees. Some adjusted their business processes and employees to suppliers and customers very quickly and successfully, while some needed more time, and that was mostly due to a lack of knowhow among employees and a lack of financial resources to invest in new equipment and programmes. Whoever wants to be competitive must definitely follow the business trends that have been brought by Industry 4.0.

Information technology, agriculture, environmental protection and construction are all sectors with huge potential for mutual cooperation

When it comes to the pandemic, we are all impatiently waiting for the return of the “normal life” we had before. However, given the experience of the digital transformation we’ve witnessed over the last year, do you expect us to return to the old ways, or are we awaited by some “new normal”?

– The changes that will follow over the long run are inevitable. During the course of this year, the vast majority of companies have already adjusted their operations to the new conditions. Wherever possible, employees work from home, so business premises for large numbers of employees are becoming redundant. Although, under such conditions, the majority of employees in these lands face the real problem of a lack of work and home space, this way of working suits many employees, despite still only a few employers compensating their employees who work from home, for their electricity, internet, rent… Regardless of how this “pandemic period” of world history will end, it is quite certain that we are slowly moving towards the creation of a unique info-communication workspace in which it won’t matter where an employee is located. I can quite easily imagine, admittedly not in such a near future, workers from poorer regions doing jobs online instead of workers who need to be paid more. If we also add to that automated manufacturing processes that are performed by machines with artificial intelligence, without human participation, there are the “new normalities”.

What does it look like when you consider the SBC’s upcoming activities until the end of this year?

– We are already intensively planning live, in-person, events, because professional gatherings of up to 100 people are again permitted, of course with adherence to all epidemiological measures. We are sure that we’ll be able to stage at least one live gathering of our members before the summer holidays. All members can hardly wait for that day.

Although some of my doctor friends express concern about the possible situation in the winter period, I hope the situation will be favourable and that, from September onwards, we’ll return to the way activities were in 2019. We are planning for the events we organise in Serbia to be in-person, while we’ll still organise events with international guests online until the end of the year. Unfortunately, this year, once again, our very popular St. Martin’s Day event will most likely have to be postponed until better times. We hope that at the end of this year we’ll be able to toast a successful year with our members and business associates. We are certainly monitoring the situation.