The French-Serbian Chamber of Commerce (CCI France Serbie) brings together more than 120 members, including both French and Serbian firms, but also companies from other countries.
They are all united in their desire to increase their business contacts and exchange experiences, thus advancing their operations. “In the first 10 years, we at the Chamber focused on the quality of that which we offer, while now we have a desire to dedicate ourselves to increasing the network of members, because we believe that we offer top events and services that will satisfy even the most demanding of companies,” says Sanja Ivanić, director of the French-Serbian Chamber of Commerce. “We are particularly interested in new members from sectors that have little or no representation in the Chamber because we want the Chamber to be a comprehensive representative of the Serbian economy.”
France is ranked seventh among countries whose companies have invested in Serbia, with around 110 companies employing more than 11,000 people in various sectors: finance, automotive, food, digital and, as of recently, under the scope of a public service concession. In 2018, 955 million euros of foreign trade was realised between the two countries, 477 million of which was accounted for by imports, with exports worth a total of 478 million. “Growth in the foreign trade exchange has been particularly significant in the last few years, and it illustrates the desire of the two countries to renew their traditional friendship in all respects, including the economic aspect,” says Ivanić.
What has the strong growth in membership meant to the chamber’s internal organisation and the palette of services it offers?
– The increase in the number of members means that we have more possibilities and motivation to organise even bigger events that are even more successful and more useful for members. The larger number of members also enabled us to set up sector-specific clubs that allow members to share their experiences and work jointly to resolve specific problems that they face in their everyday operations and which relate specifically to the area in which they operate.
Apart from enriching the activities of the Chamber, the larger number of members gives us access to new levels of expertise, which is essential for us when it comes to providing information and support to French companies interested in this market. Moreover, thanks to the enriched palette of competences of our member companies and their employees, our “Start-up accelerator” mentoring programme is becoming increasingly proficient. We still don’t know every detail of the Serbian economy, but we’re close!
We would like to have many more French companies on the Serbian market, and a great challenge for us is to convince them to come here, and to then offer them top personalized support
With more than 40 events organised in 2018 alone, the CCIFS brings together and hosts members of the French-Serbian community each month. Which events are the most important to the work of members?
– Our events, through their diverse nature, are conceived in such a way that members can access the most diverse information from the world of business, contacts, organisations and partners. We strive to always listen to members’ needs and are not afraid to try out new formats. I would say that this flexibility and reactivity is our greatest advantage over older and larger organisations. Some events, such as the Gala Dinner that we first organised in Serbia seven years ago, or French Week, endure and are enriched over time, while others are replaced with something different, better adapted to the actual needs of members. Our policy is simple: members desire, and we try to fulfil those desires!
How would you assess your chamber’s role in advocating solutions for improving the business climate?
– The Chamber is a referenced partner to all French companies operating not only in Serbia but also around the region: we operate directly in countries where there is no French business club, or cooperate with partners, clubs or French chambers in the surrounding countries and beyond. For the last seven years, we’ve been the operational partner of Business France, which is the French national agency serving the internationalisation of the French economy.
In that sense, we have a certain “gravitas” with institutional partners in Serbia and the region, and they are always inclined to listen to and assist us. This also provides our members with greater visibility and access to “first-hand” information. Of course, that which “torments” our members most often also troubles other companies, regardless of their country of origin, which is why we strive, as often as possible, to approach such situations collectively, with other bilateral associations in Serbia.
Could you explain in more detail what stands behind the LeBOOSTER brand? Which services does the CCIFS offer in Serbia under this brand?
– The LeBooster Business Centre is an initiative of French Chambers at the global level – we launched it in Serbia when we noticed that there are ever more newcomers seeking space to start activities, and our address was a very practical solution for their first registration. This year we’ve doubled the space we rent, due to the high interest, so today we have there seven registered companies, both French and Serbian, which either have their own offices or share the co-working space. What sets LeBooster apart from other business centres is precisely the aspect of a business community with a good atmosphere and various organised social events, and – above all – access to the expertise of the Chamber and its members, which we make available to our ‘tenants’ with the aim of supporting their development.
The LeBooster brand allows companies that are LeBooster members in one country to access LeBooster facilities in another country and to use the space for free for some time and to have access to the local network of members. As of this year, the Chamber will also convert its websites into a world marketplace, where chamber members will be free to communicate, sell or purchase services or products from members of French chambers anywhere in the world. We are doing everything we can to overcome the image that chambers have everywhere around the world as a traditional, sluggish institutions and to position ourselves as a modern, proactive and efficient organisation.
In your opinion, what are the key challenges in further developing the chamber?
– Our goals remain the same: to improve bilateral cooperation and provide the best possible services to our members and newly arriving French companies.
In term of this last aspect, we would like there to be many more, and therein lies the biggest challenge for us – firstly because they need to be convinced that there is great potential on our market, and secondly because they need to be provided with personalised support, from market analysis to the identifying of clients, partners etc., to possible locations for them to launch activities, recruit human resources staff etc. That’s why we’ll continue our activities in France and direct meetings with representatives of companies, as that’s the only way to present them with all the opportunities offered by this market.
We also intend, in the foreseeable future, to set up a support service for Serbian companies wanting to enter the French market. And we won’t be alone in this project, because such enquiries come from all French chambers around the world and this is already being worked on at our parent chamber in France.