Initiative ’Yes We Can’ launched recently on the platform of Sarajevo Business Forum is an innovative “Bottom Up” response to Covid-19 pandemic that could be replicated elsewhere, especially by smaller countries with modest GDP and curtailed state capacity to intervene in saving economies.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is widely regarded as one of the most successful cases of post-conflict reconciliation and reconstruction. In case of B&H, international humanitarian intervention produced admirable peace dividends. However, it also inadvertently risked creating three separate national projects in the absence of less coercive mechanisms of centralized government structures. In order to preserve peace decision-making process is relatively slow and requires compromises in order to attain progress and reforms.
Bosnia has enjoyed three decades of liberal democracy and open market policies, albeit within the framework of consociation mechanisms required to accommodate various interests of constituent ethnic groups for the sake of peace, stability and safeguarding national unity. Despite occasional tensions, Bosnia’s economic progress can be discerned from a range of markers. Foreign direct investment, although not at the desired level, has been steadily increasing. Just before the Covid-19 pandemic hit three months ago B&H has seen impressive influx of foreign tourists from all corners of the globe, including China and various GCC countries. Tourism sector saw increase by 30 per cent. Sarajevo became connected via daily flights with major European metropolis as well as with Istanbul, Riyadh, Dubai, Doha and other major global hubs, many of which were initiated as a result of Sarajevo business forum, a major international investment platform in Southeast Europe.
Due to severe impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on Bosnian economy already facing structural difficulties, brain drain and wakened industrial base, highly decentralized governance structure is not ideally equipped to effectively deal alone with adverse effects of the pandemic. Hence a great deal of responsibility lies on private industry and initiatives outside of immediate government sphere. This structural position of Bosnia’s administrative and economic spheres represent both the challenge and formidable incentive for private business and banking sector to come to the fore and provide innovative and holistic solutions to help the economy by equipping it with mechanisms and tools to help it withstand effects of the current pandemic and similar crisis that might break out in the future.
“Yes We Can” initiative devised on the platform of Sarajevo Business Forum gathered executives, academic experts and directors of the most successful food-manufacturing, energy and pharmaceutical companies, suppliers and distributors along with banking sector is set to become a role model and a ray of hope for Bosnia and Herzegovina and perhaps even for other small states with modest budgets that are struggling in coping with Covid-19 pandemic. These Bosnian experts are offering a home-grown solution on the basis of accumulated knowledge and experience, inspired by Sarajevo business forum, which over the past decade gathered thousands of investors, business leaders and policymakers alike, from all corners of the globe.
“Yes, we can” initiative offers practical solutions grounded in local experiences and best international practices from countries such as Singapore, Germany, UAE, USA, to name only a few, where participants of this initiative hold academic, business or administrative positions. The initiative devised strategies and practical implementation methods aimed at overcoming adverse effects of the pandemic and proposed reform mechanisms, including legislative measures that will provide impetus and incentives to local manufacturing and create resilience to overcome future impacts of similar crisis.
After several weeks of intensive brainstorming, coordination and deliberations of ideas, and after testing their applicability, the initiative’s output has been collated and published in a document soon to be disseminated to policy makers, business leaders and legislators to enable speedy process of economic recovery. The underlying idea is to preclude the downward spiral of the economy and provide leadership and advice in order to restore confidence and hope in not only viability but also urgency of practical action on many fronts to help rescue the economy and protect people’s livelihoods. The initiative should galvanize the public as well. At this precarious time when economists increasingly debate the return of Neo-Malthusian trap fearing shortage of food this initiative is somewhat inspired by the “Club of Rome”, albeit on a much smaller scale, but equally born out of concern for destiny of this small multicultural nation the survival of which is highly symbolic for the preservation of multi ethnic societies elsewhere, particularly in an age of increasingly isolationist, regressive and de-globalising attitude displayed by many policymakers in both east and west. This initiative particularly calls for urgency in providing much needed support for the development of new start-up business initiatives, particularly in the area of new technologies, food production, agriculture, sustainable energy, digital economy. It emphasizes centrality of manufacturing clusters cantered around like-minded industries that share the same locality as regional hubs.
Urgency of structural reforms is central to the imitative as this would markedly improve the credit rating of Bosnia and Herzegovina and hence accelerate foreign investments into the country thus contributing to overall economic development. If implemented timely and effectively, this initiative would bring about tangible results as early as during this year. Most importantly the initiative has no political agenda, is not based on ethnic or cultural bias, and is totally grounded in economic merits and aimed at well-being and benefit of the entire country and peoples at large, irrespective of political persuasion, ideological leanings or cultural practices.
The initiative insists on utilizing domestic resources as much as possible and draws on a broad pool of Bosnia’s brains and home grown expertise both at home and abroad The initiative is currently being debated in regular zoom panel webinars and meetings and has so far received admirable attention and support not only by the business community but also the wider public. Its success is dependent on the policymakers’ speedy implementation of legislative and administrative interventions.
This initiative may inadvertently introduce a new dynamic in the upcoming local elections whereby people’s attention is solely focused on economic issues. Majority of Bosnia’s people are ordinary moms and dads who are concerned for their jobs, health care and how to best educate their children. Economics will trump politics at least this time around, in time of Covi-19. Hence this initiative is poised to become a major impetus for streamlining political discourse and shifting it towards economic trajectory and away from nationalistic and ethnically based considerations, which cost this country its progress in the past.
“Yes, we can” initiative, characterized by self-help, resilience, self-confidence, inclusiveness and open-door policy, will chart a new economic vision for Bosnia and Herzegovina and will provide a new lifeline to Bosnia’s sluggish economy, reduce risks of job insecurity and undoubtedly bring all its constituent peoples closer together.
Amer Bukvić, an internationally awarded business leader who initiated the idea along with Zoran Puljić, a leading social entrepreneur and their colleagues whose innovative ideas are recognized in relevant global platforms for economic development, such as the World Economic Forum and Sarajevo Business Forum, are spearheading the initiative.