Synergies in Learning: USAID CATALYZE EoG Hosts Regional Event to Ignite SME Financing in the Western Balkans

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Mila Markovic Pejcic, CATALYZE EoG MEL expert

Belgrade, Serbia — September 15, 2023 — The USAID CATALYZE Western Balkans Engines of Growth (EoG) Activity successfully concluded its regional learning event, “Synergy in Learning: Catalyzing SMEs Financing in the Western Balkans,” held in Belgrade, Serbia on September 14th and 15th, 2023.

The event served as a platform for networking and knowledge sharing among USAID missions, CATALYZE partners and beneficiaries, business advisory networks, ecosystem experts, and other stakeholders committed to fostering the growth and resilience of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the Western Balkans.

Ana Luisa Pinto, Economic Growth Officer for the USAID Bureau for Europe and Eurasia, and Brooke Isham, Mission Director of USAID Serbia, opened the event, underpinning the important role that SMEs play in the Western Balkans region and the ongoing support that USAID provides to strengthen this dynamic ecosystem.

The two-day event featured a rich agenda with presentations, panel discussions, and interactive roundtable sessions. Presentations on SMEs’ financial and digital literacy explored existing digital platforms available in the region that can enhance SMEs’ knowledge and skills and facilitate access to financing. A roundtable discussion on equity financing discussed the barriers for the region, but also revealed some upcoming opportunities.

A number of non-traditional financial services available in the region, such as equity investing, digital financing, niche financial products, factoring, microfinance, and crowdfunding, were presented to the business advisory service providers (BASPs) at the event to better prepare them to to serve clients effectively. The event also brought together representatives from the banking system, financial experts, and fintech industry to discuss the future of access to financing in the Western Balkans, focusing on fintech in banking, embedded finance, and data-based financing.

Throughout the event discussion, stakeholders addressed the gender dimension of access to finance for women-owned SMEs, including a dedicated session exploring key constraints, both demand-side and supply-side factors, impacting women entrepreneurs.

CATALYZE Engines of Growth presented the findings from a recent regional survey conducted with BASPs, shedding light on SMEs’ incentives to use business advisory services, ways to facilitate more effective collaboration between BASPs and financial institutions, shifts in SME demands, and feedback mechanisms, particularly for women-owned/led SMEs.

“Synergy in Learning: Catalyzing SMEs Financing in the Western Balkans” was a resounding success, facilitating invaluable dialogue and knowledge exchange among stakeholders committed to the growth of SMEs in the region.

USAID CATALYZE will develop a learning resource based on the event findings that both USAID and the private sector can use to further mobilize private capital for local market development.

For more information and access learning briefs and videos from past event, please visit the USAID CATALYZE Medium page and follow @USAID CATALYZE on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and YouTube.


About USAID CATALYZE EoG

The USAID CATALYZE Engines of Growth (EoG) Activity enhances the resilience and expansion of SMEs in the Western Balkans by improving their access to and effective use of appropriate financial resources. EoG collaborates with partners to design financial products and services that promote long-term, scalable, and sustainable growth. This includes the development of alternative financing solutions and fintech innovations to streamline SMEs’ access to finance.

EoG also places a strong emphasis on supporting women-owned/led SMEs by partnering with financial institutions to facilitate easier access to financial products. The overarching objective of EoG is to mobilize $110 million in private-sector capital for SMEs.

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