This year's Forum focused on the significance of mentoring as one of the most significant type of non-financial support for micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises, exploring ways to further enhance this service in Serbia and the broader region
Belgrade, December 7th 2023 - The Mentoring Forum was held in Belgrade, organized by the Development Agency of Serbia, marking its return after a four-year pause. The event brought together mentors from regional development agencies, representatives of companies – mentoring beneficiaries, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), and the Ministry of Economy of the Republic of Serbia.
Speakers at the Mentoring Forum included Katarina Obradović Jovanović, Assistant Minister of the Ministry of Economy of the Republic of Serbia; Radoš Gazdić, Acting Director of the Development Agency of Serbia; Masahiro Ueki, Head of the JICA Office for the Balkans; and Ana Žegarac, Project Manager for Mentoring at the Development Agency of Serbia.
Radoš Gazdić, Acting Director of RAS, emphasized that the establishment of standardized mentoring services and the implementation of this form of non-financial support for micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises have been supported from the outset by the Ministry of Economy. He highlighted that mentoring services have been implemented in Serbia for over 17 years, as result of the longstanding collaboration between the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Development Agency of Serbia. Over the years, more than 4,000 small and medium-sized enterprises, entrepreneurs, cooperatives, and clusters in Serbia have benefited from free of charge standardized mentoring services.
Gazdić underscored that mentoring services are free for users and are implemented through programs financed by the budgets of the Ministry of Economy and RAS. Certified mentors from 17 accredited regional development agencies conduct these services, trained using the mentor training methodology and the "On-the-Job Training" practice developed in collaboration with Japanese experts.
Assistant Minister of the Economy, Katarina Obradović Jovanović, praised the Mentoring program as an excellent example of how long-term perseverance and collaboration can yield sustainable results. She expressed gratitude to the Japanese government for its support in building and improving the mentoring system in Serbia.
She emphasized that mentors are currently the best support that development agencies have in assisting small and medium-sized enterprises.
Masahiro Ueki, the Head of the JICA Office for the Balkans, stressed the crucial importance of providing non-financial support to enterprises, such as mentoring.
The leader of the mentoring project, Ana Žegarac, highlighted that the Forum provided an opportunity to assess how accredited regional development agencies, as institutional infrastructure for mentoring implementation, carry out mentoring in Serbia and how this service is integrated into partnerships with local and international partners.
The joint collaboration with the Japan International Cooperation Agency is realized through the project "Strenghtening and Expanding the Mentoring Service for Small and Medium Enterprises in the Western Balkans," aiming to establish and successfully implement standardized mentoring services in Serbia and the entire region (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and North Macedonia).