The panel discussion on "The Role of a Standardized Mentoring Program in Improving the Performance of small and medium enterprises" took place on November 2nd at the 8th International Collaboration Forum in Niš.
Ana Žegarac, Project Manager at RAS-JICA from the Development Agency of Serbia, also the panel moderator, began by expressing gratitude and a desire for the highly successful collaboration with the Japanese Government and colleagues from Japan to continue in the coming decades.
The discussion revolved around the long-standing collaboration with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), how the mentoring program has transformed businesses, and develope mentors, and about prioritizations of financial vs non-financial support for companies. The panelists provided answers to these questions in a dynamic and interactive conversation.
Hajime Fukuda, Deputy Head of the JICA Balkan Office, stated that the Japanese government initiated this program to support the social and economic development of the region. The project aims to establish standardized mentoring from Serbia throughout the Western Balkans. He emphasized the similarity in the needs of Japanese companies and those in the Western Balkans for mentoring as an effective support tool. He also emphasized the continuation of successful collaboration with institutions and organizations in the Western Balkans.
Shichiro Kato, JICA expert for the SME Project, emphasized that the mentoring program will become a regional brand. He stressed the goal of sharing the 17 years of mentoring program experience in Serbia with other Western Balkan countries and establishing a standardized mentoring system in the region.
Mićo Stanojević, a representative of the RARS Project from Banja Luka and a mentor, highlighted the importance of listening to the feedback from program users during the implementation of mentoring programs. He mentioned that companies in the Republic of Srpska expect a continuous increase in the quality of mentoring. Stanojević added that the mentoring program in the Republic of Srpska has primarily focused on manufacturing companies that create new job opportunities.
Slobodan Mitić from the Leskovac-based company DDM Metaling stated that his company's experience in the mentoring program showed that mentors brought new tools to improve business operations. He also emphasized that it's not enough to implement proposed changes; persistence in their application is crucial. He highlighted the need to harness the new energy and momentum that mentors provide and not delay the implementation of changes, as the best effects are achieved when suggestions are applied immediately. Mitić expressed his gratitude to mentors from the Center for the Development of the Jablanica and Pčinj Districts, Leskovac.
Dragana Belenzada, Center for the Development of the Jablanica and Pčinj Districts, Leskovac, emphasized how significant responsibility mentors hold when collaborating with companies and the importance of creating a positive working atmosphere. She also highlighted the role of Serbian trainers in mentoring and workplace instruction, along with the RAS team and Japanese experts in improving the standardized mentoring system.
Slobodan Mitić, the director of Jugosistem from Niš, mentioned that his company has returned to the mentoring program multiple times, showing how beneficial the program is for their business. He pointed out that mentoring is especially valuable for companies where management and ownership functions are not separate, as it enables them to begin the process of developing management and people management. He expressed gratitude to Japan, the Development Agency of Serbia, and regional development agencies for their support to companies.
Ivan Babić, a mentor from the Republic of Srpska, stated that introducing mentoring is one of the most significant forms of non-financial support. However, given that mentoring is in its early stages in the Republic of Srpska, they must explain in detail to business owners why this program is important for them and how it works. He noted that the initial steps have been taken and that mentoring can be extremely beneficial for businesses. For example, most of the companies they started working with did not have set goals and a vision for the next 5 years.