ReLOaD Albania: Buiding skills and creating jobs for women

“Soap is an essential product for men and women, everyone needs it.”

It was this simple thought expressed by her mother-in-law which inspired Ms. Dorinela Hoxha to join a local civil society initiative in Roskovec that has led to the creation of a successful social enterprise in the small Albanian city.

Ms. Hoxha is among one hundred unemployed women in the Roskovec region who have developed entrepreneurial skills and gained a possibility for self-employment through the “Organic Soap Roskovec” Project. After training on soap production, financial literacy, and marketing, Ms. Hoxha feels fortunate and proud of herself.

“All women involved benefited from this project. We have learned how to produce cosmetic products based on olive oil, and how we can market them on our own. Now, we are constantly receiving orders from various stores and customers,” says Ms. Hoxha.

Recently , the country’s national television offered to advertise their products, while many newspapers have already reported on this group of creative women from Roskovec.

“This greatly helped advertise our products outside of the region. Here, in our village, some people do not believe that our business will succeed, but we don’t mind it. It only gives us more strength to continue our work. This is just the beginning and we will succeed,” says Ms. Hoxha.

Olives bring much-needed change

Roskovec has great potential for rural development. Unfortunately, the region is still struggling with a high unemployment rate. Members of the “Social Development Investment” (SDI) Association decided that it is finally time for things to change. Like so many other successful business ideas, this one was also inspired by something that people in Roskovec see every day — olive trees.

SDI developed the idea of organic, olive oil soap production, to create more self-employment possibilities for the local population. The project “Organic Soap Roskovec” resulted in the creation of an Artisan soap center, while developing a mini value chain of olive oil-based production.

Unemployed women in Roskovec, as well as young farmers who were included in the value chain, went through vocational training on soap production and business development. They have learned how to produce soap and to develop new products, how to present it to the public, and finally — how to sell it. Their training resulted in one brand and four olive oil-based products developed (soap, shampoo, liquid soap, and transparent soap).

Products were branded to promote authentic elements from the region, while the packaging is made out of recycled paper. The soap is produced from unused or unsold olive oil. Chemistry professors from the University of Tirana trained women from Roskovec to combine the right proportions of olive oil, water, sodium, and essential oils in order to produce the best possible soap quality.

The initiative gave the women involved much-needed self-confidence — now, they feel empowered and optimistic about their future. Through the promotion of Roskovec’s native products, they finally have an opportunity to work and provide better living conditions for themselves and their families.

Partnership with local government for better results

The project “Organic Soap Roskovec” was part of the Regional Programme on Local Democracy in the Western Balkans (ReLOaD) Programme, funded by the European Union and implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Mr. Elias Mazloum, executive director of the SDI, says that the Roskovec Municipality partnered with them in this project by providing much-needed financial and logistic support.

“They have been very supportive by providing us with free premises for the Artisanal soap center, where we organized the training, soap production, packaging, and meetings with olive oil producers. Women from Roskovec still use it for workshops and soap production,” says Mr. Mazloum.

Ms. Nertila Pelivani, from the Municipality of Roskovec, says that ReLOaD has caused a broad positive social impact — it offered employment prospects while promoting the cultural values of their community.

“ReLOaD serves as a bridge between local government, the community, and civil society. Partnership with the programme has been an added value in terms of building capacities of our staff and by preparing them for project evaluation, implementation and monitoring,” says Ms. Pelivani.

Empowerment of youth and women through tourism

One more civil society initiative has created employment opportunities for the local population through the ReLOaD Programme in Albania. By promoting tourism development in Prrenjas Municipality, civil society organization “Agri-EN” motivated dozens of youths and women to get involved in presenting their rich cultural and natural heritage to foreign and domestic tourists.

The Prrenjas region has an excellent predisposition for developing rural tourism.

Unfortunately, due to a lack of funds and human resource capacities, its tourism has not been sufficiently promoted. Now, for the first time, the Prrenjas Municipality has identified 12 tourist localities under the project “Promoting tourism through local guides.” In cooperation with local authorities, young activists have worked to expand tourist offer by mapping the region’s main cultural landscapes and monuments.

Moreover, 13 unemployed youths went through vocational training for tourist guides. In addition to developing new skills that are increasing their employment prospects, they were engaged in creating maps and brochures that promote Prrenjas’ cultural-historical heritage.

Ms. Esmeralda Bardhoshi, who participated in the tour guide training, says that this initiative has stimulated curiosity and desire for action among young people.

“Through this training, I have gained a new vision in my life — to engage professionally as a local tourist guide. I started organizing small groups to practice my new skills and to promote local tourism,” says Ms. Bardhoshi.

Visitors and locals can now explore the beauties of Prrenjes in a more organized and professional way.

Furthermore, the “Agri-EN” Association inspired seven women from the region to practice rural tourism. Women managing local guesthouses were trained and supported to further develop their family-owned businesses. Now their guesthouses are included in the tourist accommodation offers on social networks and on the most important tourist websites.

Providing better social services to those in need

Mr. Fatmir Brazhda, project manager at the Civil Society Organization “Agri-EN”, believes that ReLOaD has brought manifold benefits to their local community.

“This Programme directly influenced vulnerable groups by providing them employment and improving their chances for higher social inclusion. Also, ReLOaD strengthened cooperation with the Prrenjas Municipality while increasing our knowledge in project management”, says Mr. Brazhda.

For small municipalities like Prrenjas, programs like ReLOaD are bringing much-needed social dynamic and support. In the course of three years, nine civil society projects have been implemented in Prrenjas, and the Municipality currently funds two of them. All these initiatives aim to bring social benefits such as youth and women employment, rural development, and provide services for people with disabilities.

In Albania, 12 municipalities participated in the Programme. In the process of facilitating the partnership between local governments and civil society organizations in order to offer better services for citizens, ReLOaD reached more than 28.000 beneficiaries across Albania by implementing 82 projects contributing to social inclusion and empowerment of socially marginalized groups.