Women-run businesses thrive in Tirana


Alma Gerxhani, Administrator and Co-Founder of Visit Tirana tourist portal. Photo: UN Women Albania/Yllka Parllaku

If you plan to visit Tirana, the capital of Albania that is now a must-travel destination in Europe, make sure to explore Visit Tirana website first. There you can find everything you need to know to enjoy the city to its fullest. This online platform for tourists is run by women who have received a grant for women entrepreneurs from the Municipality of Tirana – a first-time initiative in the city supported by UN Women.

Alma Gerxhani, an online editor who worked at the first online newspaper in Albania, teamed up with an experienced journalist, Eva Kushova, and initiated a voluntary project to promote the city of Tirana. They started with Twitter and Facebook three years ago, sharing information about the city’s attractions and events. They gained many followers and in 2015 received the Personality of the Year Award from the Mayor of Tirana.

“The award was a motivation for us. We collected information about culture, history, tourist spots and attractions, events and guides. But we needed to direct readers to a website where they could reach this information in full,” says Alma Gerxhani, administrator and co-founder of Visit Tirana.

Women entrepreneurs participating at the training on business plans. Photo: UN Women Albania/Yllka Parllaku
Women entrepreneurs participating at the training on business plans. Photo: UN Women Albania/Yllka Parllaku

They applied to the “Competitive Fund for Women Entrepreneurs” of the Municipality of Tirana in 2016. Their innovative idea to create the first-ever tourist web guide for Tirana was selected among the winners. They received around 3000 dollars to develop a customized software and adapt information in three different languages, making it the only all-inclusive information hub for tourists.

“Visit Tirana needed investment. With our own funds, it would have taken a much longer time to launch the site and we would have been a bit late in the market. With this grant, the project was accelerated and the website launched earlier. So it came at the right time,” says Alma.

In Albania, the percentage of women as owners or administrators of businesses was more than 31% in 2015, and the number of those leading small enterprises is higher than any other category, according to the latest publication from the national Institute of Statistics, Women and Men in Albania 2016.

The grant of around 50 thousand dollars in 2016 aimed to support the most innovative and comprehensive business ideas. UN Women supported the Municipality in setting the criteria for the grant, defining its geographical coverage, developing its management strategy, and organizing an information campaign. 

43 women and girls living in Tirana submitted their proposals and more than half were selected to receive business training, which included developing business plans, building financial literacy and overall management skills and designing marketing and branding strategies.

Swiss and German development agencies Swisscontact and GIZ, with specialized knowledge in business coaching and monitoring, provided the training with support from UN Women and the Swedish Government.

Women entrepreneurs participating at the training on business plans. Photo: UN Women Albania/Yllka Parllaku
Women entrepreneurs participating at the training on business plans. Photo: UN Women Albania/Yllka Parllaku

“The training gave us additional knowledge. It was necessary to foresee how the business would grow and be sustainable. We learned how to prepare a business plan or to assess the needs of the market,” says Alma.

Based on the business plans, only 18 of the participants were selected to profit from the grant.

Volunteer trainer Christoph Ramseier, supported by Swisscontact, highlights the diversity of the projects: "I am convinced that such projects make a difference in the economic development of the country. The efforts delivered and risks taken by women entrepreneurs in small enterprises can create new, sustainable jobs in all areas.”

Around 50% of the companies registered in the country operate in Tirana, the largest municipality in Albania with around 1 million inhabitants. Deputy Mayor of Tirana, Brunilda Paskali highlights the lack of support for women entrepreneurs:

“We decided to launch a fund for women entrepreneurs, prioritizing rural businesses and those in the areas of tourism, ICT, services and handicrafts. The initiative had substantial impact on women entrepreneurs, benefiting especially those that own small enterprises,” says Ms. Paskali. ”Now we have 10 new registered businesses that have opened after receiving the grant, and other winning companies have increased their staff.”

The Municipality of Tirana is planning to organize the same grant programme in 2017, increasing the grant up to 80 thousand dollars, while other municipalities have taken a genuine interest in replicating this intervention in the future.