From where I stand: “Women’s Entrepreneurship Expo had a good vibe: no barriers, no prejudices and a practical spirit of cooperation”
Silvana Malluta is the co-owner of Balkan Pearls, a tourist agency in Tirana, Albania, and she was an active participant in the first virtual Women’s Entrepreneurship Expo organized by UN Women Europe and Central Asia between 27 and 29 April. The Expo aimed to support and empower women entrepreneurs during and after COVID-19. According to a UN Women report, women-owned small businesses in Albania were hit the hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. Silvana speaks about the challenges of keeping the business afloat during the health crisis and being a woman entrepreneur
“Before the outbreak of the pandemic, we had just expanded our staff. The pandemic came as a major shock. The first things we did to mitigate its impact were to set up working from home, reduce staff working hours and office costs. Our agency operates with foreign tourists visiting Albania, but due to the lockdown measures and travel restrictions we adapted our services to travel within the region or the country. We also tried a number of promotional packages, but it didn’t really work. We stayed optimistic and tried various other options. Thanks to its reserve savings, the company managed to survive.
One year on from the start of the pandemic, I was invited to participate in Women’s Entrepreneurship Expo; a unique idea. I had never participated in a similar event; the experience was totally different from the fairs I am used to attend. It was an excellent opportunity for women entrepreneurs to exchange ideas and knowledge, help each other, and network. There was this good vibe: no barriers, no prejudice, and a marked spirit of cooperation. I attended almost all the trainings and we learned how to draft a business plan. Our office’s business plan is very simple but now I already have some new ideas on how to improve it.
Ours is a small office and our company is quite new. My friend and old colleague Vilma Meta and I founded it four years ago. At the time we were both in search of better employment opportunities. We had more than ten years of experience in the area of tourism but we had to start from scratch. Initially, we went door to door to different tour operators in the region, asking if they were interested in establishing a local partnership. Then we started participating in international fairs and were able to secure contracts with foreign tour operators.
There have been challenges: a little under a year after we had launched the company, I got pregnant with my second child. It was quite hard to juggle work, constant travels, and family. Having a business, especially in tourism, means stretched working hours and having to being constantly available while at the same time taking care of children and family. Vilma, my business partner, has been extremely supportive. We understand each other very well and have struck the right balance. I think that all challenges can be overcome if you love what you do and work hard at it. That is what we do daily.
No one can ever stop you if you really love what you do! This way you will carve a new path for yourself, your own path; even if with small steps, you will have the freedom to realize new opportunities and live by the values you believe in!”
Silvana Malluta participated in the Women’s Entrepreneurship Expo which provided business training, coaching, and networking opportunities to more than 500 participants from 50 countries in the region. Her work is directly related to Sustainable Development Goal 8, which focuses on promoting inclusive economic growth, and supporting productivity, decent job creation, entrepreneurship, and improved conditions for micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises.