Mervan Avdiu is a young man with big ambitions. At just 21, he runs a successful restaurant in the centre of Skopje and hopes to expand his business. Mervan learned everything he needed to know to become an entrepreneur from SOS Children's Village Macedonia’s employment programme, which continues to offer him advice and support.
In 2016, then still a teenager, Mervan took a risk. He saw how a coffee shop located at the entrance of Skopje's Old Bazaar, an attractive part of the city, was losing business. Mervan approached the owner offering to take over. “I knew I could do better,” he says.
Where there’s a will
The young man added ice-cream to the shop’s menu matching what he thought was customers’ wish. The vision for his small business was still unclear, but Mervan trusted his ambition would guide him.
While visiting the State Agency for Employment on another matter, the clerk told him that the organisation SOS Children's Village Macedonia ran a programme for helping young people develop their own small businesses.
Out of courtesy, Mervan took the brochure. But after reading it back at his home, he was captivated. What caught his eye was the business development part that explained how the organisation focused on teaching and developing skills for running small businesses.
Going against the trend
“For me, the main benefit from SOS Children's Villages is the fact that I was supported. They recognized my ambition and my courage to start my own small business, even at this young age,” Mervan says.
Macedonia is a non-EU country landlocked in the Balkan Peninsula. For years, the country has been struggling with poor economic development which leads many young people to leave the country, hoping to find better opportunities mainly in EU countries.
“I have many friends who are abroad. But leaving the country doesn’t always mean that you will get a better life,” he says. His older brother, Rexhep, also left Macedonia to study in Austria.
Belief in young and local entrepreneurial talent
But for Mervan, emigration was not an option. Instead he took full advantage of his inclusion in the programme for employment and supporting small businesses of young people of SOS Children's Village Macedonia.
“These young people know how to make a product or deliver a service, but they need to learn how to manage a business which is selling that product or service. That’s where we come in, to teach them how to plan and manage their business properly,” explains Slobodan Levkovski, Mervan’s business advisor in the programme.
“I learned what is most important to me,” Mervan says. “How to run a business, build a relationship with the customers, make your monthly and overall business plans, set long-terms goals and the steps needed to accomplish them.”
Mervan adds that the programme also gave him the opportunity to meet other young people who had set up a business or were planning to do so: “We exchanged ideas and knowledge. We talked and learned from each other,” he says.
After just six months in the programme, Mervan’s business was doing so well that he rented out the space next door – doubling the size of his business. He expanded the menu offering meals to attract more customers. Depending on the season, he now hires up to nine staff per month.
At the end of January 2018, Rexhep, Mervan’s brother, came home from Austria for holidays. He was pleasantly surprised: “I didn't see a possibility of having a business in Macedonia. But, Mervan showed us that there are possibilities and that there is perspective in our country,” he says.
Mervan’s business sign reads “Gelateria Mony, since 1996” which he explains as follows: “Mony is my nickname, and I was born in 1996. I'm here in Skopje, my city of birth since 1996, and I'm here to stay!”
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