Small entrepreneurs were my great inspiration during the COVID-19 pandemic

This story is part of the United Nations in BiH series of personal accounts highlighting extraordinary work during COVID-19 response and recovery; marking UN75.

I am Milka Latinčić, and I am Head of the Department for Development of Small and Medium Enterprises and Entrepreneurship in the Republika Srpska (RS) Entity’s Ministry of Economy and Entrepreneurship. I cooperate with UN Women in Bosnia and Herzegovina on the economic empowerment of women, in partnership with the RS Gender Center and with the financial support of the Government of Sweden.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the RS Ministry of Economy and Entrepreneurship provided support to all companies and sole proprietors. During March and April, we provided the necessary information to all economic entities on the support provided by the RS Government. The support was provided through the postponement of payments of certain tax obligations, moratoriums on the payment of loans, and the most important one, which referred to the financial support to entrepreneurs. The financial support included the payment of tax liabilities for the month of March to all economic entities that had to close, considering that they have close contacts with clients, and in order to prevent further spread of the virus, they were banned from working. Similar support was provided for the months of May and April 2020, including providing financial resources for all entrepreneurs in the form of gross salaries for employed workers.

Our task was to provide information to economic entities on how to apply for these funds, as well as to review and process all applications of entities within the competence of the Ministry. We carried out these activities in cooperation with the RS Tax Administration. My team and I processed more than 2,500 requests from sole proprietors who were banned from working and more than 500 requests from those who had reduced production and partial cessation of operations.

We also visited business units whose work performance was greatly affected by the pandemic, such as two textile factories in Novi Grad, which mainly employ women. At the same time, my team and I worked on the implementation of the program in cooperation with the RS Gender Center  and UN Women, with the financial support of Sweden. It is a program to help self-employed women entrepreneurs whose businesses have been affected by the pandemic, with a special focus on those women entrepreneurs who operate in less developed areas. The value of the program is 20,000 BAM, and it referred to the support of 500 BAM for 40 women. The Ministry and the entrepreneurs are grateful for this support and the quick reaction of UN Women.

When it comes to the pandemic, I believe that the measures taken have prevented a greater spread of the infection and that they were adopted in time. The most important thing at that moment was to better design the support and get data on all those who were not able to do business from March to May 2020. Every contact with entrepreneurs and the help we provided them, either through conversation or financial support, were a great satisfaction and confirmation for me that my team and I do our job responsibly. As our job is to provide support to entrepreneurs, every praise we received was a recognition to all of us that we did everything in our power to help them in a difficult and challenging period.

In the coming period it is very important to continue to be responsible, to protect ourselves and others, and to respect all prescribed protection measures, because in this way we prevent the spread of the infection and accelerate the return to normal life. We in the Ministry remain committed to providing all possible support to entrepreneurs in order to make business as easy as possible during the pandemic. What is extremely important is to provide as much digital / online training as possible, and to improve digitalization and online communication.

This specific time allows us to be inspired by people close to us, as well as people we do not know. For me, the small entrepreneurs were a great inspiration. Despite the fact that they did not work for almost 60 days, most of them did not shut down their businesses or lay off workers, which was extremely important because they enabled employees to receive their salaries and to get through the crisis together.

Apart from them, I was certainly inspired by the team at the Ministry of Economy and Entrepreneurship, which worked every day to design support and create the best possible conditions to start supporting the subjects as soon as possible. Together with donors who have not forgotten us, including UN Women, and we are extremely grateful for their support.

UN entities involved in this initiative
UN Women
United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women