My Walks with Bosnia and Herzegovina

December 7, 2021 by Bojana Crnadak

Approaching the end of an almost three-year period of supporting the project on structural reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H), it’s about time to take a walk down memory lane and reflect on how things have been going. When mentioning B&H, people can react differently, considering the country’s complex political structure, demanding change process and challenging past. To be honest, it’s challenging, no doubt! So, let me tell you a story …

Picture the people

When I started working in this project, I quickly realized that I’d need to approach it differently than any other project before. I was very much aware that our role is to support people in public institutions to lead a change and not be an active agent of their change. Moreover, I needed to overcome the size and complexity of the multilevel public institution system in this country, which has been sometimes scary, frustrating and disorienting. However, if you picture the people instead of the complex institutional maze, then things get interesting, and this is how I got my drive for B&H.

Challenging the usual way of doing things

The start of the project was certainly no walk in a park. In spring 2019, for some it was obvious that we continue the established recipe of one workshop with the same topic delivered twice, once in Sarajevo and once in Banja Luka. However, for me personally, this idea was somehow far away from mutual cooperation and knowledge sharing. Luckily, I had a chance to follow up with an international expert who had worked with projects in B&H in the past (thank you Ante Bajo!) and he supported me, saying that if we manage to bring everyone together at one place, this could be an excellent start and for sure a new chapter. And so we did!

We met in early July in Sarajevo, and people eagerly came from different parts of the country to actively contribute to the first project activity. When we were supposed to wrap up that day, suddenly no one was looking at the time or having a problem with staying a bit longer, even if many of them had a long way back home. Discussion continued and watching this situation from the back of the meeting room, it brought a special satisfaction and a drive for the next learning experience.

Embracing positive moments and building on them

Our initial idea at the project start was to rotate the locations of the learning events, not to focus only on the capital city and bring knowledge sharing closer to the people. After all, public institutions in B&H are divided among Sarajevo, Mostar and Banja Luka, and the travel distances are not something to neglect in the process.

Thus, the next chapter happened in the early autumn of 2019 outside the capital city, in the mountain area of Tarčin, away from the city spin and closeness of offices. We had a two-day workshop with vibrant group work supporting a much-needed open discussion and information flow among different institutions. At the same time, it gave a chance for some concrete learning – not only from CEF experts but also from the experiences of peers. We often forget how much knowledge and valuable work experience we have got, and by not sharing and listening we miss a chance to see things differently and find solutions to professional challenges. These discussions proved to all of us how much the ERP community in B&H needs to work together.

Razmjena znanja o utvrdjivanju troskova strukturnih reformi - grupna-2

After the promising first year, we were eager to continue with the new “recipe”, however, the outbreak of a pandemic in 2020 challenged us all and we switched from physical space to unlimited, less personal virtual environment. Continuing the learning process brought many challenges. People were facing the new reality of teleworking and having the whole family at home, including supporting homeschooled children. Many did not have sufficient technical capacities for the whole family to be online. Others were dealing with health problems. Later on came the zoom fatigue and many were missing the time for learning, since work assignments had to come first. Between the springs of 2020 and 2021, we delivered five online courses with the best possible results, given the circumstances. At the same time being very tired from merely online and e-mail cooperation. We missed interaction in person!

But that did not stop us … Our local partners were very proactive and expressed a need for further support from our project, not focusing on structural reforms only. Together we developed an activity for the working group, focusing on integrating fiscal frameworks and structural reforms. The work of this group is ongoing at the moment, and we are all eager to see the final results this winter.

Where are we now

We wrapped up the challenging 2021 with two back-to-back live events in Banja Luka. It is surprising how easily you lose stamina for live events and how many details need to be covered again, even more complex in these new times. In frequent and open communication with the locals from all over B&H, I felt great excitement to meet them again after more than two years.

I am grateful for this journey with B&H and for walking together with colleagues who became strong partners and friends. Many thanks to all of you – Amina, Zoran, Maja, Rijad, Jelena, Naida, and so many others (I’d need a few more pages to write everybody down). Also, a very special thanks to all the experts who guided us in the complex environment of structural reforms – Mojmir, Ante, Irina, Brankica, Irena, Nihad, Merdža and Jelena. Last but not least, this journey would not have been so exciting without my CEF colleagues – Natasha, Jasmina and Tara! As I mentioned above, it all became much more interesting when I pictured the people instead of standing in front of a complex institutional maze.

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