The week before last, I was in Albania. I remember back in the 1980s, Albania had an almost mythical aura – a closed land, physically right next door to Greece, but otherwise remote in every conceivable way. Its isolation only ended with the breakdown of communism in 1991 – the subsequent jostle for power between different clans and parties culminating in a major outbreak of violent unrest. Not surprisingly, many – perhaps most who could – chose to leave over this period. The majority ended up in neighbouring Greece and Italy, although others travelled further. Of course there is also an ethnic Albanian population in Switzerland; most are Kosovars, but some, especially those who arrived in the early 1990s, are from Albania itself.
In post-conflict support of peaceful relations in the Balkans, the Swiss government contributes to a wide variety of development initiatives in the region. We at Helvetas are responsible for implementing a number of SDC projects supporting local governance, skills training, and rural market development. The project RisiAlbania, tackling youth unemployment in Albania, is just one of them.
The logic of promoting employment opportunities for young men and women in Albania is obvious. The country is seeking economic growth but is still losing people – to migration and also lower population growth. The 2011 census found the resident population to be just below 2.8 million, which was an amazing 20% less than the official government figure before the census. Furthermore, there’s a big rural to urban shift.
In some ways, of course, development cooperation in the Balkans is very different from that in Asia or Africa. Yet many principles and basic approaches remain the same. RisiAlbania is designed from the perspective of promoting a job market, using the “M4P” or market systems approach – one that we use in many projects. It entails a very careful appraisal of the job market to identify points of intervention that will have maximum impact on job creation for young men and women. The sectors that have been chosen as a result are agro-businesses, ICTs, and tourism. As far as gender and social equity are concerned, our eight organisational principles in our policy still apply. Actually our team, most of whom are women, are very “gender conscious”. The issue is more how to ensure the creation of opportunities for disadvantaged young men and women – such as those who have low educational qualifications, and/or live in rural areas (especially in the North), and/or belong to minorities, such as Roma.
The GSE principle that made me ponder the most is our stance on respecting local culture (which of course implies first understanding it) at the same time as upholding human rights. Albania is a modern State with aspirations to join the European Commission, and a legal framework that indeed upholds human rights. At the same time the people of Northern Albania have an ancient code of conduct based on personal and family honour which demands ruthless retaliation towards those who cause dishonour, and considers women as inferior to men. Even if this code or Kanun no longer dictates daily behaviour, it is something to be aware of. At least to me, it explained why Northern Albanians newly arrived in other countries might find their values at odds with prevailing norms.
Returning to RisiAlbania, here’s one example of a project partner. Celesi is a company producing a yellow-paged newspaper (imitating Yellow Pages) that can be purchased all over the country, and solely comprises advertisements – including jobs. With project support, they are establishing a service to companies of professionalising job descriptions and advertisements; managing the CVs of applicants, short-listing, eventually also interviewing and even coaching candidates for the job. Companies can pick and choose how much, and what, support they want. It sounds simple, but the hope is that this will be one way amongst others to enhance opportunities for unemployed young men and women who might otherwise see a very dim future in their country.