Complex social and economic conditions of the inhabitants in border region, especially for women in rural areas, calls for joining forces in effort to increase the growth and competitiveness of a region, which can be achieved through joining into clusters, for joint activities on the standard and on-line market. Poverty and material deprivation are highly represented in rural Serbia, with financial poverty facing 38,4% of the population, and with material deprivation 35%. Half of the employees in rural areas are labor engaged in agricultural activities in the context of family farms. In Serbia and Hungary little attention has been paid to the position of rural women. If those women could be educated, motivated and helped to organize themselves into Lavender growing cluster, they could achieve greater social equality and economic independence both for themselves and for their families. According to the data of Sombor Centre for social work, total number of rural women who use social assistance is 2,213 (out of 43,500inhabitants) and activities of this project will focus on them. Special attention will be paid to 601 single-mother families living in Sombor rural area plus 387 families who use child allowance. All together 988 families who receive some social assistance in rural settlements, is project target group. Prevailing land within the CBR has composition and specifics that are fully suitable for growing lavender. ESS has done an analysis of land in the entire West Bačka region (WBR), and concluded that 96% of the territory is suitable for lavender growing. Characteristics of the land will be matched with the needs of 186 varieties of lavender. Hungarian partner will transfer knowledge, experience and expertise in lavender growing to SLGC. On the other hand, City of Sombor already has experience in projects dealing with female entrepreneurship in agricultural production on its territory, which makes it well-qualified partner for this project.
Women in rural communities are the backbone of rural society. Their position is burdened by general lack of social recognition and empowering opportunities. Existing disparities between men and women in terms of access to resources, employment and profitable activities, education and participation in public life, make their status severely vulnerable. Also, their status is aggravated by general transformations, rural impoverishment, migration and privatisation, making it seriously difficult for women from rural areas. Related to a/m, activities of the project are designed primarily to resolve social issues, through promoting gender equality and encouraging social empowerment and business development of rural women in CBR, by enhancing their entrepreneurial and agribusiness skills, through trainings, cooperation, partnerships and exchange of information, knowledge and experience, and thus achieve harmonized social and economic development of the region as a whole, based on sustainable usage of existing natural resources. Empowering women from rural areas of CBR through economic SLGC development constitutes real opportunity for the disadvantaged group. Organization of such clusters creates options for aggregation of powers and multiplied positive effects due to the right of use of generated revenues. Through clustering, women entrepreneurs operate more productively since they can ensure access to inputs, such as suppliers, information and technology. SLGC members may also profit from joint efforts in marketing, participation in fairs and protection of the brands of their products. Additionally, members profit from transfer of know-how that creates a source of innovation. All this represents a disruptive innovation in agriculture, since individual growers join themselves and by introducing new products and services gradually built up the social enterprise which intensify economic cooperation through sustainable use of natural resources using knowledge transfer.
Project target groups belong to the most vulnerable population, encompassing women living in rural areas of WBR and Bács-Kiskun region. On the territory of the City of Sombor (CoS) live 85,903 inhabitants, out of which 41,500live in the town and 43,500 in 15 surrounding villages. The average income per capita is 20% lower than the average of the Republic of Serbia. Centre for Social Work Sombor, recorded a total of 8,287 beneficiaries of financial social assistance. Out of this number, 45% live in the city and 55% in villages. Socially vulnerable population in the villages has 4,522, covering more than 10% of the total rural population (younger than 18, has a total of 2,196 users, aged18-26 years having 933, aged 26-65 has a total of 4,809 and older than 65 years has a total of 349. Particularly vulnerable group are women (users of social assistance), who live in the villages, and their number is 2,213.In a rural area of the town of Sombor live 627 single-parent families, specifically 601 mothers with children and 26fathers with children, with a total of 941 children. Having in mind that rural women are not a homogeneous group and that there are important differences based on class, age, marital status, ethnic background and religion, the process of recruitment will aim to reflect and include this diversity, while paying close attention to women that are particularly vulnerable, such as Roma women, disabled women, single mothers and women victims of gender based violence. Furthermore, the project team will ensure that the chosen participants come from all walks of life represented in the cross-border areas, taking into account demographic diversity of the region. Wider rural community in the cross-border region is potential beneficiary, since whole community will benefit from enhanced socio-economic circumstances which activities of this project are going to create for rural women through acquisition of new agribusiness skills and enhanced employment potential.
A study for the development of social entrepreneurship of woman in rural areas in CBR will be developed. Database of agricultural land in rural areas of WBR will be created together with an analysis of individual parcels in terms of quality and suitability of land for lavender growing. Training curricula will be developed and will include courses on topics such as social entrepreneurship, business planning, innovative agricultural production, lavender growing, agribusiness and marketing for up to 180 women from 4 settlements in WBR. SLGC, as a social enterprise, will be created, through which majority of women will be able to acquire new soft and hard skills, to professionally develop, exchange experience and help each other with lavender picking and processing. Those activities represent disruptive innovation, since lavender growing will start from the very bottom, having at disposal only small parcels of fertile land and individual growers, join them together introducing new products and services, and with the help of knowledge transfer and expertise of Hungarian partner, work its way up the market. Total of 50 SLGC members process and put under crop of lavender minimum 5 Ha of land. Since approximately 10.000 to 12.000 lavender seedlings are required per Ha, 60.000 lavender seedlings will be purchased and sown through implementation of corresponding project activity. Equipment for lavender processing as well as two mobile distilleries for lavender oil production will be purchased and put at disposal for cluster members. Bilingual business exchange portal for cluster members will also be developed, implemented and maintained. Portal will be used for promotion of SLGC, women agribusiness, and lavender production and its products. Having in mind that lavender can live up to 15 years, the fact that women will gain necessary knowledge and skills and that all equipment needed for lavender processing will be bought, durability of results is ensured.
Social empowerment of rural women which enhances women’s self-reliance, decision-making, and social freedoms is leading to positive effects in the gender relationships at both family and community levels. By gaining more skills and knowledge through this project, and by interacting and partnering with other women and experts through cluster, rural women from this region will become encouraged and strengthened to improve their position and quality of life, their leadership and decision-making potential, they will dare to step out of isolation and invisibility, and will ultimately become equal and resourceful community members, making themselves competitive and successful in business endeavors. Economic empowerment of woman will follow social changes. Wider rural community in the cross-border region will also benefit both socially and economically. Socially, the principles of democracy and equal opportunities are enhanced when women from rural areas are given support and opportunity to overcome disadvantaged and limiting social positions caused by gender stereotypes or discrimination, therefore making the society more just. Economically, the community will benefit from increased incomes and grater quality and diversity of products and services. The overall productivity increases when women have access to economic inputs and relevant knowledge, making rural development more sustainable and efficient in the cross-border region. By cooperating with women across the border, women create a common cross-border exchange environment, not only in terms of economics, but also in terms of sharing common culture and tradition, from which the entire community and women themselves benefit. Since lavender is ecological plant because it does not require any chemical protection and thrives without mineral fertilizers, whole region will benefit from lavender growing in ecological sense.
Project will start with a study for the development of social entrepreneurship of woman in rural areas. Simultaneously, database of agricultural land in rural areas of WBR will be established, together with an analysis of individual parcels in terms of land quality and suitability for lavender growing. Afterward, training curriculum will be developed to include thematic courses on social entrepreneurship, business planning, cluster establishing, innovative agricultural production and lavender growing. SLGC will be created together with bilingual business exchange portal for cluster members. This is the best ways to connect women from rural areas since they mostly live in remote areas with poor transport infrastructure. From the very beginning, SLGC and its members will be supported by expert mentors from LB, B1, B2 and B3, in process of registration of cluster, financial regulations of Serbian Law, and business procedures. At the same time, minimum 60000 lavender seedlings will be purchased and sown on 5 Ha of land. LB will sign contract with each SLCG member stipulating their commitment not to change the farming purpose defined by this Project over the period of next 10 years upon the completion of all the activities envisaged by the Project. Along with these activities, continuous, intensive and versatile publicity will take place, as one of the most important ways of improving the disadvantaged position of women from rural areas. Organization of project implementation among partners is distributed in such a way as to correspond with each partner’s expertise and experience. Hungarian partner B3 will provide transfer of knowledge on the cultivation of lavender and agribusiness as well as organize a study visit for cluster members. B2 partner from Sombor has experience dealing with female entrepreneurship in agricultural production, B1 specializes in support to vulnerable groups and LB will be in charge of project management and cluster establishing.
This project is developed, and will be implemented and staffed jointly by all partners. Although each partner has its main responsibilities, the project will be a truly joint endeavor, where partners cooperate regarding all activities, exchanging ideas, best practices, creating unique methods that bring together the two sides, creating a more coherent and harmonized environment, making cross-border cooperation smooth and natural. Long-term cross-border cooperation will be ensured by this project through foundation and development of SLGC, as well as through development of bilingual business exchange portal for cluster members. Other aspects of cross-border cooperation are transfer of knowledge and expertise from Hungarian partner to SLGC members from the areas of agribusiness and lavender growing as well as long-term cooperation with the Hungarian partner in the cultivation and processing of lavender. Cooperation will be deepened with joint approaches to EU market as well as with joint appearances at entrepreneurship fairs. Women from rural areas will be both physically and virtually brought together to learn, acquire new skills, cooperate, exchange experiences, as well as help each other with lavender picking when needed, which will strengthen them as individuals, promote gender equality in the cross-border region and influence sustainable economic development of the entire region. Continuous communication and information-flow between those women would have an impact on promotion of each others culture, identity and life style which may lead to better quality of life on both sides of the border. Every effort will be made to ensure that activities are executed in Serbian and Hungarian languages, in order to promote a sense of joint interests, perspectives and future goals as a unified cross-border region, and also to promote cultural and social diversity and gender equality as common values of the cross-border region.
Bringing together women from rural areas through training, cooperation events, SLGC formation and bilingual business exchange portal will lead to harmonized development of the region because it will intensify economic cooperation through sustainable use of natural resources (existing fertile land in backyards and gardens, lavender being ecological plant with no chemical protection needed). All these activities will encourage development of social entrepreneurship and therefore enforce the growth capabilities and employment potential of the region through the development and adaptation of new, eco-friendly, technologies for lavender processing. All above-mentioned, will give clear contribution to the programme strategy defined by long term and overall aim of the Programme, especially in the part of “harmonised development of the region with intensified cooperation through sustainable use of agriculture land in long-term period as a natural resource”. In order to achieve the defined overall aim this project will support specific objective in the part of “Enforcing the growth capabilities of social enterprise through the development and adaption of new technologies, products and services especially in the production and processing of lavender oil and other by products. Grouped together those women would acquire new skills, develop their businesses, make contacts and exchange ideas which will make them more socially independent and resourceful. Diversification of products and services in the cross-border region ensuring greater quality of life, and minimizing the isolating effects of the border. Project activities will bring about social change since they will, by economic empowerment of rural women and the removal rigid traditional values. Since lavender is ecological plant which has no need for any chemical protection and can live and give byproducts for as long as at least 12 years, conditions for sustainable development of the region through this project are provided.
Women living in rural areas face numerous difficulties which force them to assume underprivileged positions within rural and general community. Their position is burdened with gender stereotyping and various forms of subtle and overt discrimination, which restrict possibilities for full personal and professional development both within the privacy of their homes and in the public sphere. All project activities, in the planning and implementation phases, are in line with the European Union Anti-Discrimination Policy, Europe 2020, Treaty of Lisbon (Article 6), and Treaty of Amsterdam (Article 13). These documents set the principles of equal opportunities as well as the actions to combat discrimination which are all directly written into this Project. By achieving its main Project goal - creation of favorable environment for growth of capabilities and employment potential of women in rural area - the project will bring benefits to all nations and religions, in the CBC area. Special consideration will be given to raising capacities of socially vulnerable women, but project activities are open to the general female population as well. Participants will be selected according to a set of clear and fair criteria developed on principles of equal opportunity and non-discrimination. Communication, regarding the project, including the call for applicants, will be tri-lingual (Serbian Hungarian, English) so that the majority of citizens in the CBC area are able to understand it and take part where applicable. During this project SLGC, as a form of social enterprise, will be formed and that will promote spirit of entrepreneurship and self-employment among rural women. Participants for this project will be chosen among rural women through an open-call and the pre-developed set of criteria. By developing clear and fair criteria, the project team will ensure that the selected participants come from all parts of the CBR, taking into account the demographic diversity of the region.
Lavender is an eco-friendly plant because it does not require any chemical protection or mineral fertilizers. As a result, increased lavender growing could bring about less chemical pollution in the whole region, and therefore improve air quality. Secondly, environment friendly, clean and green, technologies will be used for lavender processing, therefore lavender products will be ecological and available to use for all kind of purposes (medical, cosmetics, aromatherapy etc). Usage of environment friendly technologies and ecological way of production of lavender products will promote environmental sustainability and sustainable development for the whole region. Lavender is a perennial plant and has been known to survive up to 15, even 18 years in home gardens. This feature shows great resource efficiency and sustainability of invested funds and effort, since funds once invested in certified seedlings and equipment for processing will be exploited for many years. In addition to that, the soil analysis will ensure that the crops are grown on suitable soil and not damaging to the environment. In addition to innovative farming skills gained through the project, the selected women will be given trainings to use equipment and process the lavender crops for further sale which will make them more economically independent and resourceful, provide new job openings, diversification of products and services in the cross-border region. This will contribute to alleviating the social stigmatization of women in selected rural areas, ensure greater quality of life, and influence sustainable social, economic and cultural growth and development of the entire cross-border region. During the project, team members will use video conferencing to reduce travelling. All information on project activities and communication will be kept electronically to minimize the impact on the environment. When print-outs are necessary, the project management team will make efforts to use recycled paper.
Other CBC projects that can be linked to this project are “Elaboration of joint logistics for executive professional training for the development of enterprises in the border region” and “Handshake - Development of Hungarian and Serbian vocational and adult education systems through competency-based training activities”. Also, project “CrossBorder Business Advisor Network - ADVISOR NET The project” as well as project “Business Linkages Among Women Living in Rural Areas“. In addition, this project is in accordance with the EU Danube Region Strategy (Priority Area 9 "To invest in people and skills) and Action Plan, especially parts that stress the need for further education, trainings and cooperation, particularly paying attention to rural underdeveloped areas and the disadvantaged and marginalized social groups, one of which are also women from rural areas. The project is also in accordance with the newly created Provincial Strategy for the Economic Empowerment of Rural Women of Vojvodina and its Action Plan. Action Plan particularly emphasizes the necessity of research and training activities, and supporting women’s entrepreneurship. In addition, it is in accordance with the Strategies for Rural Development in SRB and HU, and with Bac-Kiskun District Development Programme's in Hungary. The project is also in line with EU strategies and directives (Strategic engagement for gender equality , EU Strategy for the Danube region, Europe 2020, European employment Strategy). Also, this project corresponds to EU framework for rural development programmes and its priorities: fostering knowledge transfer and innovation in agriculture and rural areas and promoting social inclusion, poverty reduction and economic development in rural areas. Moreover, the project is in accordance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women that specifically addresses the situation of rural women (Article 14).
Although women have been by now recognised as a legitimate target group of programs, initiatives and policies that aim to improve their disadvantaged position within societies through horizontal and vertical strategies, rural women have rarely been a subject of special concern and have been unjustly left behind. The unique specificities of their position within rural communities have often been neglected, and this needs to be changed, and especially so in societies that can be considered as predominantly rural, such as Serbia and Hungary. This project strives to take a brave step forward in this direction, which is by itself an innovative endeavour, both in Serbia and in Hungary, but also in countries of the region and beyond. Innovative activities and methodologies, as well as accomplished results, will then serve as best practice example to be replicated in other regions and countries. Establishment of the cluster – social enterprise, as a form of social entrepreneurship, which enables rural women in CBR to cooperate and help each other, to exchange knowledge and experiences, is an innovative action in itself. Since the targeted women generally live in remote areas with poor transport infrastructure, the best way to connect them and give them an opportunity to cooperate and exchange ideas and experiences is through modern communication. An innovative bilingual business exchange portal for cluster members will be developed, as part of an innovative approach of using ICT. The portal will serve as a virtual social network for cooperation, where those women could discuss issues, ask for help and advice concerning lavender growing, exchange news, business plans, marketing ideas, etc. This will give them an opportunity to immerse into modern technologies of communication, which are increasingly becoming the most common way of doing business. This will not only reduce the isolation of women from the national community, but internationally and inter-regionally as well.
Sustainability of the project and one of its main characteristics is formation of SLGC, which will gather women entrepreneurs interested and involved in lavender farming. This cluster will continue to exist and after project is closed, as means for cooperation of rural woman engaged in lavender production and processing, and will be financed from the incomes made by selling lavender products. Additionally, professional, financial and organization sustainability of the newly formed cluster as a social enterprise, is guaranteed by City of Sombor as the founder of this new entity. Together with SLGC, bilingual web portal for cluster members will continue to exist and will be continuously maintained and kept alive. The portal with online database will also have a potential to expand well beyond the eligible cross-border area, including businesswomen from all areas of Serbia and Hungary, and the region, interested in lavender growing, and is one of the essential guarantees the sustainability of the project results. Since lavender is a perennial herb with a lifespan of up to 15 years, once invested funds in certified seedlings and in equipment for lavender processing will be exploited for many years. Together with that, funds once invested in education of women from rural areas how to grow lavender will also bring benefits for many years. Those women can, through web portal for SLGC members, educate other women on this and on other subjects they were educated on during project (social entrepreneurship, business planning, innovative agricultural production) and therefore widen the cluster network and benefits it provides. Those activities will surely provide sustainability and capitalization of project results for many years. One way of capitalization of the results of this project is that the experiences gained in the implementation of the project can be transferred across the CBR, as well as to other crops in agribusiness, but also to other sectors in rural areas.
This project itself has great potential for expansion and replication. As the project is innovative in many ways and will provide a unique example of how to enhance the position of women in rural areas, other interested stakeholders might become interested in replicating it. For this purpose, results of project activities and research will be published and promoted, along with suggestions for further activities and measures. The idea of pooling together women from rural areas, through clustering, can be transferred to other agriculture sectors, for example, organic agriculture, or any other sector for which there is a need or an interest. The quantity and quality of land in the CBR allows for many similar efforts. Also, web portal activities will have a significant multiplier effect. Since web portal will inevitably grow over time, numerous connections within rural women from both sides of the border will be established and the portal will be well-known among rural women in the border area. Word-of-mouth promotion between them, experience of good practice during the implementation of the project and profitability of lavender growing will motivate other rural women either to join SLGC or to form cluster of their own, to suit their needs and affinities. Maybe even SLGC could cooperate with this newly formed clusters, either in terms of sharing experiences or in terms of joint appearance on the market and distribution of products. One way or another, activities of this project will promote social entrepreneurship among rural women from both sides of the border, enhance their self-employment and contribute to their economic empowerment. Economic empowerment of rural women will, sooner or later, bring about economic empowerment of the whole region.
The main internal risk and possible obstacle the project could face is lack of interest of rural women for cooperation. Due to long term living habits, they could show resistance to possible alterations in their daily routines. Numerous reasons could cause that, for example fear of changes, absence of motivation, not believing in project’s good intentions, husband's disapproval... It could be solved by pointing out outcomes that will be good not only for those women, but for other members of the community as well. Giving them as much information as they need about the project will convince rural women that it is designed with the aim of helping their social and economic development. The intensive raising awareness campaign provided by all partners is another mechanism for mitigating this risk. Although abovementioned internal risk is possible, it is not very likely to happen as previous research has shown that women are more than willing to cooperate, make networks and actively engage in acquiring new skills and knowledge, if given the opportunity. Taking into account that knowledge and skills that rural women will acquire during this project are attractive and necessary, and that the cultivation of lavender has a proven economic viability, and that the initial investment is small and negligible, the assumption is that this risk is insignificant. Another possible risk is potential negative attitude of political structures towards the establishment of clusters. This could also be overcome by giving all necessary information about the project and explaining how rural women and the whole rural community could benefit from the results of this project. Bad choice of lavender seedlings or failure of lavender processing equipment could pose possible risks as well, but they are not likely to happen, bearing in mind that top experts will be engaged in seedlings selection, so it corresponds to the land and climate of the region.