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NEWS 13 Dec 16

Crowdfunding Offers Cash-Strapped Bosnians Hope

It may be somewhat new to the Balkans - but crowdfunding platforms are fast becoming a valuable new financial resource for aspiring Bosnian entprepreneurs.

Eleanor Rose
Rugs made by Kobeiagi Kilims, a successful crowdfunded project. Photo: Kobeiagi Kilims.

Since the war of the 1990s, international support has been a major source of funding for aspiring Bosnian businesses in a struggling economy – but some aspiring entrepreneurs are turning to more grassroots methods these days.

On Monday, the EU delegation in Sarajevo unveiled a film of 11 successful projects funded by the EU’s Instrument for Pre-Accession, IPA, which aims to improve local business environments.

But other entrepreneurs are carving a different path, using crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter, founded in 2009, and Indiegogo.

Although the websites long ago became popular in wealthy countries, the technique got off to a slower start in the Balkans.

“Crowdfunding is relatively new to Bosnia,” says Jasminko Halilovic, who recently raised nearly $8,000 for his War Childhood Museum through an Indiegogo campaign.

Often, people prefer to contribute to projects in cash, Halilovic told BIRN, and many funders for the museum – which opens later this month – were from abroad rather than local.

Local experts say awareness of crowdfunding in Bosnia is low compared with other countries.

In research published in the 2015 book Strategic Approaches to Successful Crowdfunding, Pale-based academic Zorica Golic described sending a survey to 300 small and medium-sized enterprises in Bosnia, asking: “Are you familiar with the crowdfunding way of fundraising?" Of the 96 responses, only two answered "Yes".

Mladen Djukic, who just helped a successful project to fund a children’s book, says Bosnians also face a technical barrier to crowdfunding.

“People often contacted us saying they reached the checkout but the system could not accept their credit card. We asked around, and it seems most of our banks are not giving internet-ready cards if their customers don't ask for them specifically,” he said.

In those cases, he was able to arrange other methods of supporting the project – but in others, he could see from analytics that people had just given up. 

Crowdfunding is still to be developed in Bosnia and remains rare, said Djukic. “However, it has huge potential in the future, because it matches our tradition of community help and co-working.”

Once the technical problems are solved, he said, crowdfunding could help support areas that usually are last in line for traditional types of funding, particularly creative endeavours. 

Several projects linked to Bosnia have recently achieved their full targets.

For aspiring fundraisers, according to Halilovic, “Social networks and personal connections are key. Media is also important. But regardless of the market you target two things are key: credibility and quality of presentation and perks.”

Boost to grassroots literacy efforts:

Djukic set up the Indiegogo campaign for a Banja Luka-based children’s book project that last Monday reached its fundraising target of just over $3,000, so that it can pay for printing and promotional costs and deliver copies of the book to supporters.

The team, including writer Jelena Kojovic, had already used crowdfunding to help produce one successful children’s book, The Adventures of Tubby and Stretch, which sold out and nominated for a children’s book prize. 

In the video on Indiegogo appealing for help for the new book, the writer’s son explained that the book will help literacy in a country where it is hard to have books printed.

Some 136 backers funded the project – about half from inside the country and half from outside, said Djukic, adding: “It's mostly people who originate from Ex-Yugoslavia.”

New life for an old craft:

Ivana Blaz, a Bosnian architect, and Nina Mrsnik, a designer from Slovenia, were concerned that the traditional art of Bosnian weaving was being forgotten in favour of selling mass-produced rugs imported from abroad.

Together they founded Kobeiagi Kilims [a kilim is a traditional Bosnian rug] in 2015. With the help of a Kickstarter campaign featuring videos and images of their attractive designs, they raised $12,215, which was used as initial capital for the small firm.

Nina Mrsnik told BIRN the business was now growing, having presented their new collection in Ljubljana, Slovenia, last Saturday, and their rugs were now stocked in shops in Sarajevo, Ljubljana, Copenhagen, and Vienna.

The woven rugs are produced by a traditional weaving collective in Visoko, near Sarajevo, who make them from Bosnian wool in fresh designs that Mrsnik and Blaz hope will breathe new life into the old craft.

Kobeiagi Kilims is now the weaving collective’s biggest customer.

“We are most proud of selling our kilims in Sarajevo because we feel that we did the full circle,” Mrsnik told BIRN, adding: “A lot of the kilims sold at Bascarsija [the city's old market] are from Iran so it’s nice to sell the 'new' Bosnian kilims there.”

Saving the sound of sevdah:

Singer-songwriter Igor Dunderovic and his band Union of Cousins, several of whom are originally Bosnian but now living in Norway, used Kickstarter to raise more than $6,000 for the band to travel to Mostar in southern Bosnia. 

Featuring music clips on their crowdfunding page, they offered perks such as coffee with the band, signed CDs, and tickets to gigs.

Although the band is no longer based in Bosnia, they are keeping the traditional Bosnian musical form of "sevdah" alive.

The funding was used to buy Wizzair tickets to Tuzla, northern Bosnia, as well as cover studio costs to record their new album at Mostar’s Pavarotti music centre.

The band released the record, "Kafana Hollywood", in August and in November, the songs were played on Norwegian radio station NRK.

“We are extremely happy with the product. In other words, you have done a great job!” they told their Kickstarter supporters.

Another band, led by singer-songwriter Mara in Mostar, is also currently on its way to getting funding for a record.

They are asking for support to mix their album, to be released in Spring next year.

Light dawns - or not - on mystery pyramids:

Crowdfunding projects don’t always end with a simple product sent out in the post, and sometimes they hit snags.

A project to fund a 3D scan of the famous “pyramid” at Visoko, near Sarajevo, raised an impressive about $15,000 on Kickstarter. 

Some 92 backers supported Timothy Moon’s project to reveal the mysteries of a pyramid-shaped hill.

Known to some enthusiasts as the Pyramid of the Sun, it is one of a group of mounds that author Semir Osmanagic has claimed constitute the largest human-made ancient pyramids on earth, complete with tunnel complexes.

Although other scientists and architects remain skeptical of the claims, with the European Association of Archaeologists calling it a “cruel hoax”, the pyramid theory has gained a cult following and Visoko enjoys a stream of tourism from the landmark. 

Moon’s proposal via Kickstarter back in March-April 2014 was to produce an “aerial laser scan” to reveal new secrets from inside the pyramid, giving intricate surface detail, and revealing the shape, size, and geometry of the mass in order to construct a large scale 3D printed model. 

The backers are supposed to receive reports, prints, and other souvenirs.

The last update, posted online in June, claims that the scan was indeed performed, but analysis and visualisations appear to have stalled. 

“LiDAR analysis can take considerable time to evaluate- initial observations will be released to you when ready - however the in-depth, peer reviewed scientific analysis may take longer,” says an update by Moon.

“LiDAR produces a huge volume of data, something like 50Gb of images across 49 'tiles'. We have Digital Terrain Models, Digital Surface Models and Ortho corrected Photographic Models. These all require careful analysis of features before making any public announcements,” he adds.

There are no further updates, however, and Moon did not respond to a message asking for comment.

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