Stronger women-led small businesses in Albania

By Lucia Sconosciuto

Bena factory in Albania

Small businesses in Albania account for 70 per cent of the country’s GDP and more than half its jobs, with textiles one of its strongest sectors. Competition between textiles firms is fierce and constant innovation crucial for retaining one’s market edge.

Even a veteran such as Natasha Mantho, 65 years old and with over 40 years of experience in the clothing manufacturing business, needs advice from technical experts to keep her company ahead of the game.

“I was first engineer in a state-owned textile factory based in Gjirokastër, in the south of Albania,” said Ms Mantho. “After the end of communism, I was in business with an Italian investor until I separated to start all over again, this time on my own.” 

Seizing the opportunity to expand

Her company, Bena, was born in 2003 with a focus on manufacturing protective garments as well as children’s clothing and it works mainly for foreign distributors.

When, thanks to hard work and dedication, demand from clients started to exceed Bena’s production capacity, Ms Mantho decided she needed business advice to turn what looked like a challenge into an opportunity and do so with confidence.

For guidance on how to improve the firm’s processes and expanding production, the EBRD’s Small Business Support (SBS) team, which in Albania is supported by Luxembourg, matched Bena with a local consultant.

Thanks to their joint efforts and having acquired the know-how she needed and a clear business expansion plan, Ms Mantho received a loan from a local bank and invest in a new manufacturing line located in new premises.

An innovative approach and clear benefits

“We all work better in this factory: we have better light and the noise level is within EU standards,” Ms Mantho said. “We also decreased production costs”.

Ms Mantho’s company employs 140 people, most of whom are women and many feel like members of the Bena family.

“This is an example of the projects dedicated to small and medium-sized enterprises led by women that the EBRD will focus on with an innovative approach from next year, when we expect to launch a Women in Business Programme in the country,“ said Neritan Mullaj, SBS National Programme Manager in Albania.

The Programme, which is designed to increase and strengthen the role of female entrepreneurs in Albania’s economy, will provide financial and technical support to commercial banks for on-lending to companies run by women as well as providing women entrepreneurs with tailored business advice.

The Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Luxembourg and Sweden recently signed agreements with the EBRD to provide donor funding for the Programme’s technical cooperation component.

Like the warp and weft of the fabric Bena transforms into clothes, combined business advice and financial support together will provide new opportunities for businesses like Ms Mantho’s to grow and contribute to Albania’s economic development.