After the financial collapse in 2008, unemployment rates in Europe skyrocketed. Youth unemployment was particularly high, and the countries of South Eastern Europe were leaning towards 50% unemployment, with Croatia leading the way.
The European Union attempted to alleviate the stress by investing money in employment programs aimed at creating jobs for young people. Yet like most European-wide initiatives, they failed to consider the nuances between countries like Croatia and those with stronger economies and more advanced markets.
In response to these failing markets, and many unsuccessful initiatives, a group of passionate young professionals working mainly in the creative industries formed the Croatian Independent Professionals Association (CIPA, local: HDNP). Sparking a light in the darkest hour of the current unemployment crisis, HDNP team has volunteered time and worked tirelessly for the last three years to educate the Croatian public on coworking and freelancing. HDNP’s work is focused on value systems associated with the Global coworking movement. Today they are in the initial phase of opening their very own not-for-profit space in Zagreb, Gilda, which will be dedicated to the needs of independents workers.
Currently the HDNP has over 2,300 freelance members on a national level and about 1,500 in Zagreb. They are part of the European Forum of Independent Professionals and have played an important role in European Freelancers Movement. Overall, Eurostat statistics show that there are currently an estimated 210,000 self-employed individuals in Croatia. “The main idea is that Gilda will become a home for this community, and will serve as a platform that uses coworking to nurture a collaborative environment,” says president Matija Raos.
While gathering information on the current picture of self-employed individuals in Croatia, the HDNP has held more than 35 coworking sessions over a period of three years. These sessions aimed to educate the public, promote coworking by focusing on various topics like creative industries, startups, crowdfunding, DIY and DIWO culture, social entrepreneurship and innovation. After each workshop, the HDNP team subsequently offered attendees a survey that aimed to show how much the average freelancer in Croatia would pay to work in a coworking space.
“This data, plus various statements of need, are the final step in presenting our 3 years of work focused on developing not for profit coworking space in Zagreb,” explains vice president Karla Andrić. “More then 650 people have signed statement of need and around 75 of them have already pre-registered, so we know the space will be active from the moment it opens.” The HDNP will introduce Gilda to the Zagreb municipality, requesting a city owned space, as a way to combat high rental costs. “We are very aware that the majority of freelancers in Zagreb can only afford around 80 to 120 Euros for an office, and managing a city owned space would help us eliminate the price gap. This way we can establish a quality space with minimal funds,” Andrić continued. “So far we have been entirely self-financed, which not only shows the power of collaboration and what can be done at a low cost, but also that we are up for the job.”
One of the primary program elements of Gilda will be a “One-Stop Shop” for freelancers and the Freelance Academy, which are programs selected by HDNP members and are developed by the HDNP core team members. The “One-Stop-Shop” will support and offer advice focused on freelancer’s needs, like how to build strong networks of clients, to basic skills like accounting, legal advice and business development,” says Raos. “This information will empower self-employed people, giving them the tools that they need to succeed.” Programs will be piloted in Gilda and will have the chance be implemented in all interested Coworking Croatia partner spaces. They will be given an HDNP certificate as Centers for independent work.
As the gap between the traditionally employed and the self-employed continues to widen, organizations like the HDNP are providing alternative solutions to filling the hole. “The illusion that a steady job with one company is starting to break down,“ explains Andrić, “and as traditional employees have been typically been exposed to a insular environment, they haven’t had the chance to engage in a more flexible community and be a part of a life-long learning process.”
In order to successfully address the problems, it is important to know exactly why so many individuals are deciding to freelance. “Many decide to go independent because of the economy. A steady job is secure on the outside, but in reality if you lose your job your skill-set is often quite limited. You don’t have the freedom to choose projects and your salary is most likely low,” ads Andrić. “We know that the self-employed tend to have a higher level of knowledge, compared to people working in a company. They can chose which projects they want to work on, and are in tune with a rapidly changing market. If you want to be a successful freelancer you need to invest in your knowledge and skills all the time.”
If everything goes as planned, in 2016. Gilda will become a part of a growing network of collaborative spaces that have sprung up throughout the region in recent years. Coworking spaces like Poligon in Slovenia, Nova Iskra in Belgrade and HUB387 in Sarajevo, offer similar programs. Each creative space is focused on the specific needs of their individual communities, yet simultaneously supporting one another. “Gilda will be safe haven for independents, ensuring that freelancers are no longer isolated, and will have the chance to be successful by exposing them to a network of individuals who are also socially minded, rather than just earning a paycheck.”
It’s a long term investment, but one that is undoubtedly worth it. “The space would promote the concept that individual’s can take a hold of their future, explains Raos. “Instead of waiting for a job, we will encourage people to create their own job, which will prevent youth brain-drain and will eventually boost the economy.”
Article: by Amanda Gray, Fotocredit: Dario Belic.