The more companies go regional, the greater chance for W. Balkans’ integration

Abkons is a multinational management consulting firm, committed to helping institutions make lasting improvements. Partnering with prominent international firms and organisations like TAP, Mott MacDonald, Deloitte, Ramboll and the World Bank, Abkons is active throughout the entire Western Balkans region.

Besnik Leskaj CEO

Why do you think it is worth investing in the Western Balkans?

I believe there has never been a better time to invest in the Western Balkans than now. If you look at the region, it has never been more stable and there has never been more cooperation and willingness to build bridges and relationships between the different countries. Of course, there are still some tensions, but the agreement over the name of North Macedonia, its eventual accession to NATO, the progress of the EU integration process, these have all given a newfound impetus to the desire of Western Balkan countries and societies to work together.

Look at Abkons for instance. We started as an Albanian company in 2006, but now we are a regional group. We have offices in Pristina, we are active in Montenegro, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia. Just a decade ago that would have been unthinkable.

This means that investors interested in the Western Balkans can think in regional terms too. Individually our countries are small, but if, instead of Albania or Kosovo or Montenegro, your business plan extends to the region as a whole, suddenly the potential is far greater.

The Western Balkans has a lot of untapped opportunities in tourism, agriculture, energy and mining sectors, as well as the services. Compared to the EU, this region has a young and highly qualified population, while labour costs and fiscal burden are but a fraction of those in any EU country.

What role can private companies play?

Private actors can be a leading and positive driving force. Regional, central and local governments could benefit from the experience of the private sector and should involve them in discussions on designing legal framework for doing crossborder business as early as possible.

One of the main problems in our region was that politicians approached crossborder relations with a zero-sum game attitude. But in business, we tend to take a win-win approach and look for positive outcomes for ourselves, our counterparts and communities whose lives we might impact. That has allowed businesses in the Western Balkans to cooperate with each other even in those cases when the governments could not.

The good news is that politicians across the region are starting to acknowledge our way of thinking. Recent reforms in various countries of the region, in par
ticular in the area of rule of law, are some of the examples that will definitely help to improve the business climate in the Western Balkans. The hope is that the more our economies integrate, the more companies go regional, the greater the chances of creating an unstoppable momentum for the integration of the region.

What do companies like Abkons offer to investors?

Abkons is one of the leading companies in the region. We helped to implement some of the biggest regional infrastructure projects like the Trans Adriatic Pipeline and Devolli Hydropower. We are currently working with Shell.

We also actively support public administrations in implementing reforms and building capacities and share our knowledge and know-how.

What makes us successful is our ability to combine local knowledge and global standards. Sometimes foreign investors can find the Western Balkans a rather difficult place to navigate. But to build local projects you need to understand the local context. And you can’t understand the local context without understanding local people.
Unlike many large foreign contractors, we have no pre-fabricated roadmap or thinking. We look at the risks and mitigation strategies for each project. We are agile, multi-functional and deeply embedded in local communities, and our growth has been exponential.

Now we have embarked on a new venture to expand to the entire region. We are replicating our model in Serbia, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Of course, it is a big bet and it won’t be easy. But I believe in our success and hope we will make our own contribution to the regional integration.