ARNO is an organization for social innovation founded in 2013 in Skopje, North Macedonia. Through the regional programs “Balkan Green Ideas” and “Regional Incubator for Social Entrepreneurs (RISE)” among others, ARNO has trained and educated more than 400 entrepreneurs and SMEs, providing financial support of over 120.000 euros.
Many thanks to Marjan Icoski for this interview.
What the fundamental mission of ARNO is?
ARNO`s mission is to develop social innovation through the design of new options and support to diverse social and green initiatives, through collective actions of proactive citizens who cooperate, experiment, and work together to foster a more inclusive and progressive society. It is a nationally recognized resource organization for sharing know-how, good practices, and experience in social entrepreneurship, green entrepreneurship, and social innovation, and a bridge connecting North Macedonia, and Europe. ARNO offers ideation and incubation support programs, training, and small grants for social and green entrepreneurs and SMEs. ARNO also works on social and green entrepreneurship and philanthropy education with high schools and universities from North Macedonia and Europe. It equips professors and students with educational tools, toolkits, digital platforms, and curricula for incorporating social and green entrepreneurship into their classrooms. It “walks the talk” through its social enterprise “Coolinari” jointly managed with the state gastronomy high school “Lazar Tanev” from Skopje.
ARNO works closely with PULSE. Could you tell us more about this collaboration?
The collaboration with PULSE started in 2019 through the project “Regional Incubator for Social Entrepreneurs (RISE)” where ARNO acts as the local incubator for North Macedonia. The collaboration granted us a modern and innovative program for the support of young social entrepreneurs. Our team was guided by the PULSE colleagues, increasing our internal capacity as an incubator and connector in the social entrepreneurship ecosystem in North Macedonia. With PULSE`s assistance, we created a tailor-made program for young aspiring social entrepreneurs that reflects our local realities, making ARNO “the place” for young people to start their social enterprises.
Besides the learning component, the collaboration opened new doors and horizons for us. We learned more about design-thinking as a valuable methodological tool for social innovations and social businesses, as well as we, and the young social entrepreneurs, received chances for valuable international mobility and networking. Through these activities, we learn and share with organizations and other social economy actors from the Western Balkans (WB) and Europe, and we make new connections, friends, and partnerships for social good.
What are the objectives of RISE?
RISE is a multifaceted and cross-sectoral project in the WB6 aiming to foster reconciliation through the promotion and strengthening of socialentrepreneurship. It supports young people`s ideas with positive and environmental impact through tailor-made program (RISE Journey) and helps them to develop their ideas and open social enterprises. The project aims to offer new skills, knowledge, and expertise for young social entrepreneurs through training, regional mobility, small-grants schemes, and regional cooperation. The project also aims to further develop the social entrepreneurship ecosystem and improve access to social entrepreneurship for young people by building the capacities of six local incubators in North Macedonia (ARNO), Kosovo* (Balkan Green Foundation), Serbia (Smart Kolektiv), Albania (Yunus Social Business Balkans), Montenegro (IEC Tehnopolis), and Bosnia and Herzegovina (Nešto Više). RISE is also working on raising awareness and sensitization of various actors such as governments, institutions, businesses, CSOs, and others, to introduce social entrepreneurship as a tool for socio-economic development and youth empowerment.
What are the current results of these programs in your area?
Since 2019, the RISE project changed the landscape of social entrepreneurship in the region. It created a strong consortium of eleven European and WB partners who set up new trends and innovations in non-formal education programs and methodology for social entrepreneurship. RISE developed and created one of the few studies on social entrepreneurship analyzing the state of play and potential for development in the region.
Most importantly, RISE impacted the lives of many young people and created positive change in their local communities. In the first three editions of the RISE Journey, the project consortium supported 130 ideas and 365 young people, the majority women and youth outside the capital cities. From all of these ideas, 36 teams were financed with 96.000 euros in total to further develop their ideas and start their social enterprises. In North Macedonia concretely, we supported 32 teams and 96 young social entrepreneurs thus far. On top of this, the consortium managed to organize +200 design thinking workshops, 2 regional bootcamps in Tirana, Sarajevo, and Serbia, 3 regional forum for social entrepreneurship in Belgrade, Tirana and Skopje, produce 36 promo videos, and facilitate 33 regional mobility of the RISE teams.
Could you share recent information or updates on the development of RISE?
Last year, RISE was granted a continuation by the Agence Française de Développement (AFD), the European Union, the RYCO as well as OFAJ until 2025 to advance the results and impact of the first edition of the project. The new edition is based on knowledge and resource-sharing among the local incubators who now are the leading partners and innovators of the programs and methodology based on the lessons learned and the needs of their social entrepreneurs. Moreover, realizing that the WB6 needs better institutional and social infrastructure for social entrepreneurship, the project also works on increasing the visibility, and advocacy to policy and decision-makers to facilitate a better enabling social economy environment.
Probably the biggest novelty for us is the official creation of the RISE Alumni Community of young social innovators and leaders to further support their growth and impact. For the alumni, this year we launched the “RISE Alumni Awards” (awards of 5.000 euros for two alumni teams) symbolizing the strong belief and hope that the consortium places in its young social entrepreneurs, as well as the “Franco-German Social Entrepreneurship Tour”, a study visit for alumni for learning and experience sharing with social enterprises, youth, and other social economy actors from France and Germany, organized by OFAJ.
*This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo Declaration of Independence