We were recently at #Impact2018, a conference in Zagreb, Croatia sharing the regional heroes and heroins in social entrepreneurship, impact investing and corporate social responsibility. As part of this conference, a few social entrepreneurs got the chance to pitch their idea, and Pana‘s story stuck with us, so we thought we would catch up with Pezana to find out more.
There’s a special story behind Pana – can you tell us how the social enterprise started and what inspired you?
Everything started 5 years ago in my home town Tirana. A mix of events were happening in my personal life. Working with orphans and children with disabilities made me understand that projects don’t change their lives, but a profession CAN! My father was a mechanical engineer and he had golden hands. He was able to produce anything with wood. After he retired he wanted to give his knowledge to others, but most of the people look at those retired as not being able to work. As an architect, I saw the gap in the market of unique design furniture, since most of the actual products come from China and Italy and are not tailor-made. There was also a problem in two different areas – losing the heritage of carpenters and also a drop in Albanian manufacturing. In April 2013, Pana was created as a result of all these factors, by taking part in a competition for green ideas and social enterprise organized by an Albanian organization, where surprisingly we won the first place. This was our way to bring Pana to life.
What are Pana’s plans for the next five years?
This is a very tricky question and actually very important. As most of you know, Albania is a very small country and of course has limited resources when it comes to such a niche product like ours. In fact, we do have a lot of orders and usually our clients wait for 2-3 months to get their products, but still this is not enough for us. Our products have totally another monetary value in European countries. Today we sell our product in Albania with lower prices than they should be sold, due to the capacity of Albanians of paying. That’s why we want to expand to other European countries so we can give a real value and price to our products, an element that would help us to grow the number of employees and the value that Albania as a country can have in the European community. So we are working hard in different directions to expand the production and begin to sell our products internationally. Our big dream is to sell our products outside Albania, we see it as the only way to manage to have a bigger impact, a bigger impact on the clients, and to bring the Albanian name to the foreign market. What is more important is having more family members, as the people we are working with are not just employees but part of the big family of Pana.
As a social enterprise, how do you balance your triple bottom line of people, planet and profit?
Pana is only about that, making a balance between the social and ecological mission. Its one of the few cases where both the impacts are equally as important and take the same weight inside the enterprise. Profit is only a mechanism to make the whole structure work. For us, it’s important only to make the structure work properly, living in a country like Albania where the social and ecological part is not something important for our clients, has made us work very hard to have the stability that we do have today (economical). Most of our clients don’t even want to know with whom we are working and what are we saving, that’s why our work and value is underestimated, but this has been another fight for us to educate our clients. We do work hard as just another enterprise that is trying to gain some points in the chaotic Albanian market, but in the mean time to have the balance between social and ecological. During those 5 years we have trained more than 70 people to become carpenters, because for us it doesn’t matter if they are going to work with us, for us it matters for them to have a profession. The family of Pana is so diverse you can find people from 19 years until 73, those coming from Roma community, orphans, retired, returned emigrants, people with disabilities, the list goes on, but we all work together with the same mission and vision.
What’s the current state of social entrepreneurship in Albania and how are you a part of developing it?
Things are going very slowly; and I know the reason why. It looks like there is no collaboration between different entities in Albania. The government is not there to help and manage to give a hand to the new startups and the ecosystem is very aggressive. It’s now an organized market which makes things go wrong sometimes, not because of the entrepreneur but because of corruption, high taxes, lack of financial support and even training. There are some entities trying to make a change, but even the entrepreneurs are very sporadic. There’s a whole generation that is missing the desire to create new things and this could be because the education system is not supporting them to become entrepreneurs. There is a lot of work to be done. In my case, wherever there is a possibility to inspire and give my knowledge, I do it, of course if they gave me the opportunity to make more I would have loved to do it, but until now this is not the case. I am doing my best in the Albanian conditions.
What advice you would give to wannabe social entrepreneurs around the world?
Being a social entrepreneur its one of the most difficult things in life (at least for me) , but when it goes right then the result is outstanding. If you like difficulties and adventure take this trip, it’s a life-changing experience for you and the people that you are trying to change. Besides how hard it is, I can continue forever like this, as Mother Theresa said once: It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.
A very honest and informative interview from Pana, and one that many of us can relate to. How collaborative are the government in your country? The need for strong cross-sector relationships can ensure social entrepreneurship expands and succeeds, however many people working in the ministry of education or work don’t know much about what social entrepreneurship is. We try to change this through holding lectures and workshops, and if you’re a social entrepreneur, offer your knowledge too!