Serbia's Coworking Pioneers

Nova Iskra

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Serbia lies at the crossroads of Europe, connecting the East and West, with a diverse mix of cultures. Its landscape is sprinkled with medieval churches and fortresses, and the capital city, Belgrade, rests on the banks of the Danube. With its rich, yet not uncomplicated history, Serbia today has certainly experienced its ups and downs, and is most recently facing a scarily high unemployment rate, especially amongst young people, of which almost 50 percent are out of work.

Partially due to the economic crisis in Europe, the country is also faced with a serious lack of programs aimed at offering the younger generation a chance to be creative and have access to the tools to become professionally successful in Serbia.

Potential solutions to the problem have been proposed, such as the “Active Participation of Young Unemployed”, which helps people find meaningful employment. But it is easier said than done, especially when the educational system in Serbia is still relatively outdated and fails to meet the demands of the current job market. On top of that, the labor force has left one foot in the door of the past, while the people have moved forward by leaps and bounds.

Three young entrepreneurs based in Belgrade, Serbia’s strikingly beautiful capital city, have decided to take matters into their own hands. Relja Bobić and Marko Radenković, two of the founders (out of a team of 8) of Nova Iskra are working side by side to create a platform for young designers to help them develop professional skills and a solid network. In addition, they connect with various social groups throughout the country to reimagine the educational system by aligning education with the current employment picture.

Right around the corner from the designer space is Serbia’s first official coworking space, Smart Office, founded by Miroslav Mijatov, who is not only a big fan of the coworking model, but also whose dedication to opening his space has played a major role in introducing coworking to Serbia.

Deskmag spent a day visiting the two spaces, both of which were beautifully put together. The founders warmly welcomed us to talk about starting from virtually nothing, to where they are now, and about what the future holds.

At first glance, Nova Iskra is obviously run by design enthusiasts. Holding on to a slightly industrial aesthetic, the space is sleek, light and open, with members working side by side in the main room. A 3D printer situated in the center is surrounded by glass walls, like a well protected artifact in a museum.

We joined both Radenković and Bobić in Nova Iskra’s meeting room, which also serves as a magazine library, full of colorfully designed publications that pop out in hot pinks and lime greens against the white walls. We leaf through a few, and enjoyed some good espresso.  From the looks of things, Nova Iskra is doing very well; teams of 23 designers are hard at work. But it wasn’t always this way…

As we all know, it isn’t a simple task to open a coworking space from scratch. But imagine doing that in a place where almost no one around you knows what “coworking” even means. The founders of Nova Iskra discovered this when they started planning the construction of the space. 

“I think you really have to change the mindset in a way, said Radenković. “When we started planning our coworking space we had a huge problem even just explaining what coworking even was, because people are not used to this open concept and sharing spaces.”

▶ Next page: Creating a new work environment

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