Lejla Radoncic

Organization: 
Bosnian Handicrafts
Year founded: 
1995
Country: 
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Website: 

Bosnian Handicrafts is a modern production and retail business training and employing female refugees displaced by the Bosnian war.

Focus: Culture, Handicrafts, Rural Development, Women
Geographic Area of Impact: Bosnia, Herzegovina
Model: Hybrid Non-Profit
Number of Direct Beneficiaries: 500-700 (2008)
Annual Budget: US$ 279,341 (2010)
Percentage Earned Revenue: 89.17%
Recognition: Social Entrepreneur of the Year, 2001

Background
When the war in Bosnia began in 1992, Lejla Radoncic worked for a travel agency in Sarajevo and her husband worked in Tuzla, a town two hours away by car. Finding herself in Tuzla the day the war began, she remained there for four years and needed an income. In 1994, she joined Norwegian People's Aid to help manage one of the first refugee settlements in the region. She worked with thousands of traumatized and displaced women, many from Srebrenica, where in 1995 thousands of Muslims were massacred or expelled by Bosnian Serbs. Most of the women refugees were illiterate, but all knew how to knit, so a project she initiated as group therapy turned into a business when a church ordered 1,500 sweaters. The women filled the order in six weeks, and Bosnian Handicrafts was born.

Innovation and Activities
Bosnian Handicrafts is a modern production and retail business that trains and employs female refugees displaced by the Bosnian war. Founded in 1995 amid social and economic devastation, BHcrafts provides a sustainable means of income generation for women who suffered the loss of their families and homes during the war. The company's handmade products include clothing, fashion accessories, home furnishings and traditional Bosnian crafts, and are marketed globally to top international designers and retailers. BHcrafts currently employs 500 women from different religious and ethnic groups, including Croats, Muslims, Serbs and Kosovars.

BHcrafts provides women who have experienced extreme trauma and hardship with an opportunity to support themselves financially, while nurturing their cultural traditions. The women apply their knitting, crocheting and embroidery skills to create products that appeal to international and domestic markets.

Bosnian Handicrafts currently sells its high-quality wares in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the US, France, Spain, Italy, Japan and Kuwait. Each year, it introduces new product lines at international trade shows and reaches customers worldwide via its e-commerce website. Clients include famous French designers Agnes B and Sophie Digard, as well as world-renowned American retailer Neiman Marcus and the Sundance film festival.

While Radoncic initially received start-up subsidies, 89% of BHcrafts’ operations are currently financed by its product sales. The company was certified as the only “fair trade” producer in the region in 2009 at WFTO, and has begun the process of “quality system certification” for NGOs.

The Entrepreneur
Lejla Radoncic dreams that Bosnian Handicrafts becomes an internationally recognized fair trade organization with durable markets for products made by Bosnian women, and continues to provide them with a fair and vital income. “The women have regained their dignity and self-confidence,” she says. “They are very proud of the salaries that give them a chance to support themselves and have a better life.”