Beyond the Misty Horizons of the Future - Women in Leadership Economic Forum - october 2019


I come from one of the countries with the youngest population in Europe. When I was young – I mean younger - my country was “the North Korea of Europe”. Isolated like no other country in the continent until the end of the Cold War, Albania, neighbour with Italy, Greece and Former Yugoslavia, experienced two long traumatic periods: the five-century Ottoman occupation until the early 20th century, and the most brutal communist regime Europe had seen immediately after WWII. 

I am grateful to NASEBA for their invitation to be part of this meeting and I feel all the more privileged for the opportunity I have been given to address you as the representative of a country where history has shown its most ruthless face and the hard times we live in have made it particularly challenging for us to bridge the historic gap between ourselves and Europe, where we belong geographically, culturally and spiritually.  

Albania is a Muslim-majority country, where it comes natural to Christians to celebrate Eid, and to Muslims as well to celebrate Christmas. 

I am from a Muslim family, my husband is Catholic, our two children from previous marriages are Christian Orthodox and the third, our five-year old boy, will decide for himself what faith he will belong, if one day he should wish so. 

Albania is home to Mother Theresa, the small woman with an enormous heart, courage and passion, who became a universal embodiment of love and selflessness for the weakest, and thanks to her most sublime devotion, became Saint Theresa of Calcutta. 

Albania is the country that counted more Jews at the end of World War II than in its wake and where, thanks to the courage and loyalty of Albanians, Jews found safe haven and none of them was surrendered to the Nazis. 

Albania is the country that in its first Constitution dating back to medieval times, the Canon of Albanians, had written in its preamble words that remain etched in our collective awareness as a non-negotiable value of our community: The house of the Albanian is of God and Guest. 

It is my great pleasure to extend you an invitation and also express a wish that you chose Albania in the future as the hosting country for your conference. Be assured, you will not regret it.

When the country emerged from the dark pit of communist isolation, I was only 26 years old. I had just started work as an economist in a large, typically communist enterprise, while, all of a sudden, I found myself, like all the other Albanians, struggling to navigate between an open sea of mind-boggling changes and the opportunity to have more than one option for the future. 

Back then, what we had was only the freedom to take a glance at a world that appeared so magical and tempting before our eyes, but we had nothing of everything that unlimited world of universal freedoms and rights had. At the time, the Constitution of Albania still proclaimed that foreign loans were high national treason and that any private economic activity just like any criminal offence was prohibited. We only had one bank that credited the state-owned economy; one single employer, which was the State; one single radio and television station that only gave voice to the State; there was one exclusive party, the State-Party of Labour of Albania. 

Back in those days we were all equal. We lived in identical houses that the State owned, with a similar household economy that was the economy of survival and, above all, none of us knew how to navigate the open sea, where everyone had to choose a destination that was highly desirable and equally mysterious.  

Many chose emigration, setting out on a long and arduous path to be integrated into new environments, where other languages were spoken, new mores applied and where prejudice and discrimination against the emigrants arrived on the board of rusty communist ships was the rule rather than the exception.

Others chose the equally challenging path of fitting in the new system settling in the country, where old rules vanished overnight, and the new ones took years to write and even longer to apply. 

I decided to study at a university abroad with the fixed idea of returning with to my country with more knowledge, and that is what I did.

Today, as I find myself talking about the challenges younger people face, I can easily recall where we, the youth of 30 years ago, have come from. Yet, it is difficult for me to visualize in an age of astonishing change that happens in the fraction of a second where could those close to thirty be headed to. The more I feel for my children the uncertainty caused by globalization and the new sea of digital communication, interaction and influence, the stronger is my conviction that the only guiding compass for young people and their families is to persist instilling in them the principles and values of a civilization that is more than ever at risk of losing its way.  

I apologize for this introduction, but, frankly, I want to share with all of you my helplessness as a woman, a mother, an intellectual if you will, to feel confident in the power of the words addressing young leaders at the service of a better future vis-à-vis the pace of the enormous and frightening power of this new world to treat the established values and principles of our civilization as relative for young people, killing the time they need to doubt, validate, weigh thoughts and argue or prove the contrary. 

It is only fair to say that Albania is an entirely different reality today. The Albanian emigrants who reached the new world aboard the rusty ships in the early 1990s have succeeded to fully integrate their children, born amidst the storm of an open sea, in the realities of other countries, as a “bright reflection” of our nation in these places, as Ismail Kadare, our distinguished writer, would say. I am convinced many of you have had the opportunity to come across this Albanian reflection around international universities, communities, companies and institutions, on the stages and venues of arts and culture, and even in politics where more and more Albanians are running for seats in local councils, parliaments up to the US Senate.

Albanian families have made the same remarkable efforts and investments to educate their sons and daughters both in Albania and abroad, creating an army of young people with exceptional potential that not only adds to the energy needed to tackle the current challenges, but also guarantees a sustainable development for the years to come. 

The mosaic of opportunities for women and youth to contribute is so wide in range that it is impossible to capture in words, but I would like to focus on the two key aspects: empowerment in decision-making and economic empowerment.

In the last years, youth in Albania have taken over a significant number of important public platforms, both in politics and administration, with particular focus placed on ensuring a gender-balanced representation.

As we speak, 30% of the Members of Parliament are women, 8 of 15 members of the Government are women, ranking Albania fifth out of the 22 countries with the most gender-balanced governments in the world. Even more so, these ladies are at the helm of sectors women were never in charge before. 

Energy and infrastructure are headed today by a woman minister. The same goes for Finance and Economy. Women are ministers of Defence, Justice, Education, Health, Culture and Relations with the Parliament. Most of them took office when they were under 39 years of age. Diplomacy and foreign affairs have been entrusted to a young man who is only 29 years old. 

47% of the deputy ministers in my country are women. 40% of the central institutions and 45% of the agencies are led by women, 25% to 41% of those who hold senior public positions are under 39 years old.

This multitude of women and young people who work at these levels today is not only the result of a long-term individual, family and societal investment made through endless sacrifices deeply rooted in history, but also a clear manifestation of the inner will to openly show boys and girls who are passionate about joining politics and the high public administration that this is possible. 

Alas, despite being at the forefront of empowering women and youth in decision-making to an astonishing degree in the last years, these women and young people at the helm of public platforms have not yet reflected further these sensitivities towards youth and gender issues that would turn the process into an engine for change across all societal strata. We are yet to see that kind of awareness translated into action that gets the attention it deserves along with day-to-day affairs, although society needs it as much as a blind man craves the light.

If those who are in these positions today fail to pay attention and create clear prospects for all those young boys and girls who fight on the daily with the scarce possibilities to pursue their dreams and passions, the countless obstacles in an entangled net of bureaucracy, the poverty, suppression of their talents, the inability to showcase their values, or for those women who face an aggressive environment, verbal violence, gender discrimination and sexual harassment in the job place and many other phenomena that are particularly present in the poor and peripheral areas, not only will they be irredeemably indebted to the society, but they will also produce a burden that will incur a hefty price for the society to pay in the future.

Critically important is the involvement of women and youth in the economy today. One third of the workforce in the economy are currently young people between 15 and 28 years old. 30% of the private company administrators and owners are women and more than 40% of first-line managers in private firms are women. Yet again, the higher we go in the decision-making ladder of these companies, the fewer women we see. There are even industries where, although the critical mass of employees are women – for instance, in banks, financial non-banking or insurance institution - in the best-case scenario you will find one or two board members who are women, but that is not frequent. However, there is no Board without at least one man. It seems as if boards can operate smoothly without a woman, but strangely enough, they cannot exist without a man.  Career advancement for young people and the chance for them to showcase their full potential becomes challenging due to the type and size of business, predominantly populated by small and medium enterprises. Nonetheless, I am convinced that those hundreds and thousands of well-educated and highly talented young people inside and outside of the country are an enormous potential to harness, should large foreign companies decide to invest in Albania. The investments of large international companies in countries like Albania would not only be extremely beneficial for the economy, but they would mostly help to modernise and set the best standards on the business environment.

While I do not wish to take more of your time, aware of the complexity of age we live in that threatens in the same way, albeit in varying forms, degrees and substance both youth and women in the developed and developing countries, like Albania, allow me to conclude my address with one of the few certainties I have. The more this new world that is unfolding at such a fast and furious pace that would be unimaginable only a few years ago offers us new communication and interaction tools, the more pressing becomes the need to hold on to the old world of values and principles that are instilled in the family, articulated within classrooms, imposed on the path of co-existence of our communities as unaltered codes of communication and interaction among us. These values will be the best tool in the hands of each girl and boy, not only to advance on their career path, but especially to grow their awareness and contribution for a better society in the future.

The more we raise the fences of miscommunication or frontal hostility between those who think the same against those who differ in opinion in the space of the virtual world and the more is truth faced with the pandemic of lies, the more urgent becomes the need to protect our children from this disease that is easily observed to have affected the highest levels of decision-making even in the most developed and rich world countries.

I know that my observations are nothing new for anyone who has been even slightly paying attention to this situation that, while impregnated with enormous potential that benefits humanity, is also filled with major threats to our own civilization. In the hope that my contribution from this podium was valuable to you who had the kindness to listen, I would like to respectfully thank you all.

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