WoW in Kosovo: What We Learned!

01. March 2020

This blog was jointly written by Lea Shllaku from Helvetas, and Natalija Gelvanovska-Garcia and Zhenia Viatchaninova Dalphond from The World Bank.


To mark the International Women’s Day 2020, we – a team of development professionals from Helvetas  and the World Bank – decided to reflect on the lessons learnt from the “Women in Online Work” (WoW) pilots in Kosovo, the origins of which were highlighted in this blog. In 2015-2017, the WoW pilots helped train over 250, un/-underemployed young women in technical and soft skills to enable them to become online freelancers.

As the holiday calls for certain pragmatism, and not just celebration of women’s achievements, we’d like to feature our learnings about what went great and what went …not so great. These learnings are based on our joint pilot in the municipalities of Gjakova and Lipjan in 2016, as well as our experiences implementing WoW “spinoffs” separately in other parts of Kosovo.

What went well and even exceeded our expectations

Perhaps the most important lesson was that our teams went beyond the formally signed collaboration agreement, which emphasized joint activities around awareness raising and capacity building of female beneficiaries. We actually agreed to maximize the synergies and avoid duplication of efforts, thus each party leveraged on its distinct strengths and comparative advantages to advance the “women in ICT” agenda.

The Bank led the policy dialogue with the Government of Kosovo and tested the pilot in view of designing a future investment lending project (Kosovo Digital Economy / KODE Project). Helvetas – through the Enhancing Youth Employment (EYE) an SDC project implemented by Helvetas and MDA – supported building of local capacities: of not only individuals, but also of local training providers. In Kosovo, where there is little donor coordination, there are many overlapping mandates and hence fragmentation of efforts. Cooperation aside, poor lack of manager-to-manager communication and coordination leads to insignificant impact, waste of resources, and everybody’s time.

Another important lesson was about bringing international best practices as a catalyst for local market innovation. The first two pilots of WoW (administered by the Bank and funded by the Korea Green Growth Trust Fund) engaged an international company with experience in Bangladesh. After the progress became visible, especially from the standpoint of successful online job bids by the training beneficiaries, the interest of local training providers became palpable.

WoW has inculcated into the local IT training market a healthy spirit of competition, on which the EYE has capitalized by letting two local training providers implement its WoW trainings. This development has also evoked a certain paradigm shift in the ICT policymakers – that building of local capacities of training providers is as important as those of beneficiaries to ensure sustainability of online work pipeline from supply and demand side.

So what did not go as planned?

WoW also generated excitement among applicants, resulting in intense competition per training spot (one enrolled per ten applicants, on average, across five WoW iterations). Yet, ensuring inclusion and diversity proved to be a challenge.

In the case of the Bank, attempts were made to engage people with disabilities to apply to WoW trainings. However, the training venue and equipment constraints presented a challenge to opening the trainings to people with reduced mobility or the visually impaired.

The EYE Project struggled to engage national minorities when it took up the challenge of conducting WoW in the divided municipality of Mitrovica. The project contracted a local NGO in North Mitrovica to lead on the outreach around WoW which would encourage young women to apply to the trainings. The advertisement was in all local media, and multiple information sessions were held, with the end result of having five Serbian women applying for what EYE believed should have been 26 half of the girls enrolled in the class of 52.  

So... what went wrong? Upon close examination of the pilot results we realized that we failed to take into account the basics: English! The main success factor for our trainees to find jobs on the digital job market was to be able to communicate in this modern lingua franca. And in North Mitrovica, the share of young women speaking English was much lower than in the Albanian-speaking municipalities, which is mainly due to the lack of training providers operating in the Serb majority municipalities. That the WoW advertisement mentioned English must have thus turned off quite a few applicants.

The other common learning was that a minimum comfort level should be ensured in a training venue. The Bank’s WoW trainings in the municipality of Gjakova relied on a vocational training center which had heating and air-conditioning issues which were not easy to fix, given the building interior. The EYE training venue had thus to be somehow split between Northern Mitrovica, where the majority of the population is of ethnic Albanians and ethnic Serbs. Thus, the classes were evenly split between two venues in each municipality. While this accommodation was necessary to make women from both ethnic groups feel comfortable to attend the training together.

Last but not least, the Bank’s contractor distributed small food and transport stipends to trainees during the first pilot iteration, which seemed to be necessary at first. In a nutshell, small stipends proved to be a major headache from the implementation standpoint. To make things worse, they did not really help maintain the necessary energy level we thought they would. Fortunately, the EYE avoided this wrong tactic (and expense) by learning from the Bank’s experience.

Of course, the list of learnings is not exhaustive, and we welcome your questions and interest in our joint work over this pilot in the comments section of this blog. We also invite you to follow developments of the KODE Project, which plans to start training already in 2020 the first cohort of its Youth Online and Upward (YOU) Program, a gender-neutral spinoff of WoW. Luckily, the KODE team works with both the Bank and the EYE to amplify successes of WoW and avoid its pitfalls.

Additional sources



Cover picture: Women Online Work Facebook group