November 1, 2020 – What do Melinda Gates, NASA, the WTA tennis tour, Cambridge University and lockdown in Dalmatia have in common? They are all helping Making Kastela Great Again – a great lockdown story.
I meet a lot of crazy people in Croatia, and truly no two days are the same. Many of those crazy people have even crazier ideas, the majority of which never see the light of day, and many of which are forgotten once the bottle of rakija is finished.
And then there are those crazy people with crazy ideas who actually deliver on those ideas, even when the odds are stacked very heavily against them.
Crazy people such as Dalmatian Feliks Lukas, a proud Kastela native, whose most impressive accomplishment until this Spring (at least in my eyes) was to bring the WTA Women’s tennis tour to a Dalmatian island outside of peak season, attracting some great international names, both on and off the court. I think I am right in saying that the WTA Bol Open is the only tournament on the tour to take place on an island.
And while the tennis is the highlight, there are also plenty of other incredible moments, as Feliks’ considerable charm has helped bring extra promotion for Croatia, as we featured earlier today with this incredible piano performance by Lola Astanova on Zlatni Rat on Bol. Lola had performed at the tennis tournament and was due to make the video, but Feliks managed to persuade her to do so on Brac instead. It is really beautiful, so if you have a few minutes to listen and watch, you will not regret it.
I met Feliks at the beginning of the year in Zagreb, as he wanted to present me with another of his crazy plans – this time teaming up with senior students from the Cambridge MBA programme with the expressed aim of Making Kastela Great Again.
And not just any MBA students, but including one whose incredible story of mother of two in Sri Lanka with little experience to leading the team designing the Mars Rover for NASA after 6 years working on SpaceX with Elon Musk, a feat that caught the eye of none other than Melinda Gates.
Melony Mahaarachchi was on holiday in Croatia ahead of starting an MBA programme at Cambridge University and met Feliks:
“A friend of mine, Marino Franinovic, who was at that time advisor of Vice President of EIB, Mr. Vazil Hudak somehow knew or met Melony’s husband and he invited me for a drink. I don’t know how they met. They were here just for a couple of days in Croatia on a family vacation. She was with her two kids and her husband and I spoke about issues I have as an entrepreneur and the lack of entrepeneurial spirit in Croatia and how young, talented people were leaving the country. They were surprised as they thought it was paradise.
“We kept in touch, and then Melony contacted me out of the blue and told me about the MBA programme in Cambridge. One of the projects that could look into was regenerating a Mediterranean town. She thought of me and beautiful Croatia with the young people leaving and asked if I could suggest a town which could use such expertise. As a proud native of Kastela, it was the obvious place. It will be a great experience for all.”
From Mars to Kastela…
Pretty crazy so far. All was set for the team’s arrival in Kastela in mid-March, when Melony and her three Cambridge colleagues would arrive for 4 weeks. Flights were booked and paid for. And then…
The flights were cancelled, and there was no chance of the Cambridge team coming for several months. I assumed that the project would be delayed like so many projects in Croatia and all over the world. And I forgot about it.
Until a few months later when I caught up with Feliks in Kastela. He told me that the final report was almost ready and he would send it to me when it was done. How was this possible? Did they manage to come after all?
No, they have still not managed to visit, but they had all the expert help and more that they could have dreamed of, as Feliks spent weeks visiting every corner of Kastela with his iPhone, taking short videos, explaining, making suggestions. Here are a few short clips to give you a flavour.
And so they began… I guess if Melony is used to working remotely on projects to Mars from Earth, then Cambridge to Kastela is not so far… Melony has kindly agreed to an interview with TCN about her Croatia experience, which we will bring to you in due course.
The team set to work, guided by Feliks’ diligent work on the ground, many Zoom interviews, and plenty of research. They looked at every single aspect of the destination (and I have no doubt that Feliks showed the every single aspect via his iPhone), so that despite their physical distance, they were able to put together a really very innovative economic development plan for Kastela, one whose main focus was intriguing.
There was plenty of research required away from Croatia of course. Best practices and lessons learned from other similar European destinations of course.
The 83-page final report has now been finalised and it makes for a fascinating read. As it has not been officially presented yet due to the corona situation, it would be wrong of me to cherry-pick its findings. I will perhaps invite Melony to introduce it during our interview.
I do have a copy of the final document if anyone would like to read it offline (need to check this is ok to forward) – please contact me on email@example.com Subject Kastela.
And if you come across a crazy guy called Feliks Lukas on your travels around Croatia, buy him a coffee and take him seriously. I have a feeling that bringing WTA women’s tennis to Dalmatian islands and Making Kastela Great Again are just the start…
You can follow the latest from Kastela in the dedicated TCN section.