November 6, 2019 – Meeting G2.5, the fifth edition conference connecting the business-minded entrepreneurs of Croatia and its diaspora took place this week. A great success with some very positive seeds planted.
Of all the complicated relationships and aspects of life in Croatia, none is arguably harder to understand for a foreigner like me than that of the Croatian diaspora and the homeland. When I started TCN four years, I had little concept of the Croatian diaspora, and none whatsoever of the differing relationships between various sections of that diaspora.
It didn’t take me long to get my first lessons…
With relatively little English-language news coming out of Croatia, and with many second and third generation diaspora unable to speak much Croatian, TCN became a natural source of news for many who lived outside the Homeland. And it didn’t take long for a naive foreigner to start upsetting people, from the very first day of TCN in fact. Looking for a signature interview to launch TCN, I thought I had done rather well by scoring an interview with Croatia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, and it was an education to receive a torrent of abuse from Sydney at the very mention of Vesna Pusic.
With time, I learned that the relationships with the Homeland were understandably linked to the reasons for emigration. Many New Zealand Croats, for example, considered themselves more Dalmatian than Croatian, their reason for emigration largely economic when Croatia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In Australia, by contrast, there was a sizable influx during the Tito era, the main reason being political persecution. As a result, emotions about the former Yugoslavia period and mention of the ‘T’ word evoke very strong and entrenched emotions. All totally understandable.
There was one aspect of the diaspora experience which united all sections of the diaspora, however, or so it seems to me. Intense disappointment with their experiences of financially supporting the newly-independent Croatia with investments, many of which were made with emotion, and a large proportion of which was abused by those in Croatia entrusted with those investments.
I was invited to speak at a diaspora conference in Osijek last year, the first time I had been to a diaspora conference. I was not quite sure what to expect, but my initial impressions on the first day were quite depressing. There was such a focus on the tragic stories of the past and the waves of emigration that I felt almost as an intruder at a funeral. Thankfully, the mood lifted with the energy of the younger business-minded generation, who wanted to look forward. I particularly remember Ognjen Bagatin, CEO of Bagatin Clinic lifting the mood of the entire conference – you can read my reflections of the whole event here.
And if I had to grade the conference between emotion and business for that Osijek conference, it would have been Emotion 9, Business 1. Nothing wrong with that, just my perception.
The 2nd Diaspora Tourism conference in Split earlier this year was an altogether different affair, with a lot of younger blood in the audience, and a LOT more positive stories. Panel after panel of successful returnees told their stories and if the aim was to send a message to the diaspora that perhaps it was time to take a fresh look at investing in the Homeland, the conference achieved considerable success. There was still plenty of emotion built into the programme, however, and my foreign fly on the wall report is here.
Emotion 4, Business 6.
This week saw the fifth edition of Meeting G2, a Zagreb diaspora conference much more focused on business and building meaningful bridges between entrepreneurs in the Homeland and the diaspora. I attended last year’s event, G2.4 and was impressed by the business focus and real discussions taking place, as well as the focus on promoting and presenting young Croatian businesses with potential. But this year’s event was outstanding, on so many levels.
Ante Lucic’s Cronnect initiative once more presented five great startups looking for investors, and the experienced Croatian jury chose their winner – Miret, the eco shoe startup business from Duga Resa. We will have an indepth interview with Miret on TCN shortly – it is a great product.
There was plenty of patriotism on show as well, with the style awards going to Josip Hrgetic, one of the G2.5 organisers. Great tie!
Five of the most successful Croatian franchises were also given their chance to present and impress in search of new franchisees.
There were several excellent panels, such as the powerful and successful Canadian Croatian diaspora business community.
But arguably the most useful aspect of the entire conference was the networking. From my experience, many conferences make the mistake of trying to pack in too many presentations, leaving little or no time for delegates to actually meet each other and forge connections. And in this regard, G2.5 was outstanding. The opening evening included a session called Who’s Who in G2? Every participant was given 30 seconds to say who they were, where they were from, something about their company, and what was their interest in G2.5. With more than 100 people to listen to, the session was expertly controlled by Aco Momcilovic, and it was interesting to watch people making mental notes of people to approach now that they knew who they were.
And they networked. I must have been to over 30 conferences in Croatia in the last three years. None has come close to the connections I made yesterday, both in person and in my inbox since I left the conference about 20 hours ago. Several others I spoke to had the same feeling. Yes, there was emotion – and some incredible ties… – but this is a conference which is firmly focused on concrete connections, projects and solutions.
Emotion 1, Business 9.
That emotion may rise a little today, as the final day of the conference includes a field trip to Zadar, as well as a visit to the tuna farm of one General Ante Gotovina.
The message is clear. Croatia is very much open for business, but this time not on emotion as in the 1990s, but with serious, successful and determined entrepreneurs. Those bridges are being built slowly, and it is a journey that this foreign fly is very much enjoying following.
To learn more about Meeting G2.5, visit the official website.
For the latest from the Croatian diaspora, follow the dedicated TCN section.