Strengthening Diaspora Ties: Ognjen Bagatin on 3rd Croatian Diaspora Congress

Total Croatia News


June 18, 2018 – with the 3rd Croatian Diaspora Congress just 11 days away, some thoughts on the chances of strengthening the bonds between the diaspora and the homeland from one of the drivers of change, Ognjen Bagatin. 

  1. You are a part of the organization committee of the 3rd Croatian Diaspora Congress and Bagatin Clinic is one of the main sponsors. What was your motivation for entering this committee, and why is this important for you?

Last year I was invited to participate and given the opportunity to be one of the speakers at the International conference for diaspora tourism in Zadar. By listening to all the lectures and presentations, I became aware that more than 3 million Croats live beyond Croatian borders. And these are successful, globally aware people who love their homeland more than anything. I also realized there is so much to learn from them and that these are 3 million people who are not directly included into the development of Croatia and the Croatian economy. Honestly, I have seen their potential as the main drivers of the Croatian economy in the next 20 years if we can only build bridges of cooperation and partnership. The dream of Croatian people living abroad is to become the main promoters and initiators of growth of our beautiful country.

Therefore, I joined forces with Dr. Marin Sopta and Mrs. Tanja Trošelj who are in charge of the committee and many others who meet on a weekly basis to work on the development and expansion of this cooperation with such great enthusiasm. The potential is enormous, but the potential itself, without continuous work and dedication, establishing contacts, and organizing this kind of congresses, cannot be fulfilled.



  1. What is the main purpose and main aim of this Congress? As you are considered a true visionary, what would be the long-term benefits for Croatia? Vision 2030?

The idea and the thinking behind the Croatian diaspora congress is the development of cooperation and proactive activities by creating stronger connections between Croatia and its diaspora. The Third Croatian diaspora congress is devoted to the reasons of emigration and the unattractive nature of the return where we will present research done by Croatian emigrants, examples of successful business people and the potential of investment into Croatian economy. We will focus on what we, as individuals, can accomplish to create the atmosphere for return, and even more important, for staying in Croatia.

Before stating what would be the long-term benefits for Croatia, we need to achieve certain preconditions. We need to change the perception of doing business and living in Croatia and HOPE that you can succeed in Croatia, with your knowledge and work being appreciated here. We need to create the vision of Croatia in 2025 or 2030 or 2050 as a country of prosperity, doubled GDB and strong values. We can envision Croatia as a country that generates $100 billion of GDP before 2030, with 4,4 million people living here, with foreign investments in amount of $5 billion per year, with the average salary 60% bigger than the current one, with 100.000 international students coming to Croatia for education (including our students from diaspora), with MIT, Harvard or Stanford subsidiaries in Croatia etc. Only after we have the vision, we will start looking for ways to accomplish this and start creating strategies, action planes and other ways to follow it (KPI´s). If we do not measure the results we cannot achieve them.

Long-term benefits of connecting Croatia with our diaspora are:

  • – a bigger market; we are no longer a country with 4,2 million people but with 7,7 million people
  • – bigger investments from our diaspora into Croatia (you are aware that “financial flow” from our diaspora each year is larger that all foreign investments into Croatia)
  • – knowledge that our diaspora can share with Croatia gained at the international market
  • – developing and stabilizing long-term public politics towards Croatian emigrants
  • – GDP growth caused by the increased investments of Croatian diaspora or their help in attracting foreign investments into Croatia
  • – Keeping our young and educated professionals; stopping the “brain drain”
  1. You lived abroad and were educated in America, but you still decided to come back. In your opinion, what should be changed to develop a more concrete cooperation between diaspora and homeland and eventually motivate their return?

I loved USA, but home is home. Croatia is a beautiful country with beautiful people. Even though I had the opportunity to stay longer in the USA, I decided to find my happiness in Croatia because I really do believe we are the new Switzerland or Netherlands through the next 10 years if we will work on the perception of investment in Croatia and giving our people hope that staying here will be worth their while. To encourage our diaspora to return and invest more, we need to work on creating an entrepreneurial mindset and a positive working climate; we should start celebrating our success and not only talk and write about problems and politics. Furthermore, politics should stop being an obstacle and let the market do its magic. We seem to be afraid of future growth and development and therefore, if we are not certain, let´s ask our people living abroad who are in charge of huge systems generating billions in profit to give us advice and show us what needs to be done. We don´t have to be the smartest in the world, we just need to learn from other positive examples. Let´s put our ego aside, leave the politics out, make room for business development and Croatia will increase its growth. Now is the right time for this step, we are more than ready and more mature than ever to go through this change. By doing this, I´m sure we will bring our people back to Croatia and we will put a stop to the “brain drain” of our young, smart, courageous and quality people.

  1. As one of the leaders and promotors of the medical tourism sector in Croatia and the region, you are working actively on attracting more international patients for treatment in top quality medical institutions. How can the Croatian diaspora help in this process?

They are the best ambassadors of Croatia because they are aware of the highest level of healthcare Croatia has to offer. We invest a large amount of money into marketing and keeping our presence constantly visible (online and offline) but word of mouth is still our strongest tool, for our clients from diaspora as well as for all other patients coming from abroad. There is so much knowledge and so much potential lying in our diaspora and we should encourage renowned scientists, successful entrepreneurs, prominent businessman and intellectuals who understand the potential of Croatia and are willing to help, to work with us more closely, supporting investments and further development of Croatia.

Ognjen and Ron Bezic.jpg

  1. Speaking of connecting and cooperating with leading world health institutions and organizations led by successful Croatian businessman and health professionals, such as the Cleveland Clinic in the USA led by doctor Tomislav Mihaljević or doctor Ron Paul Bezić who´s also president of the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons, tell us what is the thinking behind this idea of connecting and cooperating with them?

The answer to this question is really simple: To be the best you have to learn from the best. I spent 3 days in Cleveland Clinic and had the pleasure to meet with 10 different department heads, that is, with directors of one of the best clinics in America and the world. We would like to establish cooperation with this clinic since they are the world leader when talking about customer experience. I will do my best to arrange that doctor Tomislav Mihaljević (CEO of Cleveland Clinic) dedicates at least one hour per month to us so we can hear his advice and steer our business into more precise direction. My visit to Australia was with the purpose of visiting their most successful healthcare institutions, establishing cooperation with Australia´s most prominent doctors and developing a culture of knowledge sharing between us. Our goal is to bring at least 1.000 doctors to Croatia to teach us and for us to learn from them. An organization can only be changed through education – and there are no better teachers than the ones who have walked the talk – we are asking them to share their walk with us.

Ognjen and Tomislav Mihaljevic.jpg

  1. Apart from working on developing cooperation with international healthcare providers, you are also working on associating with Croatian Medical Schools and Colleges keeping in mind the need to keep young, educated and motivated medical professionals in Croatia?    

This entire process started with the idea of Bagatin Academy for employees of Bagatin Clinic. The idea was to develop soft skills, a better organizational culture and to increase the level of understanding between departments thus improving their cooperation. We encourage open communication, problem-solving and nurture the culture of feedback. The idea has exceeded all our expectations. Only this year we had 500 doctors and 300 students of medicine and dentistry. Our plan is to have 20.000 doctors and 30.000 nurses by 2022. within the soft skill learning program and to implement soft skill modules for dental and medical colleges in Croatia. It would be ideal to encourage competition that will offer this type of program along with us. The plan for next year is to develop an international program which will include and attract doctors and other medical professionals from abroad and from our diaspora. Like I said in the beginning, if we want to develop our economy we need to develop our future and our future is in our students. If we prepare them to be the best doctors, experts, the best people they can be, we can prepare them to be the change we all want to see in Croatia.

Ognjen Bagatin na Bagatin Akademiji.jpg

  1. Next year the Diaspora Conference will be in Split and the 4th Croatian Diaspora Congress will be held in Zagreb in 2020. What are your expectations?     

Expectations are great, we want to see our people returning and creating a new and improved version of our country. I believe that Croatia can be a success story and we need to learn how to do it. These events are our first steps on this path, and our people in the diaspora with their success stories, connections, knowledge are the ones who can help us reach our goal. We expect delegates and visitors from 20 different countries, more than 400 participants and 150 speakers. I´m especially happy that this year´s Congress is being held in Osijek to increase the awareness and help stop the negative trend of emigration of the population, mostly young and capable people from Slavonia who should be the drivers of Croatian society and economic growth. We need our diaspora more than they need us. Let`s admit that and let the positive changes begin for all Croats?

To learn more about the 3rd Diaspora Conference in Osijek, visit the official website.


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