L'INTERVIEW
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"I KEEP FIGHTING  BELIEVING THAT THIS FIGHT MIGHT BE THE LAST ONE." DRAGANA VUJOVIC DJERMANOVIC, A SERBIAN BUSINESS WOMAN WITH A TEMPERAMENT LEADER IN AHOU ATTITUDE MAGAZINE

Dragana Vujovic Djermanović received the most important recognition for female entrepreneurship in Serbia, "Success Flower", presented by the Association of Businesswomen of Serbia. At the World Economic Forum for Women in India (WEF17), she was proclaimed "Woman of the Decade". in the field of social media and leadership, the most prestigious worldwide recognition for his work. The annual award of the Vojvodina Chamber of Commerce - "Kosta Mirosavljevic", for the most successful businesswoman in 2020 was awarded to this businesswoman.

During her long career, this businesswoman has mentored more than 1,000 managers, directors, public figures and founders.

Dragana is the only Serbian businesswoman to feature in Hundert's Top 100 Women Entrepreneurs in Europe, a list confirmed by the famous American magazine Forbes.

Meeting with a leading woman, influential and involved in the AHOU ATTITUDE interview.

 

Interview conducted by Annick N'GUESSAN

1 / Tell us about your childhood in Serbia? What important moments marked this period of your life?

 

Serbia is a beautiful country! Located on a geopolitical crossroad, my home country is a blend of cultures, nationalities, amazing cuisine, and art. My home town Odzaci is in Vojvodina, the north region of Serbia. Most of my memories are bright and cheerful since the childhood of kids born before the tech revolution was quite different. Nature was our playground and imagination was our toy. However, my teenage years were somehow challenging since the "dark 90s" in Serbia were years of civil unrest, poverty, and political isolation. My first entrepreneurial earnings when I was 6, first love as well as first disappointment all crafted a portrait of a curious restless young woman I soon became.

"IN A SCHOOL OF LIFE, 
EVERY SUBJECT AND EVERY GRADE IS HERE TO MAKE US GREAT STUDENTS. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A MISTAKE OR FAILURE. AT SOME POINT, WE ALL REALIZE THIS TRUTH."

2 / Little girl, what future did you dream of?

I lived in a moment, just like I am trying to do now as a grown-up. Then, it was so easy to live day by day and to give yourself to the moment fully embracing the beauty of the unknown. Future was far away and except I knew it would be bright and fulfilling, I wasn't thinking about it much. My mom describes me as a rebel, restless adventurer, and a happy kid. Hmm, I might agree.

3 / What values did your parents pass on to you?

My father was a writer and a researcher. His library was his sanctuary. My deep respect and desire for knowledge were inspired by this amazing wise man. Mom was rather practical. She is an economist and was always very good with numbers. She taught me that knowledge and ideas should be put to practical use. Ideas in action would be one mixed lesson my parents imprinted on me. From this perspective, I must be very grateful for this learning.

 

4 / Does the first name Dragana have a special meaning? Did your parents used to give you a nickname? If yes which?

Name Dragana has "draga" in its root. In Serbian and some other Slovenian languages "draga" literally means "dear". It's funny because whenever someone sends me an email in Serbian it starts like this: Dear Dear... :) You get the point. My nickname is Gaga, and I use that nickname as a social media handle on less official social networks such as TikTok or Instagram.

5 / Teenage girl were you rather rebellious or withdrawn?

A rebel, warrior, social glue in various age groups, and a person with ideas and solutions. When I was pregnant with my first daughter, my father blessed me with the following words: Might God bless you with a girl just like you. Hahaha at that moment I was a bit puzzled if that was a blessing or something else. Guiding and guarding a kid like me must have been an adventure for my parents. They did the best they could. I see them as true champions.

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6 / From what age were you allowed to go out with a boy?

Since I was growing up in a small town, we were playing outdoors till midnight during school breaks. When I started to go out I had to come home at 10 pm and I remember bragging around about that obviously unjust difference. However, those were different times, and although we had more strict rules we had much more freedom. Officially, I had my first boyfriend when I was in 10th grade. Unofficial "records" are slightly different.

"IN THE MEDIA, WE CAN EASILY NOTICE THAT SUCCESS STORIES TURN AROUND STRONG AND DETERMINED MEN."

7 / Did you, a teenage girl, dream of succeeding in the business world?

I did not. For me, business was there to serve my needs and to enable the means of a decent life. During life, I added a couple more things - the business I believe in is good for me and good for everyone else. If not, it's not good enough. As simple as that.

 

8 / How would you define Serbian culture?

Vivid, colorful, diverse, surprising, and open! Many foreigners fall in love with Serbian culture during their first visit. People are open, food is delicious, music is deep and rich. Serbia is a true pearl of Europe, bright and surprising.

9 / Define for us the Serbian woman in general;

Serbian women are proud and wise. We cherish family, we are loyal friends and very passionate women. For most of the people who spent some time traveling the world, Serbian women are among the most beautiful in the world. My husband would say the same :)

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10 / How do you see your country? What is the place of women in Serbian society? Are the inequalities between men and women important? Do women encounter professional integration problems?

Some of the most successful female scientists of today are from Serbia, to name professor Gordana Novakovic Vunjak as an example. Profesor Novakovic Vunjak is a member of the Academia Europaea, she was elected to the New York Academy of Sciences, Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame, and one of Foreign Policy 100 leading global thinkers. We have a strong entrepreneurial culture and some business-related qualities that enable the fast growth of our ideas such as determination, creativity, and passion. My colleague Zoja Kukic, a pioneer in the female startup empowerment movement, can say much more about this. Infrastructure which would enable more women to start and grow their business is still weak, but things are changing.

"I AM THANKS TO EVERYONE WHO INFLUENCED ME. BUILDING A FUTURE BY STANDING ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS IS THE FASTEST WAY TO A BETTER FUTURE."

In recent years, my country launched several programs to stimulate female entrepreneurship. Now we have more support in financing and education. However, the most significant problem we are faced with, and the same problem most female entrepreneurs are faced with all over the globe, is a lack of role models. We need to see women who did it! We need to see and hear their stories and understand their challenges. "If she did it, I could do it" - is a powerful maxim. And we don't see that often.

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If we look around, especially in the media, we can easily notice that successful stories are wrapped around strong determined men, and women are headline stars if they are actresses, public figures, or in the middle of some scandal. The thing is that we need to see more women just like us, who made their way to the top overcoming the same or at least similar challenges we are faced with. If you want to do something to inspire more women to tackle the business waters, support them, share their stories and give them some spotlight - in your media (just like you do), or even on your personal social media wall. Share the light to enlighten others.

11 / In what area do you engage socially?

Sharing how-tos, tips, and experiences with fellow entrepreneurs of all genders is something I am very passionate about. Networking and cross-linking with like-minded people is yet another thing I love to do! I am where I am thanks to all the people who have influenced me. Building a future by standing on the shoulders of giants is the fastest way to reach brighter tomorrow.

12 / Why is it important for you to support women in the entrepreneurship sector?

I am a mother of two girls, a sister, a daughter; from many different angles, I see how important it is to empower women. The direct economical, cultural, and even technological growth of a country is deeply affected (I might even say correlated) with women's empowerment. You want to see a better future, treat women better. It's as simple as that.

"CHOOSING THE RIGHT PARTNER IN LIFE IS CRUCIAL FOR SUCCESS. THE PEOPLE TO WHOM WE DEDICATE OUR LIVES CAN EITHER HELP US REACH OUR FULL POTENTIAL OR DELETE US."

13 / Give us the name of a woman who inspired your career.

My mother Vera (her name in Serbian literally means “faith”), my daughters Nikolina and Jovana, my best friend Jelena, and one of the most inspiring women in business I know - my dear friend  Dr. Harbeen Arora.

14 / You have matured, in addition to the values instilled by your parents, what are your values as a woman today?

If I would need to describe who I am without using a name, title, and formal accomplishments I would say that I am a curious student. I seek, explore, see beauty in everything and everyone and have strong faith. I love, I play, I forgive, and most of all I enjoy everything I do.

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 SOCIAL MEDIA :

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15 / At what age did you get married? How would you define life as a couple? What did the man who shares your life bring you?

I got married when I was 20 and gave birth to my older daughter at 21. Still, as a college student, starting a family life was a true adventure! Luckily, my husband was very supportive and full of understanding. I earned my college degree, and eventually defended my P.h.D, started several successful businesses, developed my brand and career and my husband accomplished amazing things on his own during our marriage. Nikola has been my partner for 20 years now, and we are still madly in love and in addition he became my best friend. I wouldn't say that we are similar, rather that we are complementary. He is practical and a great decision maker, I am more thorough and cautious.

"I DIDN'T WANT TO CHOOSE BETWEEN ME, MY DAUGHTERS, MY FAMILY AND MY BUSINESS, IT WOULD BE JUST UNFAIR."

As a couple, we are a strong force and our individual and team success speaks for itself. Choosing the right partner in life is crucial for success. This is especially true for women. People we devote our lives to can either support us in reaching our full potential or suppress us. Although you can not be sure if your choice is the right one, choose wisely and make changes if needed.

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16 / You are a mother, an influential and internationally recognized businesswoman. Is it easy to combine a family life with a job that involves such great responsibilities?

Being a mother is the most significant role I have in my life. However, I always knew that I needed to fulfill my other potential as well so I managed to pursue my academic and business career at the same time. It wasn't easy and many sleepless nights, sometimes guilt and feeling of inadequacy followed me for days and even months. I didn't want to choose between myself, my daughters, my family, and my business. It would simply be unjust. When we set up such a bold goal, we need to manage our time and priorities carefully.

"WHAT HELPS ME CONTINUE IS THE FEELING THAT SUCCESS IS AT THE CORNER OF THE STREET. THEN I CONTINUE TO FIGHT BY BELIEVING THAT THIS FIGHT COULD BE THE LAST."

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Surround yourself with people who believe in you, who support you, and who are better than you in various fields of life. Then, ask questions, seek help, and clearly vocalize your boundaries and expectations. We don't have to do everything on our own. Some things we have to do on our own, but if we don't seek help and support with the ones we don't have to do solo we might not have enough power to do the ones that demand our full attention. I am not sure that we understand the power of network and synergy the way we should. Being wise means knowing what you (should) do, when to do it, and how to do it. Knowing only "what" to do is not enough.  The "How" and "When" must be as clear as "What" and then we can accomplish more faster.

17 / Have you ever wanted to give up? (can you give us an anecdote)? What allowed you to tarnish and keep moving forward?

Ideas for giving up are my close friends :) At least once per week the idea about giving up on something (or someo one) crosses my mind. What helps me keep going is a feeling that success is just around the corner. Then I keep fighting believing that this fight might be the last one. One by one, things become easier and that's how I move on. The other important thing is my skill to notice the difference between the things worth doing and the ones that just take my time and energy for nothing. I quit quite often, actually. When I realize that I am wrong and that things, processes and the direction I chose are not the best I simply stop. We don't need to justify our path to anyone. Our life is our own and we owe ourselves to lead our life and to to merely follow anyone. Be brave. Being brave means not just knowing how to fight for yourself, but also when to stop fighting and leave. We don't get that kind of advice as much as we should.

"SUCCESS MUST NOT BE A VAGUE GOAL. IT MUST BE PRECISE AND THEREFORE CLEAR."

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18 / Is your profession considered "a man's job" in Serbia?

Male or female jobs are not a thing in Serbia anymore. In the tech and consulting business I'm in, there are many successful people of all genders. I never felt any sort of discrimination in any of my professions. The main obstacle is the traditional frame that women should keep the family going. You would never hear someone asking a man questions like "how do you balance personal and professional". If that is a question someone asks just women, you clearly understand this "cultural" role posed on us more than on our male counterparts. That's heavy. I asked that question to one of my male colleagues at a panel discussion, just for fun. He was super surprised. Then, for the whole minute, the room was filled with silence.

19 / How would you define yourself? What woman is hiding in you Dragana?

There are at least 4 Dragana's inside of me :) I have many roles in life and allow myself to be whoever I want whenever it's appropriate. Love to cook, play board games, I enjoy nature and my vineyard at our mounting house; reading, writing, and researching are some of my favorite activities.  I notice that kids are pretending to be adults, playing and imagining being doctors, pilots, or nurses. We, actually, do the same. We, adults, also pretend to be adults. We look like we figured everything out like we know what we are doing... But deep inside, we are just kids playing some roles in life with much more responsibilities. We all pretend. And since we pretend, let us pretend to be amazing beings who are changing the world for the better!

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20 / What is your beauty ritual as a businesswoman today?

To be honest, there is a SWAT team of beauty specialists taking care of me regularly :) Face and hear treatments, nails and SPA are treatments I do regularly. Why? Well, I enjoy it! That's one more thing I do as a kid pretending to be an adult! So a little Gaga is playing in beauty salons and that's about it. However, I don't use a lot of makeup but have a shoe empire in a designated shoe room in my house :)

21 / What advice would you give to women who like you want to succeed in the business world?

Firstly, try to clearly define what success means to you. It might be a title, money, status, or some specific achievement. Success should not be a vague goal. It has to be specific and thus clear. Then, surround yourself with people who can make you successful! Choose teachers, mentors, critics and other successful people, and stick around them. One more piece of advice is to be ruthless about cutting things off from your lists! People will tell you what you should do to succeed, but almost anyone is telling you that you have to stop doing a lot of things too. Success is about what you do and about what you don't do, or stop doing in order to become (and stay) successful.

22 / If there was something to redo in your course, what would you do again?

Everything was as it was supposed to be. Every person taught me a lesson, both - the people doing good and noble things for me as well as the ones who were hurting or disappointing me. In a school of life, every subject and every grade is here to make us great students.  There is no such thing as a mistake or failure. At some point, we all realize this truth.

"I HAVE BEEN BROKEN MANY TIMES AND I FEEL BETTER THAN EVER."

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23 / Finally, make us travel. Which two sites would you advise our readers to visit during a stay in Serbia?

When you come to Serbia, you will most probably lend to Belgrade - our capital. Wow! Belgrade is amazing! The vivid, funny, cosmopolitan city is situated between two beautiful rivers, the Danube and Sava. From Belgrade, you can explore western Serbia and magical mountains, and the canyon Tara.

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If you wish to explore the Northern region of Serbia, my province Vojvodina - you are welcome to visit Novi Sad - our second-largest city and a home city of the most popular European music festival EXIT! Serbian people love guests and be prepared to get a few extra smiles & hugs.

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24 / The last word?

The last word is literally a word - Kintsukuroi. In Japan there is an art form called kintsukuroi which means “to repair with gold”.  When a ceramic pot or bowl would break, the artisan would put the pieces together again using gold or silver lacquer to create something stronger, more beautiful, then it was before. The breaking is not something to hide. It does not mean that the work of art is ruined or without value because it is different from what was planned. Kintsukuroi is a way of living that embraces every flaw and imperfection.  Every crack is part of the history of the object and it becomes more beautiful, precisely because it had been broken. I was broken many times and I feel better than ever before. Go girls, rock the world and add some gold sparkles to your wounds. Shine bright, we are in this together!

Photo credits: Dragana Vujovic Djermanovic