Year of return: 2018
LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW
MOVED TO CANADA
Nebojsa unexpectedly received a message from a foreign
executive search consultant via LinkedIn who introduced
him to a new initiative, a non-profit, non-governmental
organization with the strategic goal of developing a
strong, globally competitive digital economy in Serbia.
Nebojsa was offered to work for Digital Serbia Initiative
(DSI) as a director.
DECISION TO RETURN
Nebojsa was anyway coming to Serbia, so he accepted to meet with
the DSI team. He appreciated the initiative’s purpose and plans and
the people behind it, so he felt motivated to devote his time and
skills to this project. He felt emotionally connected with Serbia and
wanted to contribute to its development.
The Yugoslav civil war was raging in 1993 when inflation and economic sanctions started affecting daily lives. Nebojsa was a recent graduate at the beginning of his career when job opportunities in the IT field started to seize. The political and economic chaos in the country, as well as the feeling that no one needs him as a young talented professional, were some of the reasons why he and his wife applied for a visa and fled to Canada.
They have lived a cozy life there for over twenty years. Nebojsa worked in the domain of fintech. He had a few successful startup exits that created financial freedom for him to work only on projects he liked and that were enabling work-life balance. The work flexibility he had gave him the possibility to visit Serbia often. He kept close connections with his parents and the parents of his wife. He and his wife bought a house in a close neighborhood where their parents could come and spend six months each year. This was a great opportunity for them to spend time with granddaughters and help raise them.
Over the years in Canada, Nebojsa attempted to develop a professional relationship with businesses in Serbia. He had projects in Canada that he wanted to outsource solutions for in Serbia, so he was engaged in building business ties with an IT outsourcing company in Serbia. Unfortunately, in the first meeting, he spotted corruption and refused to collaborate any further. After this experience, he lost interest in working with companies in Serbia.
Life went by and one day, Nebojsa unexpectedly received a message from a foreign executive search consultant via LinkedIn who introduced him to a new initiative, a non-profit, non-governmental organization with the strategic goal of developing a strong, globally competitive digital economy in Serbia. He was exactly the profile of the person they needed to establish the organization, so Nebojsa was offered a position of the CEO at Digital Serbia Initiative (DSI). This sounded interesting, but Nebojsa wasn’t convinced. Since he was anyway coming to Serbia, he accepted to meet with the DSI team.
Motivations for the return
The meeting went great. He appreciated the initiative’s purpose, plans and the people behind it, so he felt motivated to devote his time and energy to the cause. He shares that he felt emotionally connected with Serbia and wanted to contribute to its development. It was good to finally feel needed in his home country.
Choosing to leave Canada for a job in Serbia might sound odd, but Nebojsa was at the stage of his life when he had different priorities. The high standard of living in Canada made life cozy and beautiful. However, there was a feeling that people in Canada live to work. “They don’t go out as much as people in Serbia,” Nebojsa recalls when talking about how much he missed the lively atmosphere of Belgrade.
Canada’s multicultural environment yields conversations and relationships that tend to be kind but sterile. Although an extrovert with many friends, Nebojsa felt like people didn’t understand him completely. He couldn’t imagine himself living in Canada for the rest of his life.
At the same time, when thinking about returning Nebojsa was concerned about what his social life in Serbia would look like. Staying alone in his apartment and not having people to go out with seemed like a nightmare. But that was a possible reality only in this imagination. Upon returning to Belgrade, Nebojsa found great support in his new colleagues as well as old friends. He would tell them when he felt down and they would take him out and keep him company. The period of adaptation lasted for a couple of months.
Nebojsa’s father lives near Belgrade and he sees him over Sunday lunch every week. Being able to visit his father so often is very dear to Nebojsa and is one of the advantages of being in Serbia.
One aspect of the return that is often complicated and strenuous for many, the logistics of transcontinental relocation, went very smoothly as DSI’s partner company with rich experience of relocation organized the entire process for him – from packing his wardrobe to unpacking and putting everything in the right place in his new apartment in Belgrade.
Besides the operational side of relocation, the administrative framework is challenging. For example, transferring household goods without import duty is limited to 5000 EUR, which is absurd for people who lived abroad for so many years. Another absurd regulation he found is in the domain of finance. If he transferred a substantial amount of his money from Canada to Serbia, the state would limit the use of it since he wouldn’t be allowed to transfer it to places as per his need. For a country that would benefit from raising its cash flow, this decision sounds counterintuitive.
Nebojsa emphasizes the filling of fulfillment for being able to contribute to developing a globally competitive digital economy in Serbia. He works with young professionals as well as high profile decision-makers. Seeing driven smart people making a positive difference makes his work experience delightful. The possibility to impact things of policy level is very important as his experience of finance and IT from Canada directly relates to the development domain in Serbia.
One challenge in framing progressive regulations he sees is that the state treats everyone as if they are potential cheaters so the laws are too protective and complex. This makes the lives of the honest majority complicated.
Rich social and cultural life in Belgrade is spoiled only by heavy smoking in public places. This is a challenge and probably one of the rare challenges that could make Nebojsa leave Serbia. Another real problem he anticipates is not being able to find an adequate healthcare service in case he needs it. He remembers going to public hospitals with his mother when she was ill. That was not a positive experience.
When asked about his view on the general social environment in Serbia, Nebojsa says that he sees many negative aspects but he protects himself by carefully choosing what he is focusing on.
When asked about how he sees his plans for the future, Nebojsa shared that after many years of living abroad he stopped making long-term plans. He wants to stay in Serbia as long as he feels fulfilled. He does not know if he is going to stay for two years or a lifetime, but he believes that it is important that he feels at peace with all possibilities.