For hundreds of years the compound of the Innovation and Training Park (ITP) in Prizren was used as a shelter for the army. An ambitious German project now aims to turn it into a place for innovation and business planning.
On June 13 1999, German KFOR troops entered the city of Prizren. Their main task was to establish safety in the city. The citizens of Prizren welcomed them and threw flowers at them. They saw their coming as the coming of peace.
German KFOR troops were stationed in a former military camp in the eastern suburb of the city of Prizren. This camp had been used for military purposes since 1906, when the soldiers of the Ottoman Empire first occupied it. For another hundred years, the camp became home of the Jugoslav military personnel.
This camp consists of an area of 39 hectares and has the capacity to accommodate more than 2,0000 soldiers. Since 1999, the German Government has invested millions in reconstruction and building new premises in this camp. These buildings include 23 accommodation houses, administrative buildings, maintenance buildings, workshop sheds, a sports facility, recreation facilities such as cafés, a modern canteen and a hospital.
With the declaration of Kosovo’s* independence in 2008, the number of KFOR troops in this camp was gradually reduced. Ten years later, in December 2018 the whole camp was emptied when German troops walked out of it for the last time.
The military base, which is a public property managed by the government, generated a lot of public discussion about its next destination. The German government offered help by engaging the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ), to do a feasibility study around the idea for civilian use of the current camp area. This study proposed to set up the Kosovar-German Innovation and Training Park (ITP), which combines space for companies, vocational education and training, academic institutions, government institutions and non-governmental organizations.
I sat down with Muhamed Rexhepi from GIZ to learn more about the concept of the ITP. As one of the main contact persons at the camp, Mr. Rexhepi tells me that ITP is open to the private sector, vocational education and training institutions, as well as to research and innovation activities. The camp offers business services and a secure and stable investment environment with a management that looks after the tenants. The park is open to businesses from three main sectors: information and communication technology (ICT) and technology-based companies; agriculture and food processing; and creative and cultural industries.
“This feasibility study has suggested that in order to support the above-mentioned sectors and to increase the synergy among them, we need to promote the Vocational Education and Training (VET) and to invest more in Research and Development (R&D). We need to create better channels of communication between educational institutions and the industry in general”, Mr Rexhepi said.
The park offers a lot of opportunities for the youth of Kosovo and the region as well. Mr. Rexhepi mentioned the professional and supporting training for new businesses that will be offered in this park as a starting point.
“In terms of youth involvement, we have some services for young people such as vocational training, training for starting and supporting businesses, place for start-ups and business incubators. There will be co-working spaces where you can work and discuss developing different ideas for businesses,” Mr Rexhepi highlighted.
Young people have already shown their interest to be part of the innovation centers and makerspaces. ITP offers makerspaces in the sector of ICT, in wood production as well as makerspaces that will offer other services for the youth such as movie making, photo shooting and various professions.
Regarding the tourism sector, Rexhepi said that the city of Prizren has great potential for tourism and so the park aims to increase tourism in this city through the space that will be dedicated to this sector.
The ITP Prizren has so far made three calls for applications for businesses to be part of the park and will continue to do so until all capacities are filled. The number of applicants seems quite satisfactory, given the Covid-19 pandemic situation which has slowed down some activities.
Some of these applicants are also international businesses, and many regional and German companies that expressed interest in becoming part of the Park. The camp is also becoming a hub for cooperation between local companies and foreign ones.
The vision of ITP is to be Kosovo’s central hub for innovation and entrepreneurship in the field of ICT, agro-food and creative industries and to benefit the economy and the society as a whole.
“The main concept of this park is to create new jobs and to raise the economic development of Kosovo in general, and to prepare the young people for the labor market,” Mr Rexhepi concluded.
A similar project in terms of mission is aimed from the Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO) with the project RISE (Regional Incubator for Social Entrepreneurs). The objective of the project is to address a specific and crucial need in the region in relation to its current context and history like opening new spaces of reconciliation for the youth of the Western Balkans through social entrepreneurship. The project, due to its very regional nature, will tend to increase the number of cross-border interactions around social entrepreneurship during the three years of the project.
The ITP Prizren project displays the continued commitment of the German Government, to transform military camps reminiscent of war into parks that will provide the necessary space for economic and social development for the youth of Kosovo and the region.
Author: Shefket Bujari
*This designation is without prejudice to positions on status and is in line with UNSCR 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo Declaration of Independence.
This story was produced during the three-month Program for Students of Journalism in the Western Balkans within the framework of the advocacy project “A Better Region Starts with Youth” implemented by RYCO with the support of the Federal Republic of Germany. All journalists’ work is their own and the content of any given article does not represent the opinion of RYCO, and RYCO cannot guarantee the validity and the accuracy of the information that these stories contain.
© Photo: ITP Prizren/GIZ