Natalia Zielinska in the Wonderland

If someone names its FB page Natalia in the wonderland or to be totally precise Natalia u zemlji čudesa, I can’t do anything else then look for more.
Natalia Zielinska came from Poland and lives in Ogulin, where Ivana Brlić Mažuranić famous Croatian fairy tale writer, Croatian Hans Christian Andersen also lived  – now, Wonderland makes sense

But…Yes. There is more…

croatia2go; Natalia , can you help me to get all these wonders in this Wonderland of Croatia. Did you mean Croatia by Wonderland or just Ogulin?

Natalia: Definitely the whole country of Croatia. Ogulin is only my starting point, in this case, kind of rabbit hole.  Ogulin is the place when I settle down after studying and working in Zagreb and traveling through the Croatian coast.

croatia2go: How did it happen to come to Croatia? Was that a thought decision or spontaneous?

Natalia: It was a series of planned accidents JAfter all these years when I look back everything matches like puzzles, but in the very moment when I was making some life decision, I didn’t have an exact plan. After high school, I applied for Slavic studies in Wroclaw, which includes Croatian culture, literature etc.

 

The decision was spontaneous, I planned to study law but didn’t succeed so I decided to give myself a year to explore something different. And I liked it but instead of literature, I was more and more interested in current politics in Croatia. So, after this first year, I started another degree, European Studies, and started to work on regional politics in Balkan. Since I am a very impatient person studying two degrees wasn’t enough and I started to volunteer in one association where I was working on EU projects. One of this project took me to Bosnia a few years later, where I met my husband. So, I was studying European regional politics, doing research on Croatia in terms of EU enlargement and working on writing and managing EU projects. I got the scholarship and come to study here in Zagreb, met many people, started my internship at Ministry of regional development at the exact moment when Croatia joined EU and have to manage with EU found, where I already had particular experience and achievements. I went to Brussel though, to finish my master’s degree, but after all, I decided to come back here to Zagreb to my friend, I met in Bosnia who became the love of my life in the meantime.

croatia2go: Love opens all doors, or is that a smile? Do you have kids?

Natalia: Yes, two of them. Love and passion are what triggers me, both in private life and in business.  I cannot work normally if I do not really believe in what I’m doing. Someone would say that its difficult to manage the business and have little kids. It’s hard but in the end love, family and relationship you have with people, clients are the most important.  So, love comes with a smile.

croatia2go: Let’s get back to wonders, you actually make wonders? You are a very successful consultant and adviser for small entrepreneurs, or even big. You guide them on how to easily and effectively receive grants from EU and national funds. Am I right? Is it really that easy?

Natalia: It is easy with the proper person like me and my team. But seriously, EU founds system is very complicated and the whole process very demanding and stressful for us consultants and even more our clients. The rules are not transparent, the procedures are delayed so it creates some kind of a sense of insecurity among my clients. So, what I do first I try to explain the procedures, the whole process of applying and then managing EU projects, presenting pros and cons. I consult but also support, sometimes EU funds are not the best solution, entrepreneurs need technical or legal support, networking, fast investment loans.  I always try to find the best solution and connect with the necessary experts.

croatia2go: This sounds, well relatively easy. I have an idea…

Natalia: No, please everything but ideas. Sometimes I’m kidding that I should take a fee for this. The problem with ideas is they are very often just some abstract will. And people waste time thinking about some long-term projects, instead of focus on short term solutions. It’s important to have a vision, but as a business consultant, I am focused on problem-solving.  Also, it’s easy to have an idea, but turning the idea into action is hard and people often give up. So, lest talk about challenges, needs. I prefer challenges.

croatia2go: Ok, no ideas. I will be very cautious with that word, from now on, ok? But, according to your words, Croats are very creative? What about our sense of business?

Natalia: They are very creative as far as it doesn’t cost effort. Look at the Croatian TV, on every single channel you have these political debates. Academics, public figures, politicians constantly discuss some political and social issues. But where is any action? This is not productive. Croats are very passive but full of ideas on how to manage particular problems. Same with business, the main characteristic of all entrepreneurs in Croatia particularly is persistence. These are people who are constantly taking action, seeking solutions. Etymology od word poduzetnik is clear enough. But the whole business climate is very negative in Croatia. People don’t like entrepreneurs mostly because they are living example that things are possible. Of course, there are some negative connotations from the 90s, but let go over it. This is why when you succeed you face more negativity than support. It’s amazing.

croatia2go: So, you say, with all this creativity we can do much more?

Natalia: Yes, of course. The potential is huge. Football championship last year exposed the power of Croatian nation. Work hard and believe in yourself. The passion is here, just need to redirect it.

croatia2go: Do you have an idea, oh sorry. :-)What’s the first thing that someone should do when having a plan, a good plan, should do?

Natalia: Find a good consultant all need support, the world is changing drastically, you can’t be best at everything. If you want to succeed make a good team of people who are experts and share a similar vision. And never, absolutely never give up. Procedures are long and demanding. When it comes to EU projects it takes o year to get a grant and another two, three to complete the whole projects. It is complicated and exhausting but, in the end,  it pays off, you got a grant, you learn something new, you develop your business.

 

croatia2go: Do you find it a bit complicated for a small entrepreneur? With that time frame. Is it possible to survive during that time of approval? Is there any shorter version, or maybe a possibility of a shortcut, a kind of bridge between the complete realization?

Natalia: I don’t believe in shortcuts.  Look around. Everything that really matters demands time, work and persistence. Like kids, we need 9 months to create one little life. And these periods are exhausting and painful too. So, is it complicated, of course, it is, but very hard, you struggle with insecurity, lack of financial stability, you work 24/7 because you think about your business all the time? But I know why I do it, so it’s not that hard for me. First, two years after I started the business was extremely hard, just because of these procedures and obstacles and the fact I was a young mother. But this is why now I am a strong and experienced young lady 🙂

croatia2go: You do that for how long? What would be your professional analysis of the quality of the very popular consultants? I have heard of many, but if there is a lot of them, why don’ we get more grants for EU?

Natalia: 8 years now, first 3 in Poland 5 years in Croatia. I must admit I know many of more and fewer consultants and I admire them all. The only consultants I am skeptic about are experts who prepare projects for free, like only based on a success fee. I personally spent a lot of time on the client and give a lot of advice and attention. My knowledge and experience are something I appreciate a lot after 8 years. That is why I am afraid of such experts who do not value it. The problem of EU funds and the law allocation lays on the system created by the public sector, Ministries and Agencies. Strategies are badly designed, calls are not harmonized, the system is not transparent enough. Public bodies don’t have the necessary capacities to manage this system. There is a huge disinformation about EU found, particular calls, etc.

croati2go: So, we have a problem on both sides?

Natalia: Definitely. Also, users himself have to high expectations, gamble with calls, they do not take serious consequences of every project they start. Look, we talk about 2,3 years lasting projects. So, we all need cooperation, public sector, consultants and users. But it doesn’t work as it should.

croatia2go: Let’s find the best, maybe not the fastest, ways how to make an IDEA (sorry) into the success?

Natalia: Perseverance and a good team. If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. Don’t give up.

croatia2go:  Thank you very much and looking forward to helping us to find happy end stories of small, especially small, entrepreneurs in Croatia.

Natalia from the wonderland – we here at Croatia are looking for a bright side, and I’m sure we will make a Croatia real Wonderland as it should be.

 

Andreja Horvatić, editor in chief/ŠEF 🙂

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