Origins of the project

Having established for myself that the economic, social and political trends in my country are overwhelmingly negative, and that many trends could be improved on a larger scale as well, I spent quite some time asking myself what could be done to improve the current state of affairs. At the same time, I was also trying to determine why the number of competent people in the Croatian political scene, people willing to step forward, assume responsibility and lead my country in the right direction is so ridiculously small. Finally, the question that troubled me the most was whether or not I owe anything to my country.
As I was growing up, every now and then my father would repeat to me the words of the late American President John F. Kennedy: “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” In those days, whenever my father uttered those words I would just roll my eyes at him, convinced that I should care only about my own interests. However, the seed was sown, and for the last several years I have not been able to stop thinking about those words. But even if I have a duty towards my country, would it not be easier to just take care of my own interests when, at any rate, there is nothing I can really achieve all by myself, and when my attempts to improve the state of affairs would most probably seem rather useless? Would it not be a much better idea to settle myself abroad where my knowledge, skills and efforts would finally be adequately appreciated and rewarded, and where I would be able to avoid all the problems that persist within Croatian society?
The thoughts and questions that echoed in my mind were reminiscent of how influential economist Albert O. Hirschman put in words the doubts that are common to many people: “Why raise your voice in contradiction and get yourself into trouble as long as you can always remove yourself entirely from any given environment should it become too unpleasant?”[1] I admit that the choice between leaving all the problems behind and voicing my discontent was not an easy one. I could have easily turned a blind eye to everything that was happening around me, but I was worried what that action would have meant for me. Eventually I began to believe that I have a duty towards my country and the world and that I should try to make a contribution no matter how small. I decided not to simply bemoan the absence of effective governance in my country, but also to do something about it.
The abovementioned economist, Albert O. Hirschman, wrote a book in which he claimed that people have two ways of responding to disappointment in a state, firm or any other type of organization. They can stay put, voice their complaints and perhaps try to improve the state of affairs, or they can “vote with their feet”, in other words, exit.[2] Another reason why I have undertaken this project is because I am afraid that a great number of educated and creative young Croatians who have the potential to improve society will probably choose the exit option, thereby depriving Croatia of its future economic and intellectual development. I am afraid that they will leave the country due to great disappointments that the Croatian political elites have been providing in the last several decades, and because of the political, economic and social system they have developed, a sort of crony capitalism replete with corruption, pervasive ignorance and incompetence. My conclusions could be wrong but I have drawn them after having heard and read about the experiences of Croatian youth, and after having seen for myself the prospects available to me at home in the current climate. In any case, the purpose of this project was to do as much as possible to offer current and future generations a feasible vision of their country, a country in which education, knowledge, creativity, hard work and entrepreneurial spirit would be highly appreciated. That was all I could do personally to fight brain drain.
Being hugely dissatisfied with the current state of affairs in Croatia and elsewhere, and having concluded that I, too, was responsible for it, I finally decided to do something in order to influence them. True, I am just an ordinary person, one of 7 billion people living on this planet, so at first glance it might seem absolutely impossible that my actions could bring any results. My chances are seemingly even slimmer given that I have no one backing me up, let alone any financial means of my own. In fact, this is probably how many people would reflect upon their chances of success when it comes to affecting the status quo. However, I am one of those who are convinced that human beings are capable of achieving extraordinary things, even when faced with apparently insurmountable obstacles. This conviction has given me the self-confidence and determination necessary to keep developing my plan, although virtually all the people who know about my plan have warned me that no one can do anything about changing trends. I am led by what I have learned in my life so far, and that is that I can at least try my best to transform my dreams and ideas into reality. Besides, trying to improve the general state of affairs does not seem pointless to me, even if it fails to bring the desired results. If I make an effort to improve the status quo, I will cease to be just another passive observer and I will not be haunted by a lifelong sense of guilt because I failed to fulfill the duty I have as a human being, the duty to fight for a better world. I will always know that I tried, that I gave it my all. Though some might find this concern ridiculous, for me it was a genuine obstacle that was preventing me from living my life in peace.
While I was pondering how to make my contribution to society and tackle two crucial issues in Croatia (how to change the negative economic, social and political trends in the country and how to create socially responsible, expert leaders), somehow an idea emerged. However, it did not come to me completely out of the blue; it was connected with two questions that had been preoccupying my mind for a long time. That is, I had spent more than ten years of my life wondering every now and then whether there was a way to join forces with likeminded people, and if there was a way for us to attain positions in society from which we would be able to shape our reality according to the values we cherished. Given I had no money and no influence of any kind, at the beginning I thought this to be nearly impossible to achieve. In addition, having searched in vain for young people in my close environment who were educated enough, capable enough, moral enough and at the same time willing to work for the good of the public, my expectations almost faded away. Some in my close environment had all what I was searching for, except for the willingness to engage in public life and politics, but that was quite understandable given that politics had gained some kind of notoriety in Croatia. In the meantime, the Internet has changed our way of life to a huge extent, and it made me realize that it is much easier to find the right people nowadays. Moreover, I got the idea that we could try to work and learn together, exchange experiences, train one another. I asked myself: “If we manage to gather people with similar sets of values, couldn’t we help each other to gain expertise in management over a certain period of time during which the general public would have ample opportunity to verify our intentions and skills? The question turned out to be a good point of departure for creating a plan. The idea was not a bad one, or at least I did not think so, yet the main problem was how to train ourselves and where we could acquire the much -needed hands-on experience.
It is a fact that many sectors of the Croatian economy have been dying for years. On the one hand, the incompetent political class has been unable to create the right conditions for sustainable, innovation-led growth. On the other hand, a significant number of Croatian companies are being managed by inexperienced, ignorant and incompetent managers, many of whom have obtained their positions thanks to politics. Thus, owing to negative selection, in which the main political parties played a leading role, many companies have been mismanaged to such an extent that today a great deal of Croatian industry is either dead or on the verge of extinction. Moreover, tourism is booming, not so much as a result of a proper strategy and adequate decision-making, but more as a result of the fact that Croatia is blessed with marvellous nature. For years experts have been aware that there is huge room for improvement even in tourism, but it appears to me that all Croatian governments have done very little so far to identify that room and find ways to adequately use it. In short, given the described situation, there is a conclusion that imposes itself and according to which there is a desperate need in the country for people endowed with highly developed management skills and expertise in a variety of domains.
Now, I have always had a certain inclination towards business and have toyed with the idea of starting my own company. Having graduated in economics and management, that part of me dreaming of having a business of my own finally came alive. When I became preoccupied with the dire state of the Croatian economy and the lack of people who could do something about it, one day it came to me as a revelation that I could set up a number of companies and institutions specialized in various domains, all with the aim of gathering people who would, with time, become socially responsible experts. Being acquainted with a recent research in the theory of expertise and expert performance, I soon grew convinced that my plan might actually work. I started to believe that some future employees of our companies could indeed become capable of obtaining positions in society from which they would be able to positively influence the state of affairs on a larger scale. Besides, since the only way for the planed companies to survive would be to become exceptionally good in their field of expertise, our way of doing business could, perhaps, motivate other public and private companies in the country to improve their bad business practices. If this does eventually occur, the promotion of desirable management practices would be put on a greater scale. As a consequence, the counteracting of negative trends that are persistent in the Croatian economy would receive an additional boost, and, therefore, yet another project goal would be achieved. At least that is the scenario I have imagined.
Given that this was an idea that showed actual promise with regards to being able to deal with the two main problems simultaneously, I continued to develop it, even though I immediately knew that it was almost impossibly difficult to put into practice. But as I was developing it, every time I would come across an obstacle in my mind, a way to overcome it would appear before me almost straightaway, a solution based on the knowledge I had acquired in the course of my education.
When I came to the question of the money I needed in order to launch the companies, another valuable idea came to my mind. That idea was to write a book by means of which I could promote the values and worldviews I hold dear, and in which I could lay the foundations for the project. I concluded that this was not a bad idea at all, since the book could serve as some kind of invitation to all the people around the world who share the same values to support the project and perhaps undertake something similar. In the process, I thought, readers could help me to enlarge the scope of the project, which would enable us to influence the state of affairs on as large a level as possible. In order to speed up the process, and for some other reasons as well, I decided to write the book in English.

[1] Albert O. Hirschman, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations and States, Harvard University Press, USA, 1970, page 108.
[2] Albert O. Hirschman, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations and States, Harvard University Press, USA, 1970.