GRASS CEILING Croatian Living Lab’s 4th meeting hosted by two of its women innovators

The GRASS CEILING Croatian Living Lab (EWE) held its fourth meeting on the islands of Cres and Krk. These islands are home to two of our Living Lab participants, Vesna Jakić and Jasminka Gršković, who are innovators working with wool, olive oil, and wine production. The main programme took place at Moise Palace. Vesna hosted the Living Lab on Cres, and Jasminka hosted it on Krk.

Following the official meeting, which included an innovation process session and a stakeholder session, Vesna offered a wet felting workshop for the Living Lab participants and project team. She also introduced the team to her handicraft business and the Ruta Cres association.

On the second day, the Croatian Living Lab members visited Krk and Jasminka’s family farm. After a meeting with the city authorities, Jasminka hosted a dry felting workshop for their colleagues in her olive grove, where they learned how to make woollen Easter eggs.

GRASS CEILING Living Lab Croatia third meeting with women rural innovators

In Living lab meeting 3 we dealt with the Reframe phase of the innovation process. The participants did a great job filling out the persona map and the empathy map for their current or prospective customers/users. They were also very articulate when it came to articulating their problems for which they will look for solutions (ideas) in the next step. The innovators seem to be prepared for making a POV statement at the next meeting.  Most of the innovators articulated problems for which they will look for solutions (ideas) in the next step (ideate).

As a part of the LL3 meeting, innovators attended the introductory training on digital marketing. Also, the short demonstration on operational groups (CAP) was presented to the innovators. The innovators expressed an interest for applying for operational groups (the call is expected in April 2024).

We have decided not to invite stakeholders to LL 3 meeting. It was an online meeting, and we had a lot to deliver (innovation process methodology – reframe phase).

LL3 meeting participants were: Jasminka Gršković, Ines Dundović, Birgit Boljun Čujo, Vesna Jakić, Marijana Svetić, Ana Kovačić, Tatjana Klepo.

The fourth Living lab workshop is scheduled for 21st – 22nd March 2024.

EU CAP Network workshop ‘Women-led innovations in agriculture and rural areas’

The EU CAP Network workshop ‘Women-led innovations in agriculture and rural areas’ will take place in Krakow, Poland from Wednesday 17 April to Thursday 18 April 2024.

Women play a vital role in civil society and economic growth in rural areas. They are at the helm of viable farm businesses, and vibrant rural areas and communities. Women are key actors in the rural economy as farmers and other entrepreneurs engaged in off-farm work in multiple sectors. Additionally, women often assume responsibility for the care and welfare of their family members. Yet, despite their crucial contribution, many women suffer from a rather ‘invisible role’, facing numerous challenges such as discrimination and difficulties in accessing the labour market. This situation is exacerbated by the prevalence of rural women participating in informal and vulnerable employment. Often, such employment is inadequately compensated and lacks connections to social protection or pension schemes, which could potentially leave women vulnerable to increased levels of poverty (OECD, 2019).

Women make up 51% of the EU population and, in 2021, 67.3% of all working age women (20-64 years) were employed in rural areas, yet the gender pay gap still stands at 12.7% (Eurostat, 2022). What’s more, in almost all Member States, the gender gap in employment rates is higher in rural areas than urban ones.

In particular, farming is viewed as a male-dominated profession, with women making up 31.6% of EU farmers (Eurostat, 2022). Additionally, women in farming face issues around access to land, training and education, and equal treatment from financial and farming organisations. To counteract this, gender mainstreaming has become an important principle in the CAP. The CAP Strategic Plans (2023-2027) promote the increased participation of women in farming and require a gender equality approach in addition to the assessment of the position of women in agriculture, forestry and rural areas, and the challenges they face.

Various projects, supported by different EU programmes show how barriers to the empowerment of women in rural areas can be mitigated or overcome, with socio-economic benefits through social and other types of innovations. Moreover, women represent a significant driving force for prosperity and social inclusion in rural areas, notably through innovative actions and entrepreneurship. This has been recognised by the European Commission in A Union of Equality: Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025, which is committed to empowering women by supporting gender equality and entrepreneurship in Europe, including rural areas.

Taking into account the above, the EU CAP Network support unit for Innovation and Knowledge exchange | EIP-AGRI is organising a workshop on women-led innovations to demonstrate that farming and rural areas can be attractive places for women, especially for developing their business ideas and applying their innovative approaches.


The overall aim of the workshop is to empower women in farming and rural areas by exchanging knowledge, identifying successful initiatives and projects led by female innovators, and networking.

Specific objectives:

  • Explore opportunities offered under different EU programmes to support women in agriculture and rural areas.
  • Showcase innovative initiatives, businesses and start-ups led by women entrepreneurs in rural areas with a particular focus on innovative farming practices and farm diversification strategies.
  • Identify the needs of and barriers to women entrepreneurs to develop their businesses in rural areas.
  • Promote women-friendly entrepreneurship ecosystems within local rural communities.
  • Activate networking among workshop participants in order to support women-driven innovation and entrepreneurship in rural areas.

The main target groups:

This workshop will focus on good practices of women-led initiatives from EU rural areas, at different stages of development. This includes, but is not limited to, farming, forestry, and environmental productions and services. Other participants that we are looking for include advisors, researchers, representatives from farmers associations, chambers of agriculture, industry, managing bodies, local authorities, press, etc. from across Europe.

Second Croatian LL EWE (LLHR) held on October 13 2023

The Living Lab Croatia (LLHR) called Eco-Women Entrepreneurs (EWE) held its second meeting. It was organized by the University of Zagreb Faculty of Agriculture and the Croatian Chamber of Agriculture (HPK) and took place on 13 October 2023 in Zagreb at the Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Development.

The Living Lab meeting was divided into two parts. The first part was attended by women innovators (LL participants) and the second part by our innovators and stakeholders.

In the first part, after the introduction to the agenda, the previous and future activities of the project were briefly presented. One of the innovators presented her experiences from the Brussels Showcase event (September 2023).

The first part of the Living Lab meeting focused on the introduction to the innovation process with an emphasis on designer thinking and the double diamond methodology. Three main fears were also discussed: the fear that the idea is not innovative, the fear of criticism and the fear of uncertainty. It was agreed that in the time between Living Lab 2 and 3, each innovator should define a goal for the next year so that each woman’s needs and goals for the next year could be identified and explored.

The innovators identified their needs and/or ideas for future activities of the LL: (1) training on promotion in social networks, (2) the annual event where each woman can present herself and her products, (3) the establishment of an association to support women where Living Lab innovators can advise other women, (4) the development of a logo for the Croatian Living Lab. The need for networking was emphasized in the discussion.

The first part of the Living Lab meeting ended with an inventory of the participants’ activities between two Living Labs and the question of what goals and needs the participants currently have. All women have expanded their businesses or experienced changes in different areas of their lives (from brand registration of products to marriage). Their goals for the near future relate to the further expansion of their businesses. Their needs are mainly related to education and training: communication skills, stress management tools, digital marketing, agricultural knowledge, legislation, accounting basics.

In the second part of the Living Lab meeting, institutions that could provide educational content were discussed and identified together with the stakeholders. The innovators and stakeholders were divided into 4 groups. Discussion within the groups focused on identifying opportunities to meet educational needs. The discussion identified problems with information about different provision at a local level. The information about workshops in remote areas of Croatia is insufficient. The timing of workshops and the terminology used need to be adapted to the needs of rural areas (after 6pm, video material). One group expressed the intention and desire to share their knowledge and experience, pointing out problems with administration at the local level, land leasing, wool thrown into the environment and the idea of including felting in the education system.

The second part ended with the conclusion that the educational workshops (smaller groups) should not last longer than one hour, that the standard Croatian language should be used, that various study tours should be organized, that all educational materials/workshops should be recorded and available, and that the speakers should be experienced practitioners.

Supporting rural communities by improving women’s access to financial services

  • The UN theme for this year’s International Day of Rural Women is “Financing for rural women’s empowerment”.
  • 15 October recognises the work of rural women in the food systems of the world, and claims rural areas with equal opportunities for all.

The International Day of Rural Women is an opportunity to celebrate women and girls who play a key role in rural areas, developing innovations in response to socio-ecological challenges and strengthening the resilience of rural areas.

According to the Committee on World Food Security (CFS, 2023), the lack of financial capital and financial inclusion are significant constraints to women’s entrepreneurial activities and engagement all along the food system and value chains, from investment in land to agrifood businesses. Structural constraints to women’s access to financial services such as credit and insurance are often based on restricted access to assets, including land and property, that could be used as collateral for loans; family indebtedness; limited knowledge and training of financial services; restricted availability of appropriate loan products for women led micro, small, medium businesses and smallholders; statutory and customary laws that are discriminatory and/or do not respond adequately to women’s needs and priorities; and negative social norms that prevent women from developing and growing their enterprises and productivity. At the same time, fair and equitable access to financial services is a prerequisite for overall societal economic security and prosperity.

While women often lead on socio-ecological transitions and progressive farming methods, they often face significant discrimination when it comes to land ownership, equal pay, participation in decision-making entities, and access to resources, credit and markets. GRASS CEILING is working with women socio-ecological innovators across nine European countries and facilitating interactions with bank managers, agricultural advisers and entrepreneurial experts, and on the occasion of this International Day the project would like to showcase the women in the Living Labs who are breaking new ground, developing innovations and co-learning through mutual support. They are sowing the seeds for future generations of women to lead rural development and agriculture innovations by sharing their stories on how they have overcome challenges accessing financial services:

Birgit Boljun, owner of Val Madorso olive farm in Istria (Croatia) decided to continue the family tradition of olive oil production and was faced with several challenges when trying to raise the necessary funds. Since the bank could not support her, and she did not have sufficient resources for investment, Birgit looked for other funding opportunities and finally decided to apply for an EU project. Based on her experience, she recommends setting multi-year goals, planning well in advance, making adjustments to be eligible to obtain EU funding, as it usually takes a long time to fulfil the tender conditions, reviewing past year’s tenders to see what is generally needed, continuing the basic work to avoid being left without income until the obstacles are overcome, and not being disappointed when things take longer and don’t go according to plan. According to Birgit, it is important to have a vision and be realistic about physical and financial possibilities and set a series of smaller attainable goals.

Letizia Cuonzo took over the family business Azienda Agricola Cuonzo in Puglia (Italy) and used subsidised finance and bank credit tools to expand and transform the company. The major challenges she faced were related to the lengthy bureaucratic procedures, but she was lucky to count on the support of the bank; in her experience, many institutional entities, even at the regional level, now support women’s entrepreneurship and startups, but nonetheless she recommends trying to secure funds by networking with other businesses and building synergies with competent people and entities who can guide entrepreneurs towards the best solutions. The success criteria for addressing and overcoming the main barriers in accessing financial instruments are, in her opinion: developing financial skills and literacy and being able to engage competent people who can provide advice in fields where their specific skills are needed.

Annalisa Pellegrini decided in 2020 to recover an unused family plot and grow lavender to produce essential oils. Her company, Lavanda Ruvo di Puglia, is also based in Puglia (Italy) and focuses on environmental sustainability and circular economy. In her experience, having had access to technical information on production earlier and more easily would have helped her to optimise the timing of the project. As she didn’t meet the age requirements, Annalisa was not able to use most public funds, and thus suggests exploring these options, especially if own initial capital is not available. For her, having a good business plan helps, as well as support from professionals, who know how to navigate public funding programmes. In her opinion, the fundamental criterion for securing economic resources should be the ethicality of the project, its commitment to the environment, respect for biodiversity, and reliability.

Daiva Šinkevičienė has been running the organic blueberry farm Karališka uoga in Lithuania for the past 10 years. She cultivates 14 varieties of royal berries on a four-hectare plot. Over this time span, Daiva has received 15,000 euro support under a single measure of the CAP. Access to the support is still complicated as the farm is small and it is hard to meet the eligibility criteria for the support measures. The major source of the investments and, hence farm growth, is her own investment. Each year, Daiva allocates 40 % of her income for investments. She considers financial planning, budgeting, and saving as the core elements in achieving the goals of the activities. She provides an example of preventing birds from picking at the harvest, where acquiring a drone appeared to be a viable solution.

Sonja van Uden is the founder of the Landdrift Foundation in the Netherlands and has used her experience as an entrepreneur and manager in various industries and countries to develop a concept for multifunctional land use that promotes biodiversity. In her opinion, it is challenging to access any form of financial services when the innovation does not fit the standard model of economic value creation, which is the case for the multifunctional land use concept of Landdrift. She talks of the difficulty in obtaining funds and raising interest among potential investors in Landdrift, especially when it involves explaining that there is no economic return on investment within the Landdrift concept. She shows inspiring examples of combined land use in other parts of the world and how these projects have created much value for the natural environment and the people in these areas. Sonja suggests refraining from allowing dreams or visions for a better future to be diluted by the difficulties faced regarding access to financial services, and keep searching for the needles in the haystack! When encountering a challenge, she always tries to think out of the box to find a solution and adapt to the situation. A success criterion for Sonja is to stay flexible and open throughout the entrepreneurship journey.

Torunn Hernes Bjerkem owns Bjerkem Farm, an organic farm in Norway growing ancient heirloom grains, making healthy food, healthy soils, healthy plants, and healthy environments. The biggest challenge is that the farm is organised as a sole proprietorship. Because of the old Norwegian property law, where the oldest child in the family inherits the farm (called ‘odel’), any investment in a big project is dependent on the individual; the sole proprietor. For that reason she doesn’t have access to the big funds in agriculture and farming. According to the sole proprietorship system, people wishing to expand their business have to put their farm on the line for bigger loans and investments, which makes them very vulnerable, so Torunn opted for organising the farm into a Limited Liability Company. She considers that people who create jobs in rural areas shouldn’t have to take the risk all by themselves: They ought to be supported by a network where they can find solutions together. This is the case of Øyna Kulturlandskapshotell, a sustainable hotel wedged into nature overlooking the ocean, serving local food and beverages, a project in which owners have partnered with other collaborators so that they can take care of the natural resources, create jobs and livelihoods, and build a dream together.

Marta Llorente manages a family-owned intensive pig farm located in Zazuar (Burgos, Spain), in an integrated system with over 60 hectares of crop land and 20 hectares of vineyards. One of the issues she considers most relevant when embarking upon innovative projects within the livestock sector are the high costs that must be assumed. In her case, she did not have problems obtaining a loan from the bank, but points out the need for a prior analysis of profitability. There are public financial tools, such as subsidised interest loans, but on many occasions these require complying with numerous conditions and bureaucratic procedures, making it challenging to benefit from them. Her recommendation to women looking to make an investment to improve their farm is to conduct an analysis of the expenses and income that the improvement will entail in advance, to assess its profitability. Detailed administrative and financial management of the agricultural enterprise, as with any other business, is essential. The advice of consultants in this field is crucial to assist in making economic and financial decisions.

Further reading

CFS (2023). Voluntary Guidelines on Gender Equality and Women’s and Girls’ Empowerment in the Context of Food Security and Nutrition, agreed by the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) on Gender Equality and Women’s and Girls’ Empowerment.

FAO (2019). Women’s access to rural finance: challenges and opportunities. Rome. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.

First Croatian Living Lab “Eco-Women Entrepreneurs”

The Living Lab Croatia (LLHR), named Eco-Women Entrepreneurs (EWE), has held its first meeting. It was organised by the Faculty of Agriculture of the University of Zagreb and the Croatian Chamber of Agriculture (HPK) and held in Šibenik on June 16, with the support of the Public Institution Development Agency of Šibenik Knin County.

Eight rural women set out to develop their ideas and entrepreneurships for social-ecological innovations over the next three years. During this first LL HR event, the participants presented their innovation ideas and shared their experiences in terms of business, introduction of innovations and commented on the obstacles they encountered while starting their entrepreneurships.

They spoke of changing environmental awareness, hunger for knowledge and sharing knowledge for a better world, changing traditions, a healthier living environment, reviving childhood stories and living with nature, all factors that encouraged them to innovate in their rural setting. They also highlighted that on their way to success they encountered a considerable lack of understanding in their social environment, as well as numerous administrative obstacles, frequent changes in laws and regulations, and a lack of adequate support for knowledge transfer and research. In the second part of the one-day EWE workshop, stakeholders from academia, civil society and the public sector joined the workshop and together with EWE participants identified the key shortcomings in the institutional support available for rural women entrepreneurs.