Our program alumni are some of the best and brightest innovators we know. We caught up with Haris Palalija from Bosnia & Herzegovina, Fall 2016 participant in WorldChicago’s Tech Innovation & Entrepreneurship Professional Fellows Program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, to learn how he has been adapting his work to address new challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Haris is an IT professional, currently working as the Operations Manager at Bit Alliance, an association of IT companies in Bosnia & Herzegovina. The organization’s primary goal is to find proactive ways to combat the major issues that Bosnian IT companies face every day, including a lack of skilled employees, poorly developed IT infrastructure, and limited development incentives. However, when the pandemic hit, Haris and the Bit Alliance team were determined to do their part. They viewed the move to virtual alternatives for resources and content across Bosnia & Herzegovina as an opportunity: within just a few days, Bit Alliance went live with a brand-new website that provides centralized access to free digital services for Bosnian citizens.
The website—“Digitalno vrijeme” (“Digital Time”) —currently offers 108 services and content opportunities in the categories of Learning, Reading, Communication, Culture, Entertainment, Health, and Humanitarian Services, with more being added. The collection includes mental health webinars, online communication tools, free online courses, and recordings of theatre performances, to name just a few. While in Chicago, Haris completed a fellowship with 2112 Inc., Chicago’s first incubator focused on the development of business and entrepreneurs in music, film/video, and creative technology; “Digitalno vrijeme” similarly integrates these diverse sectors.
While Bit Alliance was working on “Digitalno vrijeme,” the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Bosnia & Herzegovina reached out to the team to ask for their help in creating a platform to involve citizens in brainstorming creative ways to help the country deal with the virus. This platform has gone live as well, and in just two weeks it has collected 109 ideas looking at both short-term and long-term solutions to effects of the novel coronavirus. A jury is currently reviewing the submissions, and the UNDP will support finalists in implementing their ideas.
Haris credits WorldChicago’s program for helping him to grow his network of contacts, reflecting: “[The Professional Fellows Program] was something special and unique because it was an opportunity to experience U.S. business and culture as well. You can’t get that experience through regular business trips or like a tourist.” On a personal note, Haris is doing well, even in the uncertain climate. He says he has already grown so used to working remotely that he will need “an adjustment period” when he gets back to the office!
We thank Haris for sharing his story with us. “Digitalno vrijeme” and the ideas platform can be found at digitalnovrijeme.ba.