Nina Angelovska is the Minister of Finance in North Macedonia. She co-founded and was heading the first deal platform and leading e-commerce company in Macedonia, Grouper.mk, that transformed the e-commerce market when it was launched in 2011. In addition to heading her company, she worked as a consultant in business development, digital economy, and e-commerce. She initiated the establishment of the First Macedonian Ecommerce Association where she served as a President until joining the Government. Angelovska used to sit on the boards of the Economic Chamber of Macedonia and the European Ecommerce and Omnichannel Trade Association (EMOTA). In 2019 she was named one of the seven global UNCTAD eTrade for Women Advocates. Angelovska was educated in Skopje at the Ss. Cyril and Methodius University where she obtained bachelor's and master's degrees in E-business at the Faculty of Economics. Angelovska graduated as student of the year and was awarded Frank Manning for best student in the generation in economic sciences in 2010. Angelovska won a national contest for most innovative business plan competition and co-founded Grouper.mk in 2011, known as the first Macedonian deal platform and a leading Macedonian e-commerce company (In 2018, Grouper employed 20 people and had 200,000 customers). Angelovska obtained her doctorate degree in 2016 in Management at the Ss. Cyril and Methodius University.
In 2016 Angelovska was recognized as 100 Female Founders in Europe, a list composed by the German startup magazine The Hundert. In 2018 she was named Forbes 30 Under 30 in E-commerce and Retail for Europe. In 2019 UNCTAD recognized her as one of the seven global advocates for Women in eTrade. She joined the Government as Minister of Finance in August 2019.
Potolicchio: You became Minister of Finance before you were 31. How did you accomplish this feat?
Angelovska: In August last year, my career path took a sharp turn when I was invited by the PM Zoran Zaev to join the government as Finance Minister.
Since I was 21 years old I have been an entrepreneur -- I launched the first e-commerce deal platform in North Macedonia when e-commerce was in its nascent phase. Grouper was recognized internationally to have transformed the e-commerce market in the country. Forbes named me 30 Under 30 in Retail in Ecommerce for Europe among other international recognitions I have received over the past 10 years. I developed a strong passion for e-commerce and the digital economy when I began university, and over the years I have worked on many domestic and international projects in the field, speaking at over 300 events and mentoring young entrepreneurs and startups -- always in the pursuit of transferring passion, knowledge, and vision. I also completed my doctorate degree in 2016, aiming to contribute to science with the practical knowledge I have gained over the years. Later on, I co-founded the first Ecommerce Association in North Macedonia, and I was invited as a Board Member in the Economic Chamber of Macedonia as well in the European E-commerce Association (EMOTA). Last year UNCTAD named me one of the seven global Advocates for E-trade for Women.
I have never had aspirations nor ambition for politics, although I was actively involved in pushing for change from “the outside” and participated in various public-private dialogues and projects in North Macedonia and abroad. The invitation to join the Government came as a big surprise -- I was given great responsibility and trust by PM Zaev who recognized my potential for emphasizing that our country needs to put the potential of young people to work for the progress of our country, as we need to accelerate the path of the reforms across many fields.
I accepted the huge challenge I was given and joined the Government as an independent non-party member. The main motive for this was to contribute towards the progress of my country, to put all my passion, all I can, and all I know for the good of our county, and try to make a change from the inside.
Potolicchio: What advice would you give the 18 year-old version of yourself now knowing what you know?
Angelovska: The same advice my mother had given me at the time -- “Always do your best and try to be the best at whatever you do. Learn from everyone and everywhere, as knowledge is the one thing that no one can take away from you.” Today after 10 years of hard work and experience, I would add that knowledge (what we have in our mind and brain) and passion (what we have in our heart) are the things no one can take away from us.
“Find ‘what makes your heart sing’ -- your passion. Do not believe that if you find your passion you will never work a day in your life - you will work much more, there will be rollercoasters of emotions, but you will enjoy it at the same time. Learn and gain knowledge, don’t spare your brain, use your potential to the fullest. And if you do this remember that money should not and will not be the driver -- they will be the result of your great work” is the advice I give to 18-year olds today.
Potolicchio: You are playing an outsized role in the pandemic response. What are some steps your country has made to mitigate the effects of the disease?
Angelovska: Our response was swift, time-bound, and with clear goals and expected outcomes for each of the measures tailored to the nature of our small and open economy. This is a global crisis with an unknown trajectory and each country acts locally given its fiscal space and resources -- trying to adjust its sails since we cannot change or predict the wind.
We introduced three sets of targeted measures that were carefully designed for each of the development stages. The measures include tax deferrals, wage subsidies to protect the jobs and liquidity, interest-free loans for MSMEs, financial support to the affected and most vulnerable groups of citizens to stimulate private consumption, financial support for investments to increase competitiveness and productivity, and some other soft measures.
The first package was designed for the most affected sectors -- transport, tourism and catering, and other companies affected by the restrictive measures that the Government has introduced to contain the spread of the virus. The second set of measures was broader, aiming to protect jobs and safeguard liquidity of all companies that noted a drop in revenue of more than 30%. The third set was designed for the recovery phase, aiming to stimulate faster recovery as we began to remove the strict social restriction measures and economic activity started to rebound. In this set, we had measures grouped in two key pillars: the first one being financial assistance to targeted groups of citizens to stimulate private consumption and the second one being financial assistance to the private sector to increase competitiveness, stimulate investments, and faster adaptation and transformation towards new technologies.
With the measure for wage subsidies that was part of the second package, we managed to help over 20,000 companies pay their wage bills for over 130,000 employees who might have been otherwise at risk to lose their job.
With the measure from the third set, aimed at stimulating private consumption to soften the decrease of GDP, we introduced travel vouchers for over 120,000 citizens, domestic payment cards for over 320,000 citizens, and IT vouchers for young people to increase their skills and employability.
When designing the measures, we paid attention not only to “the WHAT” but also to “the WHY” and “the HOW”. We have set new standards for implementation and have de-bureaucratized the traditional procedures -- I hope they will be practiced in future programs.
For instance, the domestic payment card was designed to enable people to purchase domestic products and services in the affected sectors. In addition, with this measure, we expect to speed up the transition towards a cashless society -- more cashless payments, a shift in habits, more merchants with POS terminals, etc.
At the end of the day, each crisis brings a treat and represents an opportunity. How much stronger, smarter, and better we will be after COVID depends on governments and on each and every one of us -- how adaptable we are, what we do today, and how we do it. COVID is indeed putting the digital transformation in 5th gear.
Potolicchio: How has this crisis impacted your leadership style?
Angelovska: Leadership in the public versus the private sector is fundamentally different -- to me, this difference is black and white. However, after all, adapting leadership style to the people and context is one of the key traits of a good leader. But it takes time -- time to observe, to communicate, to set the things as you see fit -- especially if you are looking forward to changing the way things were for many years. Unfortunately, I entered into an extremely busy and turbulent time even before COVID, and with a very ambitious agenda. The pandemic came just a few months after I joined the Ministry and all the focus and attention was put on handling the crisis the best we can to mitigate the economic shock....In addition, this crisis has been like no other, imposing social restrictions and setting remote work in the administration, which has made it challenging to keep work flowing. All in all, as time is the most scarce resource of all, during this crisis I ended up doing lots of operational work that would have otherwise been delegated. Meetings were scarce, with very little time for reflections or team meetings, as the speed of implementation of the measures was key. I believe that it would have been different if I had had the time before COVID to change some things internally. All in all, I am not happy to admit it but most of the time I felt like leading the work that needed to be done during the crisis instead of leading the people.
Potolicchio: You are a Minister on the frontline of your country’s recovery in a time of historical uncertainty. What preparation would you have wanted to have that you didn’t have in your formal schooling to deal with this black swan?
Angelovska: I am not sure if any school could have prepared any student for a crisis like this one. However I hope that this crisis with all its aspects will be very soon in the books and case studies will be made from this for crisis management, dealing with uncertainty, people-management in crisis, etc. The past four months were extremely hard but they have made me stronger and taught me things that no schooling can.
Potolicchio: What is the most distinctive attraction of your country for an aspiring traveler?
Angelovska: There are many conventional tourist sites in North Macedonia, like Lake Ohrid, and its historic town, Ohrid, “the town of 365 churches.” Also, the capital Skopje has a lot to offer. There is the Old Bazar -- the Ottoman old town -- but also buzzing modern areas that are charming and authentic.
However, now during the “new normal” imposed by the COVID-19 crisis North Macedonia has even more to offer. There is agri-tourism in the Macedonian mountains and villages which is great for individual tours or small groups.
The beautiful mountains with blissfully quiet walking trails, hiking, biking and riding opportunities are a must-see. The national parks of Mavrovo, Galičica and Pelister are cultivating some excellent cultural and culinary tourism initiatives. These gorgeous regions are as yet little explored, so if you want to get off the beaten path in Europe, this is the place.
You can get the history echo by visiting one or several of 1,600 villages and get the perfect mix of taste and aroma, allowing you to experience the most of these naturally beautiful places. Village tourism will give you the wide opportunity of experiencing diversity in culture, tradition, and history in our country, enriched with the possibility of visiting religious monuments and archaeological sites, while doing soft outdoor activities. The traditional food is amazing and it is a real gastronomical feat for the foodies. The scent of fresh made cheese or yogurt, the aroma of homemade wine or natural tea...they are a real feast for senses.