Transcript of the podcast:

Maja Đurić-Zahirović (Maya Djuric) is a senior assistant of the University of Travnik (Faculty of Education and the Faculty of Technical Studies), holds a Master in Business Economics and is finishing her PhD. She also works in the Office for International Cooperation of the University and is the coordinator for the EU capacity building projects in higher education. She is also an expert associate of the BiH Olympic Committee and a member of the Centre for Culture in Travnik. Her interests include human resource management, leadership, teamwork, change management, and all this has been in fact generated ever since Maja started to dance.

Maya started a dance school and a dance studio “Friends of Children Maya” 19 years ago, and the desire for knowledge to help her manage the school and studio led her into economics and everything she’s doing today.

Some of the things she said in this conversation, such as those about the importance of communication, are the lessons I will try to personally apply more in life.

It was a pleasure to talk to her because she is also the ambassador of positivism and her energy is truly refreshing.

Maya Djuric:

I was born in Jajce and in 1992 I left Jajce. In fact, I started dancing when I was 5 years old and I continued dancing here. In principle, the founding of a dance studio and all this dance-related story dates back to 1998. The idea back then was to gather a group of high school students to try to make something for the city after the war, to somehow improve the culture. The choreographer who wanted to bring together young girls started with that idea and I was in that very first story, the beginnings.

Later on, I’ll fall in love with dance; it becomes something that had actually kept me away from all those bad thoughts. You know how it is when you lose your home, affiliation, when many bad things happen to you in your life and you are young, then you need to find a nice way, and it may also be that ugly one. That dance was somehow my struggle to grow and it just did what I think I am today. It taught me to have my feet firm on the ground, to know what I want in life, to have a balance, to have focus.

I decide to open a dance school, and register a dance studio “Friends of Children Maya” where the vision was definitely to have children in the area of local community where we work; to provide a place where they can truly show their creativity and give them time and space to develop their motor skills and build personality.

We are divided into dance studio and dance school. The dance studio is made up of girls between the ages of 3.5 and 15, and in the dance studio we have girls who went to the dance school, usually girls entering secondary school. So for the past 19 or 20 years, which is almost ten generations. So many girls from Travnik, Vitez, Novi Travnik, Bugojno, Nova Bila, meaning five destinations. We’ve developed a franchise, a great network where we can really be proud of. A couple of days ago, we organised a ball for the second time and we really presented all of those children there, all those little ones who proudly showed what they did in the last dance season.

After I started creating my own entrepreneurial venture, I said, “Okay, I miss certain knowledge, certain techniques, certain experiences” so I enrolled in the Faculty of Economics and this is where I started to get involved and look for the professional part. It is one thing to have a skill and fine – dance is a tool and it can go up to a certain period. I just wanted to take what was the best, I was interested in entrepreneurial management and all of its components and so I developed at the same time. I’m just doing everything I’ve learned from university at the studio, at the dance school and so I developed franchises and clubs and opened up space for young people who wanted to be a part of that story.

We know exactly where every girl who went through the dance school from the beginning to the end is now, and what her achievements are. What we discovered through the research is that the dance studio was the backbone that gave them initial confidence, also faith in themselves, and the third something called “never give up.”

And here is what we are deciding now, it is also a question of what the plans for the future are, to make a book that is second in a row and which we will actually present the spectrum of all these generations and accomplishments and what is it that we did.

From a small studio and the idea to think outside the box, or these consequences of war, we have developed into a large organisation that deals not only with dance but also with the problems of children and youth.

I have a really good team, I have to say, because without a good team you cannot function. Of course we have problems, but we look at them as a circumstance and say, “Now we have this circumstance, how will we solve it?”

Communication is important to us as well. We really work a lot on communication, we think that’s the key because – “you do not get what you deserve in life but what you communicate.”

This is what I try to teach my students in the dance school, but also my associates and students at the faculty – that communication is an important tool for getting what we want and presenting who we are.

From all that you have said so far, there is no dilemma that the dance studio contributes to the social community.

Of course. And the dance studio had another, so to say the hidden task, which is to erase all the separations – national, political, unfortunately shared the children and continue to share them in this area.

How helpful or unhelpful is the political situation?

We have great cooperation with the local community, the Central Bosnia Canton and we help the Travnik Municipality and the Canton, but also the other way round. However, what is interesting is that we are not an organisation of importance to this city. And I asked this question publicly. So I understand that Caritas is of importance, Merhamet, but why would others be of importance but not us. Which criteria is used to decide that an organisation XY is of importance and we are not?

That’s what hurt us. There are few other non-governmental organisations in Travnik, doing incredible things and contributing also to investments in this city and then we have been asking ourselves what about that. And then we realised that this was a political question. Then we asked publicly and transparently to explain how come that some are of importance and others are not. I’m not interested in the money issue, I was interested in that prefix of importance. No one specifically gave me an answer to that question, but whatever.

How to keep youth in BiH?

We need to change the awareness of ourselves, our affiliation, of where we are, and how much we can do. Somehow we constantly serve negativism and somehow we are a society that is in a “collective depression”. We’re feeding ourselves off of negative things.

So we have to change awareness, that’s number one. We need to restore the identity of who we are and we must begin introducing positive things into the education system.

My PhD thesis follows this premise of ‘new age of education’, where I try to address these things, to change this idea that something will be served to us on a plate.  It will not.

I say to my students, “Nowhere will you find, you graduated and you’re an expert now. What are you an expert in?” I always say, “You know now that American companies are employing young people, they are first interested in how many years had you spent in a non-governmental organisation, or how much experience do you have in volunteering? How much did you contribute to a socially responsible community, your community? What did you do and what did that teach you?”

Acquiring the diploma itself or that formal knowledge generally does not mean anything to us. Time is a change. People today have three jobs just to survive.

And we just have to stop complaining and being negative.

Now, whether or not someone will stay or go is a matter of choice. We have no right to judge anyone. What happens when people leave is indeed a problem; it is a circumstance that hit Bosnia and Herzegovina and that needs to be looked at.

Young people are eager. Really young people leaving BiH want to work. They are not looking for too much. I am on their side and I understand when you come to this state called frustration, a situation called total dissatisfaction and when you have no one to talk to about it, starting from your immediate surroundings and further, you are still looking for a way out because you still have the strength.

Because I was the first one to go to see, went here and there, and I’m not afraid of changes. I am glad that young people are going, but I would like to see them return, that this knowledge, especially the intellectual capital they own, somehow comes back to BiH.

We must all take this seriously.