Saveta Dubak’s journey to the United States was unexpected, but one she decided to take after meeting her husband, American entreprenuer Milo Dubak. “Moving to the USA was not something I ever envisioned for myself. However, after meeting Milo, I decided to take the leap and give it a try,” she candidly shared with The Balkan Voice of the Pavlovic Today.
“Immigrating to another country is always difficult, especially when leaving a country like Switzerland, which is known for its near-perfect structure. Adjusting to life in a new place involves re-learning even the simplest things, such as finding new brands of food, cosmetics, doctors, friends, and places,” Saveta reflected on her first weeks as an immigrant to Chicago.
Despite facing various obstacles, philanthropy has always been a driving force for Saveta Dubak. She revealed, “I have always been passionate about volunteering and helping humanitarian organizations.” Dubak, who is also a mother, drew inspiration from her own experiences to start the Balkan Children charity, which supports vulnerable children in the region.
“When I moved to Chicago with my husband, we felt that it was the right time and place to start our own charity,” she shared.
“Being a mother has been a significant influence on my decision to start this charity, but I also believe that investing in children is crucial for the future. I began researching and speaking with children who were directly affected, such as those raised in orphanages, and also directors of such organizations to see how my charity could help them. Fortunately, my past experiences in humanitarian work made it easy for me to develop this idea,” she said. “The thought that some children don’t have a parent, this basic need made me sad. I cannot explain why I felt this way, but it was always at the back of my mind,” she added.
“Our unique approach at Balkan Children involves making sure that every receipt for each project is included in the corresponding blog post. This is crucial for me to demonstrate complete transparency,” she explained. Saveta’s goal is to build and renovate outdoor playgrounds across the Western Balkans, providing children in the region with safe and enjoyable spaces to play and learn.
To date, Balkan Children charity has successfully completed seven projects, with one more currently being finalized. These projects have made a significant impact in the communities they serve by providing safe and stimulating outdoor play areas for children in the Western Balkans.
The American dream: openness to new ideas and willingness to take risks
Life in Chicago gave Saveta Dubak a sense of community.”I was warmly embraced by the Serbian community here, who could relate to leaving home and starting anew. They were all eager to learn about my endeavors and immediately offered their support,” she shared.
“What I really appreciate about the US is the openness to new ideas and willingness to take risks. Things move quickly here, even in small talk – before you know it, you’re exchanging business cards. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting several self-made entrepreneurs in Chicago, which has been truly inspiring and motivating. Through the people I’ve met, I feel like I’m starting to grasp the concept of the ‘American dream.”
Comparing her observations about American entrepreneurship and the one of Switzerland, she noted that “In Switzerland, one typically needs a strong portfolio, an established company, and an extensive network to come across as trustworthy. Handing out business cards right off the bat is often seen as pushy and needy.”
In the rapidly evolving business landscape of Chicago, women entrepreneurs are finding exciting opportunities and trends to tap into. According to Saveta, who has spent time networking with fellow female business owners in the city, men are increasingly recognizing the value of partnering with women in developing new ideas.
“Whenever we meet, we discuss opening new businesses, and although we all have kids and some of us are already running businesses, we inspire each other to strive for more,” she said.
Another trend that Saveta has observed in Chicago’s business community is the increasing number of women entering fields that were traditionally considered male-dominated. “More and more women are entering fields traditionally considered ‘unusual’ for females, such as car wash, trucking/logistics, and electrical industries,” she said.
Saveta Dubak: I have firsthand experience with discrimination and how it feels
The Serbian-American community in Chicago has a rich history of making significant contributions to the cultural and economic fabric of the city. However, maintaining their cultural identity can be challenging, as Saveta, a mom with two little children, points out.
“In my view, two things are essential to preserve our identity: language and connectedness. However, I see two significant challenges: the first generation already speaks Serbian poorly, and the second generation does not speak it at all. Additionally, feeling connected to one’s roots requires traveling back to the Western Balkans, which can be difficult for families with two or three kids due to the high expenses and lengthy journey,” she said.
To help overcome these obstacles, local churches have been instrumental in preserving their identity. They offer free Folklore dance, sports, and Serbian language classes, as well as academies like the Sveti Sava Academy in Redwood. Saveta has enrolled her daughter in the academy, despite the 45-minute commute.
As a female immigrant entrepreneur Saveta knows a thing or two about what it takes to succeed in today’s business world. “My first piece of advice would be to work hard and work smart, as there is no way around it when it comes to starting your own business,” she confidently stated.
But it’s not just about making money, as she explained: “Nowadays, it’s not necessary to pursue money when choosing a profession or business. Instead, focus on what you’re good at and what you enjoy doing, and success will follow if you work hard and smart. Don’t make the mistake of waking up every morning and hating what you do.”
Saveta Dubak encourages immigrant women to pursue business opportunities by leveraging the skills they have learned while navigating a new culture. “Look out for opportunities, which is a skill that many immigrants have already learned. Utilize this skill when it comes to starting a business,” she advised.
“When it comes to starting your own business, don’t let your background hold you back,” noted Dubak. “Try to leverage your background to your advantage. For example, at networking events, connect with others who come from underrepresented backgrounds, as you’re likely to share common ground.”
She added, “Another advantage of your background could be your cultural background. If you speak multiple languages, you can communicate more effectively with clients in their native language. And if you come from a less privileged background, you can relate to and understand clients from all walks of life, which can be a valuable asset for a company.”
Reflecting on her own experience, she shared, “Growing up in Switzerland during the 1990s with a typical Serbian first and last name, I have firsthand experience with discrimination and how it feels.”
When confronting obstacles or setbacks on her entrepreneurial journey, Saveta Dubak often finds solace in the words of Robert Frost: ‘In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.’ These words remind her of the importance of continuing to press forward, even in the face of adversity. “Instead of dwelling on our mistakes, we should learn from them and keep moving forward.”
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