Gorjana Ponjevic


“I’ve found my place as a female carpenter, despite prejudice”

Gorjana Ponjević Ballani has overcome forced migration and prejudice to become the owner of a successful carpentry business in Zrenjanin (Serbia)  


Gorjana had to flee the besieged city of Sarajevo in 1992 facing an uncertain future. Almost 30 years later, she has received the 2020 award from the Association of Business Women of Serbia for her achievements as the owner of Wood Planet, a progressive carpentry business in Zrenjanin, in Serbia. Despite the challenges she has faced, Gorjana has maintained a passion for wood and the importance of “those who work with their hands”.

In the middle of a global pandemic, the Global Alliance for Banking on Values – the network for the world’s leading values-based banks – talked to Gorjana, and five other pioneers from across the globe about their vision for a brighter future.

Banking On Values

Why now? Gorjana and projects like Wood Planet are one of thousands of initiatives financed by values-based banks all over the planet. These banks are changing the meaning of money, putting money in the service of people and the environment. Today, on Banking on Values Day 2020 (24th November), we are celebrating these extraordinary initiatives, the individuals who run them, and the banks that finance them. You can discover how and why this matters so much.

Gorjana, how did fleeing your home for Italy in the midst of conflict impact your life?

Reaching Italy resulted in me experiencing a different culture by studying and working in the country.

I felt the same between 2000 and 2002, in Romania, which was also a thoroughly positive experience. And, as well, I also have lived diversity after I returned to the Balkans to live in Serbia.

In Italy, I was fortunate to start working in a large, leading and welcoming company in the wooden ladder sector.

When they saw that I had a technical education, they introduced me to quality control and production. I completed my training and I felt very fortunate to have had this opportunity.

I also met my husband at work, who supported me in making the leap to entrepreneurship. It was a nice start to this whole story which, in the end, was built on love!

As a woman, have you had to fight more as an entrepreneur in your sector?

Yes, being a woman in the world of wood, sawmills, the restoration of doors and windows of houses etc exposes you to many prejudices. But becoming a professional in my work has opened doors for me and has allowed me to find my position in the work place.

Now I would like to have more colleagues in general, not just women, who can carry out this profession. The truth is that many good professionals have had to emigrate from their country, including from Italy, to work in other countries like Germany and France.

What is the value of the artisan in the modern economy?

The small details, the way of working, and the materials an artisan uses are all important; not just for carpenters but also for those who make ice cream, for example. Craftsmanship allows you to focus on quality.

Also, my work is very diverse. There are many possibilities when I start carving a log, for instance. In my business there are 30 different machines, and numerous jobs. I have even been involved in an on-site restoration of a palace.

I remember the restoration of a two hundred year old door. It was two months of work. I gave my heart and soul to that work. Working with your hands gives you satisfaction, and makes you proud.

This ability to work on diverse tasks allows me to give my best. There is repetitive work in the industry but I don’t find it satisfying. Here it is different. It consists of hours and days of experimenting, making mistakes and correcting until I see my client’s smile when they see the final result of my efforts.

Hopefully, society will give more importance to us, the artisans who work with their hands. I don’t disregard the work made with computers and I need them for design but, to me, what I understand as the real economy is working with our hands.

How are you coping with the pandemic?

I had a lot of work planned month by month in 2020 and that has helped me. But the pandemic has hit us. We have had to close for two months, with problems obtaining materials from our suppliers. But we are optimistic we can get through this.

How important is the support of a values-based bank like Opportunity Bank Serbia for you and your business?

The partnership with my bank is very important. I am very happy to have met the people who work in this bank because they have contributed directly to the success of my business. Firstly because, to be honest, I have always thought that banking was a homogeneous system.

But, in my history with this bank, I have learned that within that system there are good people, who help us to do great things together.

They have helped me through difficult times when we had large bills to meet. In Serbia, we must pay VAT almost at the time of producing an invoice and they have helped me immediately when I need cash flow services. It may seem like a small thing, but it is essential on a day-to-day basis. It is important that when you have a need, they are there.

What future do you dream of?

I dream of creating the first completely ecological, wooden house, constructed entirely from natural materials. When renovating old houses, I have discovered many natural materials.

I also would like to use wood waste from my carpentry work as biomass and to live in closer contact with nature.

In general, I think it’s important not only to build more sustainably but also to talk to people and encourage them to understand the value of all this.

Did you know that…

You can choose between being a customer of a conventional bank or a values-based bank.

Values-based banks deliver quality banking services, just like many other banks. But, unlike most banks, they deliberately focus on finance for entrepreneurs and positive projects in the real economy that benefit people and the environment – like Gorjana and her carpentry business.

It’s time to do something for your future!

On Banking on Values Day 2020, help us make values-based banks an even more powerful force for positive change by performing one or more of these actions:

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