Another podcast is up! And we’re here with Tamara Kojic, CEO and Co-Founder of Mokrin House, a co-living project in Mokrin, Serbia. We recorded this podcast in the CCCSEE Coworking and Co-living Conference in Serbia 2019.
In this episode, Tamara shares all about her struggles in pursuing her passion and achieving empowerment through helping the community. She also talks about how the Mokrin house gives back to the community and how it correlates with the coliving and coworking community.
How do your views of empowerment play on coworking and coliving projects you do in Mokrin House?
So, you know what I’m working on right now at Mokrin House is starting our own foundation, the Mokrin House foundation, which is in the process of getting registered and the reason for that is that we have been doing a lot of events, and a lot of programs for people from the local community.
Because what Mokrin House is doing, we are a co-living space but at the same time, we are rethinking the future of countryside living.
We’re now in the time where you can be doing your work from the countryside no one really cares whether you’re in a coworking space now in a city or whether you’re, you know, in the Bahamas, or somewhere where you have your own garden. And you can take your on own time to do things that matter to you.
Doing that we really want to support the people who are from Mokrin, the first thing that we do is we employ locally but at the same time, that’s not enough because we can’t hire thousands of people.
So, what we do is put on all of these programs, however, we’re still a business so that ends somewhere, and we don’t have enough funds to do that all the time and to be a non-profit.
So, what we’re doing right now is starting a foundation that is going to be focusing solely on that.
And we’re soon organizing a meet up of people from the village to hear them out to see what programs they enjoyed, and what they want to see more of.”
Links mentioned in the show:
Željko Crnjaković 02:20
Hey guys, and welcome to another episode of the Coworking Values podcast. My name is Željko Crnjaković , you can call me Željk. And I’m one of the co-hosts here at this podcast, running a small coworking space in Brussels harbour in Serbia. So this episode is brought to you again from the Coworking Co-living Conference of southern Europe. On the third day we visited Mokrin House, we already had one of the episodes earlier before the conference, one of the CEOs, even appeared as a guest on this podcast. Right now. we’re talking to a very special lady, Tamara Kojic , who is right now the running CEO and the co-founder of Mokrin House, but focusing less on the coliving space itself, and more on her fantastic achievements through her life and career, in the sense of helping others to empower others.
So, listen to her story and see if you have the energy, the strength, and where we can share all of the things that we learned from her. So talk to you soon on one of the next episodes. Enjoy the interview.
Željko Crnjaković 01:40
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Željko Crnjaković 02:17
Okay, so for today’s episode of the Coworking Values podcast, we have Tamara Kojic from Mokrin House, the new CEO Mokrin House. Is it new? Welcome to the show by the way
Tamara Kojic 2:34
Thank you. Thank you for the invitation. Well I took on the CEO role in February this year 2019. So yes.
Željko Crnjaković 2:39
Yeah, but you’ve been involved in Mokrin House for a long, long time. Correct. I’m one of the co-founders.
Tamara Kojic 2:43
Correct. I’m one of the co-founders.
Željko Crnjaković 02:45
Tamara Kojic 2:52
I’ve been around here since 2015. And we launched Mokrin House, the way it is now in Spring 2016.
Željko Crnjaković 3:01
And if people want to hear more about Mokrin House – which we will touch base on in this episode- but they can listen to the episode with Evan, one of the co-founders, which was a produced earlier this year. Right now we’re talking to you Tamara because of your past, your kind of very special charisma that you have which goes along very nicely within the Coworking Values Can you tell me something so how did you end up in the rural side you know, where are your beginnings?
Tamara Kojic 3:30
Yes. I’m a city girl.
Željko Crnjaković 03:35
It doesn’t look like it
Tamara Kojic 03:35
I know, especially now when you see me these days riding my bicycle to the cheese lady on the other side of the country. It’s a completely different lifestyle, but it is something that I realized would suit me at this moment at this stage of my life. So I’ve grown up in Belgrade, I spent most of my time there and then I came here to work on programs of Mokrin House. I did that for a bit over a year and seeing so many digital nomads come to Mokrin, I wondered, do we actually understand what they’re looking for. So I think started freelancing and I started consulting in the field of coworking, co-living, but also in the hospitality field because essentially It is very close,
Željko Crnjaković 4:21
But you didn’t study hospitality like that. So why coworking in the start? How did you end up in Mokrin in the beginning?
Tamara Kojic 4:32
I was actually tricked
Željko Crnjaković 4:42
We were all tricked into coworking
Tamara Kojic 4:45
Exactly. So I studied the theatre and radio production at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade. I got here to run the program. So Just say I thought I was going to be producing programs for a sort of a creative hub which Mokrin House was and still is of course, and then I kind of got to know the industry a bit better and I, got caught in the bug. I thought that I could leave and I was freelancing for a couple years and be a digital nomad myself but here I am back here. We’re at Mokrin now.
Željko Crnjaković 5:22
You mentioned that right now if this is a fit for you. You’re a city girl and right now it is a fit. So being a city girl y studied Dramatic Arts, you studied radio, what changed? So in that sense what happened after graduation?
Tamara Kojic 5:47
Yeah, well After graduation I had a bit of a, a bit of a ‘what did I just do with four years of my life’?
Željko Crnjaković 5:54
Was it a disappointment?
Tamara Kojic 5:56
You know what , I guess I expected something different, I expected more. I didn’t get a lot of support from my professors. I essentially actually studied production to start a circus I thought people from the drama arts would understand what circus is and what the circus values are. However, a lot of my professors mocked that idea and didn’t really see the potential in it. So after a while I realized that radio was a big passion of mine, a big love, because I did work at a radio station before I even enrolled in university. Still, when I got that diploma, there was a bit of a ‘what now’? You know, I didn’t feel like I was empowered enough. I didn’t feel like I had the knowledge obviously had no experience yet.
Željko Crnjaković 6:40
What a lot of people don’t have after varsity
Tamara Kojic 6:45
But I just felt like okay now a certain phase is over, but I don’t feel any sense of accomplishment and I started getting really depressed at this stage. It was at least half a year of me just wandering around the world thinking like okay, what am I doing? Like how am I contributing?
Željko Crnjaković 7:02
It’s so mature of you, you know, being depressed after not being accomplished
Tamara Kojic 7:10
It sounds silly at this moment but it was really real that one. However, I felt that there must have been something that I could do. However, that was not the first time that I got to feel this way after finishing with a certain phase of my life. I had the first crisis when I was 18 when I finished high school, it was the same one like okay, there’s a graffiti on my high school on the facade saying “give me back my four years of life” and that’s essentially how I felt . At that moment, I went and I volunteered in hospitals and orphanages in Sicily, Italy as a clown
Željko Crnjaković 7:56
That’s where the idea of this came along?
Tamara Kojic 8:02
No actually. I volunteered in the circus the year before that, so there is a lot of circus in my life. You know when People say I’m going to run away with the circus. I did that at the age of 18. I spent summer in Spain, and I learned the basics of some circus arts and skills. Fell in love and realised that that is what I wanted to do. You see? I was tricked
Željko Crnjaković 8:30
Being in this phase of your life, feeling the way that you did, you found a way to get out of it by doing some amazing projects. So can you tell us something more about that?
Tamara Kojic 8:46
Yeah, well Like I said, when I was depressed, sad, I didn’t want to be, you know, abusing that word, but I was really actually sad when I finished high school, I was kind of lost. I went and I volunteered as a clown in hospitals and orphanages, helping people and then I realized that that kind of empowers you. If you feel like you have nothing to give, there is always something that you can.
So what happened after University was the same thing and I remembered my previous experience and I said okay, I can surely help someone. But at that moment I had, like I said, no experience, no real contacts, I didn’t have any money, obviously fresh out of university. So that was months and months of thinking like what can I do? and I had really long hair and I realized surely I can cut my hair and have someone make a weave for a child who’s suffering from cancer, losing hair because chemo or you know having a disease, or a medical condition that causes hair loss.
So it turned out not to be that simple. I just didn’t know that it takes about eight to 10 people to donate their hair for a single wig to be made, and that is a long process and that it actually costs a lot of money. So I said okay, I have wonderful friends so I’m just going to grab seven or more girlfriends of mine and we’re going to help cut her hair. However, most of them didn’t like the idea. Hair is a big deal.
Željko Crnjaković 10:16
Tamara Kojic 10:25
I understand that entirely of course. So I said okay, I don’t have these people around me so I’m just going to start a Facebook page but this one was the golden times of Facebook, right? Back when you could organically actually reach people
Željko Crnjaković 10:36
Back when he likes actually meant something
Tamara Kojic 10:39
Exactly, you know back in the day, the algorithm was completely different. So you could actually start a movement and use Facebook for that. That’s exactly what I did. It was my first Facebook page ever it fast forward grew to have 27,000 people following us and nearly 5000 people out of those 27 donated their hair. So it kind of became bigger than me at one point. It was a little avalanche is had just started, and then I thought oh, it’s just going to be 10 people, then oh 100. When it grew to be so large, I remember thinking like okay, this is a moment where it’s no longer about me ,you know, I don’t really matter anymore.
I didn’t want to take any of the credit for it. I just tried it, but it wouldn’t have happened without all of these people following and supporting. A lot of people who don’t have hair helped in other ways which reminded me that there is always a way to help. So In a way, through empowering myself, I managed to empower other people as well.
Željko Crnjaković 11:40
That’s very interested in that it plays into the Coworking Values and why you do what you do right now within Mokrin House and within the community and a lot of other programs. Most hubs in coworking strive to do, but you actually manage it. Two steps back, so a lot of people were in the situation that you described, wouldn’t; firstly think about, you know, going out of that situation by helping others and getting the energy from that. So how did you first come to the idea after High school that that would naturally take you out of this bad situation or a bad feeling. I know depression is something else like that. Most people want to help themselves. I’m not saying that you did anything wrong. I want to clear the air for the listeners in the way that, is it something that you think is universal, or is it something that you think works only for yourself and certain people that are wired the same way? What makes you think of first helping others in order to help yourself?
Tamara Kojic 13:12
Yeah, that’s a great question. And if you’d asked me this when I was 18, I wouldn’t have answered it this way. So what happened is that, out of pure necessity, I really wanted to travel, but I didn’t have the money to do that. So I was looking for volunteering options around Europe to backpack my way through a new country and meet new people, and, you know, get to experience new cultures.
What I did is, I actually went to volunteer thinking that I could have been building some houses or I could have been cleaning some spaces. It didn’t really matter to me at that moment. I just wanted to go and experience something new without having the funds to actually travel. So upon returning from my first volunteering experience, I thought okay, that felt really good, but what was it and then I had this whole question of ‘oh my goodness, am I just being really like egotistical’? Helping others feels good, so is it about me or is about them? And I felt dirty by actually feeling great by helping others because, it’s not like a mother Teresa type syndrome like Oh, let me help you.
Željko Crnjaković 14:27
Like there’s a hidden motive. ‘I want to feel good’?
Tamara Kojic 14:30
I started volunteering. It was a way for me to experience something and then it felt good and then I realized, okay, in the end what matters is that the people who need some sort of help get that help? And we had the big floods in Serbia a couple of years ago. Do you remember the entire country everyone was helping out? And then someone was like, oh yeah, but these people are doing it because they’re helping themselves? And I said there’s nothing wrong unless you’re abusing people. For example, with my charity, helping kids that we were giving the wigs to. We never shared the faces. It was not about us. There were boundaries like you should not be abusing people and being like, Oh, I’m helping you. No, it’s not about that.
Željko Crnjaković 15:18
Like showing up to kiss the babies?
Tamara Kojic 15:19
Yes, kissing babies and shaking hands, politician style. At the same time I realised, this is something that felt good and it does good to others. What is bad about it? And there are a lot of reasons that people don’t do this because it’s counterintuitive. Also you need to sacrifice your time and a lot of effort and put yourself second so someone else comes first. But at the same time I feel my best when I’m a part of that community, so it’s never about me and only me. It’s me as a member of something that is larger than me, so in order to respect that ,I think this is a good perspective to kind of consider. I’m not saying that it works for everyone, but at the same time, it does empower you and if you’re feeling weak and you have nothing to give to the world, I guarantee you, every single person on planet Earth can contribute to something that can help someone else. Yeah, you know and every one of us know something that another person doesn’t know. It could be just two sentences, a new fact. It could be you sharing a meal with someone, it could be something that seems like it’s very simple and small but it could be like that saying, I’m going to paraphrase it, “what is small to us could be something huge for another”
Željko Crnjaković 16:48
You mentioned it earlier and right now, that one word I want to focus on, which is a big part of your work later on, ‘ empowerment’, not only to yourself but to others. So can you share that feeling and can it be taught, in the sense of how you pulled yourself out of a bad situation. What feels good for you while helping others by empowering not only yourself, but teaching people how to empower themselves. You did a project with the ‘Girls Rock’ camp?
Tamara Kojic 17:35
Yes. It’s something that I wish someone had done when I was a kid. That helped me a lot, thinking I didn’t get what I wanted immediately at that moment because I was kind of an outcast, you know like the ‘emo kid’ is not the main stream, it’s actually ridiculous. I was just looking through some photos So recently and that’s a hilarious stage
Željko Crnjaković 18:03
So happy that Facebook didn’t exist when we were that young.
Tamara Kojic 18:09
True, but at the same time, empowering others is something I care strongly about. It’s just that It’s difficult to guess what kind of empowerment other people need and what would work for them? So I don’t think that I know that for everyone, it’s just that that is the reason why my team here, we have a deal that we made. I made with every single person when I got here, and I said I can do a bunch of stuff, I can do a lot of stuff for you, I can do a lot of stuff for the team, but there’s one thing that I’m really bad at, and that’s reading minds. So if you tell me how you’re feeling, or if you tell me that something was wrong, we can work on it. If you keep it to yourself and let it slowly tingles, we’re not going to get far. Sharing is really important. And sometimes it’s about sharing something that’s uncomfortable share. Feelings are really intimate, you know, So it takes a lot of courage and a lot of empowerment
Željko Crnjaković 19:16
That’s especially true, not only in each business and each one community, especially in a co-living where you take a lot more of your life and time. And not just by working on a project or in a coworking space, which is different spaces that you live in. You actually live here, in a co-living space. So where does everything that we talked about play into what you do now and what you do here in Mokrin? So how do you, apart from the team ,you know, your view on empowerment and your goals in that movement, and helping people. How do you play it into the co-living and coworking projects of Mokrin House?
Tamara Kojic 20:04
Yes, that’s a big one. When I came here, I said, I’m really interested In this movement, I’m not just interested in being a money maker. I mean, of course matters, we all have Like sustain ourselves. However, I really don’t want that to be my driving force because it’s not for me personally and my motivation doesn’t lie there. Obviously, to anyone listening to this, it’s kind of obvious where it does lie. So what I’m working on right now, Mokrin House is starting their own foundation, The Mokrin house Foundation, which is in the process of getting registered. The reason for that is that we have been doing a lot of events and a lot of programs for people from the local community. What Mokrin House is doing, we are a co-living space but at the same time, we are rethinking the future of countryside living. We’re now in the time where you can be doing your work from the country side. And no one really cares whether you’re in a coworking in the city, or whether you’re in the Bahamas or somewhere where you have your own garden and you can take your own time to do things that matter to you.
Doing that, we really want to support the people from Mokrin. The first thing that we do is, we employ locally, but at the same time that’s not enough, because we can’t hire thousands of people obviously. So, what we do is put on all of these programs. However, we’re still a business so that ends somewhere and we don’t have enough funds to do that all the time and to be a non-profit. So what we’re doing right now is starting a foundation that is going to be focusing solely on that and we’re soon organizing a meetup of people from the village, to hear them out, to see what they enjoyed and what they want to see more. We do a lot of fun stuff; we do open air cinema and we also do these workshops. We do this picnic that is pretty fun as well, but also, we skill share. We teach children about some important concepts. We bring tech in into their lives and talk about how it can simplify your life if you’re working in Agriculture or if you’re working in something that is more closely connected to technology as such.
Željko Crnjaković 22:35
And Of course, your focus in local community is one of the goals of Mokrin House, apart from all the other digital numbers you get here, which are not from Serbia, which are from all around the world. Which still play into all the other programs that you organise so they can be a part of it. So what’s the reaction, both from the community and from the other side of the spectrum, everybody coming from all around the world, to everything that you are doing?
Tamara Kojic 23:09
We get a lot of support from people, but also, a lot of people don’t really understand what the great vision is. For those who don’t know, Mokrin House is a pretty urban environment in a rural surrounding. Our houses aren’t like the traditional Serbian houses. We kind of don’t look like the rest of the village. However, it’s all done respecting the environment we are in. It is modern but at the same time, you know, it’s not something futuristic that that is just there for show. So it’s very practical and comfortable for people who, like myself, come from cities and are not comfortable entirely with the countryside living.
So we do have quite a lot of people who come here and go explore the village, we have these free bicycles that anyone can grab and go and ride around, and then actually a surprising number of people, we did not expect this. Ask, kay, so what can we do for the village? Is there something I can teach them? Can I hold a workshop or let’s go for drinks with these people from the village? We just had a member who was here in the summer, who was riding his bike and he knows how to say hello in Serbian, but everyone knew that he was a foreigner, so everyone was saying hello in English to him, and he said, I really don’t want to say hello back in Serbia because I know that they want this interaction and so it’s beautiful.
So, we’ve had a member who actually invested in building traveling rings for people to work out on in the village. Not at Mokrin House but in Mokrin. And it’s wonderful to see them connect. At the same time, there’s a big language barrier obviously, the village speaks Serbian mostly, so, a lot of people wish that they can interact more, but that stops them. We find ways; we screen movies in English with Serbian subtitles so we can have both English and Serbian together.
We connect people and find things that are mutual for everyone, and that’s what makes us human. That is, you know, the desire to live your life the way you want to, to be respected, understood, and to also grow and find new ways that motivate people to be better members of the society, however cliché that might sound. When people come and stay here for three months with us, they are Mokriners, and they become a part of the village and they do go, get ice cream in the village and chat with people and buy a watermelon on the streets, or go to the local cafe, because they are just from the village as well.
Željko Crnjaković 26:15
It is an experience. Tamara, thank you very much for being a part of the of the podcast. I’m hoping that each listener listening is not just hearing that all of the stories that you’re sharing on the podcast is empowerment, helping others, you know, and diversity. We talked about inclusivity and stuff like that, people always talk about those things and never meet the people who are actually drivers in the community. Nobody knows them. Okay, ‘I know about empowerment but you know, but not empowering anybody by myself’ for most people, and it’s wonderful to have you on the show and to share your experience, and hope somebody will see what he can do for his own community.
Tamara Kojic 27:03
Yes. Thank you so much for having me on your podcast and I do invite everyone to join and think about what they can do in their own community and also to come to Mokrin House so we can do something together, because that’s always better.
Željko Crnjaković 27:16
Sure. Talk to you next time. Bye guys.