Mayors for Economic Growth (M4EG), the initiative of the European Union, is growing into an extensive professional community across the region through the support of mayors and municipalities of the Eastern Partnership countries.
Zviad Archuadze, the Country Coordinator for Georgia and Azerbaijan, gives more insights on how the project is developing in Georgia, and in what ways the country stands out among all the others. He also shares the challenges and surprises encountered during the project and achievements obtained so far.
What makes your country a special case when it comes to the M4EG?
The key point that distinguishes Georgia among the countries involved in the M4EG project is the structure of the self-governing units themselves. For instance, Ukrainian municipalities are considerably larger, while Armenia is divided in many small self-governing units. In Georgia, except 5 self-governing cities, municipalities usually unite several settlements.
I must admit that initially the local authorities were very cautious and Georgia was not jumping into the Initiative. Only 2 Georgian municipalities were involved in the project in the first couple of months, while Ukraine and Armenia, for instance, had dozens of self-governing units engaged by that moment. The situation has dramatically changed in two years, when the interest from municipalities significantly increased. The municipalities became really active, caught up, and overshot some other countries in terms of activism. At the moment, 42 out of 64 Georgian municipalities are the signatories of the M4EG Initiative and a total of 2300 settlements are involved in the initiative.
Moreover, it is quite interesting and distinctive for Georgia that some regions of the country have 100% participation in the Initiative. For example, Samtskhe-Javakheti was the region where all of its 6 municipalities joined the project simultaneously. In other regions, like Kakheti and Guria, dynamics was a little bit different – initially, just one municipality in the region became the member of the Initiative, and stood out as an example for all the others, all of which followed the suit shortly afterwards. One more thing where Georgia shows an interesting approach is a high level of inter-municipal cooperation. Some Signatories are even considering preparation of a joint LEDP for a few neighboring municipalities, which is under discussion at the moment. If this idea is implemented, it will be a very interesting precedent and a role-model for others.
What is your main achievement as a M4EG coordinator in Georgia?
My main achievement as a M4EG coordinator in Georgia is that I managed to increase interest in the municipalities towards the M4EG project and contributed to their successful activities.
At the start of the project our priority was to disseminate information among municipalities and to point out the benefits they could gain from the EU-funded project. Currently, as I mentioned above, we work with 42 municipalities. However, it’s not only about the numbers, but the interest – this is what matters the most. It’s definitely notable that the Local Economic Development Plans written by the municipalities had really good quality, and the World Bank evaluated them positively. Out of the 14 already approved LEDPs, four were evaluated as ‘excellent, exemplary”.
At the moment, a second wave of newly joined municipalities have already completed their training on LEDP elaboration, and are now working on their LEDPs. They are all motivated and looking forward to the outcomes of their planning efforts and future results of their LEDPs’ implementation.
Another success in Georgia is definitely the 3 EU-funded M4EG Pioneer Projects, which are currently under implementation by 3 M4EG Signatories (Tbilisi city, Bolnisi and Gory municipalities).
Tbilisi city has already launched into operation a new Business Accelerator SPARK, which was created under the Pioneer Project. The aim of the new facility is to promote employment, enhance the capacity of Georgian entrepreneurs and SMEs, as well as facilitate implementation of innovative business ideas. From now on, the new work space and the services offered there will be available to anyone wishing to work on their business idea. Tbilisi city hall finances half of the project budget, which totals around 1 million Euro.
Bolnisi Pioneer project is more modest budget-wise, but also ambitious in its goals. The total amount of the EU support to Bolnisi municipality is 380.000 Euro, which is a very significant sum for the municipality. Part of it will be used to rehabilitate a historical part of Bolnisi city (German neighbourhood) and improve its infrastructure, which is planned to attract more tourist to the area. The other part of the grant will be invested in developing an Agro-center, where local farmers can package their products, like fruits and vegetables, Georgian cheese and local fresh meat. This center will also be equipped with wine bottling line, where locals can modernize traditional wine making and sell their products to the tourists. Main idea of the Agro-center is to help local producers to develop their products in line with relevant standards.
The third M4EG Pioneer Project is implemented in Gori. The city received an EU grant that totals 600.000 EUR. The project focuses on tourism development, in particular, on creating modern tourism infrastructure in the area adjoining the Gori Castle. A souvenir shop, a conference hall, a parking lot, modern public toilets, and other facilities will be created there.
Obviously, municipalities strive to use every opportunity to make a change, and to lead by change via changing themselves in their communities.
What was the main challenge you faced in your work? How did you deal with it?
The main and probably the only challenge that we faced was a lack of motivation and skepticism from municipalities at the starting point of the project. Most municipalities didn’t immediately see the value of the project and were skeptical about real benefits.
Understanding that the M4EG approach is very practical, non-bureaucratic, and oriented towards achieving tangible results within 3 years of membership, observing all the support that the M4EG Secretariat was providing in the process, and also seeing some real successes in mobilizing the EU grant funding by some M4EG Signatories, were probably the decisive factors in the general change of attitude. More and more municipalities started to express their willingness to join.
Have you had any real surprises in your work? How did you deal with it?
Real surprise and unexpected thing that I have encountered so far was enormous capabilities the municipality employees possessed. These people (as per job description) do not have any obligation to write local economic development plan, but they are highly motivated to develop their municipalities and they do their best to achieve this goal.
We were positively surprised that a stereotype prevailing in Tbilisi - that the municipalities do not have sufficient and qualified human resources - actually faded away. Every municipality has employees who are highly motivated and have a qualification high enough to handle their job. The main thing is to find these people and give them inspiration to make changes and get satisfactory results.
Here’s an example of one good surprise. One of the late-comers, Tetritskaro municipality, joined the Initiative after the capacity building trainings for new Signatories were finished. They were so motivated to work that they developed their Plan on their own in just 3 months, submitted it together with their trained colleagues, and got approved based on the World Bank evaluation.
In addition, the engagement of the regional government representatives was quite a pleasant surprise who actively supported the ongoing activities and the entire initiative. I’m happy and grateful for cooperation with them.
Tell us the most memorable story from your M4EG (funny, interesting, exciting) work experience
Probably, the most exciting thing is to observe people from municipalities, how they try to learn something new and apply that knowledge for the good of their own municipalities and people.