The Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia is a dynamically developing region of the Republic of Moldova. It is home to more than 134,000 people, which are a predominantly rural population. The local administration has been consistently working to improve the investment climate and business environment, resulting in the region achieving significant success in entrepreneurship development over the past few years. In 2017, ATU Gagauzia joined the EU Initiative ‘Mayors for Economic Growth’ for the Eastern Partnership countries.
As of 2017, 99% of all enterprises in Gagauzia were small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). But at the same time, both start-ups and mature businesses in the region had to deal with the limited availability of business information, consulting services, and opportunities to improve knowledge and skills. Physical remoteness from the capital and the difficulties associated with the language barrier complicated the access of local entrepreneurs to national programmes for SME support. A local entrepreneur described the situation as follows: "We have a lot of ideas, but we lack knowledge."
That is why the Pioneer Project proposal submitted by the administration of ATU Gagauzia for the Call for Proposals within the EU’s Mayors for Economic Growth, which received funding in early 2018, provided for the creation of a specialised entity to render comprehensive grassroots support to SMEs locally. This is how the Regional Business Information and Support Centre in Gagauzia (hereinafter "the Centre") was established and commenced operations
Irina Vlah, Bashkan (Head) of ATU Gagauzia, awarding certificates to the participants of a training for start-ups, conducted by the Centre.
Now, two years later, the Centre is a network of three consulting offices (in Comrat, Ceadîr-Lunga and Vulcănești), which coordinate their operations with the Project head office in Comrat. The project team consists of nine full-time employees who cover all three districts of Gagauzia. The project has already significantly transformed the business environment of the autonomous territorial unit.
The opportunity for accounting and taxation services outsourcing, which the Centre provides for free during the Project’s implementation, significantly facilitates the development of new businesses in Gagauzia. At the moment, 60 entrepreneurs have benefitted from these outsourcing services, which are unique not only for Gagauzia, but for Moldova as a whole.
Assistance in fundraising is another of the Centre's major activities. The service includes provision of the up-to-date information about existing national and international financial support programmes, assistance in filling out relevant application forms/project proposals, and support in business plan development. This type of service is in high demand both among the private sector and local administrations of the autonomous territorial unit. Practically every second application submitted with the Centre’s support has received funding.
The Centre’s assistance to women entrepreneurs is worthy of special mention – with the support of its specialists, 20 businesswomen from the region received funding for the development of their businesses, which accounted for 25% of all the winners of the 2019 national call for proposals (while the population of Gagauzia accounts for 4% of the total number of Moldovan residents). In the previous calls, this share did not exceed 3-4%.
Consultation work in progress
In order to facilitate the knowledge and best practices exchange in the small and medium business circles, the Centre constantly holds information and training activities, such as conducting analyses of the business environment, developing the ‘Guide for Beginner Entrepreneurs’, conducting training for farmers at the Farmer's School, organising business internships, and conducting dedicated thematic trainings.
Significant outcomes were achieved in the region as a result of activities supporting branding and promotion of unique regional wines and traditional Gagauz food products to external markets. New trademarks have been registered to promote traditional Gagauz meat products (such as "Baur"), newly-branded wines have received awards at the country's largest wine exhibitions, the recognition of local producers has improved, and the attractiveness of the region as a tourism destination has increased.
All in all, 53 new enterprises have been registered and more than 100 jobs have been created with the assistance of the Project’s ‘Establishing Regional Business Information and Support Centre for the Gagauzia Region’. About 130 small business representatives have completed business internships at successful enterprises, both within Moldova and abroad. Many entrepreneurs have significantly expanded their businesses (for example, from a small shop selling coffee-to-go to a fully-fledged cafe with 25 seats which also provides catering services to local schools). Now there are more young people among the clients of the Centre, who are returning to their homeland from abroad, as they have spotted opportunities to start their own businesses here.
Information is the most valuable resource
The unanimous opinion of the most active beneficiaries of the Centre is that the project has succeeded at a most difficult task – to “set this wheel in motion.” That is, to change the mentality and stereotypes regarding starting and developing a business, as well as to set the bar high for the standards and quality of support services for SMEs.
The Project Manager, Tatiana Donceva notes: "The Regional Business Information and Support Centre has become a real lifeline, especially for beginner entrepreneurs of the autonomous territorial unit, inspiring confidence at all stages of the business ideas implementation. The effectiveness of the Centre and the need for its further operation is vouched for by the beneficiaries who use our services. In their opinion, this support should be provided to a larger number of entrepreneurs. The Centre’s activities became possible thanks to the EU project funded in the framework of the initiative Mayors for Economic Growth and implemented by the Executive Committee of ATU Gagauzia. This is an excellent initiative, the name of which speaks for itself. We are really happy that local businesses have such a unique development opportunity with the support of European donors."
Given the successful experience of the Project ‘Establishing Regional Business Information and Support Centre for the Gagauzia Region’ and the achieved progress, which is measurable and has been recorded throughout the entire autonomous territory unit, the ATU Gagauzia administration is considering a continuation of funding for the Centre’s operations from the budget of the autonomous territory once the EU project comes to an end.
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