Azerbaijani students attending a two-day seminar on entrepreneurship December 27-28 respond to the question, “who believes that they could start their own business?”
Forty percent of Azerbaijan’s population is under the age of 25, but less than a third of Azerbaijani youth are employed. This is partly due to economic policies that have restricted the private sector, particularly small and medium-sized businesses, leaving many young people to regard the government as their only path to employment. Topics such as free market economics, democratic governance, and entrepreneurship are largely absent from university curricula, and many young Azerbaijanis are not even aware that starting their own business is even a possibility, let alone a viable career option.
Since 2011, CIPE together with the Entrepreneurship Development Foundation (EDF) and its partner the Baku Education Information Center (BEIC) have trained 92 young Azerbaijanis on economics and business topics – and this number will be more than doubled as the training programs are scaled up in 2014-2015.
Participants, ranging in age from recent university graduates to mid-career professionals, attended weekly seminars over a ten-week span, tailored to the local context, based on CIPE’s Development Institute materials which were designed to improve young people’s understanding of the core democratic values underpinning entrepreneurship and the functions of a free market economy.
On June 23rd, Albanians took to the polls for parliamentary elections with big implications for the future of their country. With European Union candidate status on the line, this particular election was viewed by the international community as a “crucial test” for Albania’s democratic maturity. Albania’s candidacy status has been denied its past three attempts at a bid, partially due to the lack of transparency and fairness in its electoral process.
The Socialist Party candidate and former Mayor of Tirana, Edi Rama, won handily with 53 percent of the vote, ousting the incumbent, Sali Berisha, and his Democratic Party after eight years in power. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe lauded the election as being free and fair, and a marked improvement from the past. In addition, the losing party officially accepted the results for the first time in the five parliamentary elections since 1992.
Another first for this election cycle was the prominence of business issues in party platforms. Jobs and the economy were the number one issues in the campaigns of all three major political parties. Never before have Albanian politicians shown such an interest in engaging with business in a public-private dialogue. It remains to be seen how the new government will continue these conversations now that the election is over, but there is a cautious optimism among business leaders in Albania that there will be a much more supportive atmosphere for genuine cooperation.
CIPE is currently partnering with a broad coalition of business associations and chambers of commerce to help strengthen the ability of the Albanian business community to conduct advocacy and act as a constructive partner in the public-private dialogue with government. By coalescing, the Albanian business community can take advantage of favorable political winds to improve the overall business climate and, thus, climb further up the ladder towards EU accession.
David Mack is Program Assistant for Eastern Europe & Eurasia at CIPE.
Georgia’s Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani is interviewed on Georgian television.
In October 2012, Georgia’s parliamentary elections resulted in the unseating of the incumbent United National Movement party by the opposition coalition, Georgia Dream, with 55 percent of the vote. In the wake of the post-Saakashvili era, the newly elected government is working tirelessly to define the priorities for democratic reform, governance, and rule of law.
Speaking at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC on February 22, Georgia’s newly appointed Minister of Justice Tea Tsulukiani — previously a renowned human rights lawyer — outlined her agenda for judicial reform. Throughout her speech, transparency, accountability, and impartiality were stressed as cross-cutting themes for reform initiatives.
Three key reforms highlighted by Tsulukiani included: universal free access to laws and penal codes; inclusion of civil society and the private sector in the drafting of new legislation; and strengthening the position of the defendant before a judge in the criminal procedure code.
This attention to democratic reform of the judiciary was warmly welcomed by many, as Georgia’s judicial system is perceived as highly corrupt with little to no independence from the regime. It is nearly impossible for ordinary citizens to win a court case against the state – the acquittal rate in Georgia is a miniscule 0.01 percent. This stark statistic comes into the light when you consider the fact that there are 300 state prosecutors, yet only 33 defense investigators. What this means is that judges are provided overwhelmingly with evidence for the prosecution, rather than a balanced argument.
In Serbia, an inflexible and outdated labor code has been a major inhibitor for the competitiveness of domestic companies and, in turn, the Serbian economy as a whole. Reform of this legislation was the focus of a recent event hosted by CIPE partners the Serbian Association of Managers (SAM) and the Center for Liberal Democratic Studies (CLDS) in Belgrade.
The event gathered close to 100 participants from government, private sector, civil society, and media to discuss the key barriers and recommendations for possible solutions for improving labor legislation and reducing red tape.
Association for Foreign Investment and Cooperation’s 2006 roundtable with local business leaders on tax reform in Armenia. (Photo: AFIC)
Private sector-led economic growth is the key to prosperity for any country. However, without a tireless advocate to give voice to the concerns of small businesses, corruption and bureaucracy can suffocate entrepreneurial activities. This, in turn, hampers economic and democratic development.
In 2001, 95 percent of all business entities in Armenia lacked any kind of formal representation to advocate for pro-business reforms to government. Over the next ten years, CIPE and the Association for Foreign Investment and Cooperation worked together to cultivate a grassroots reform network of local business associations and chambers of commerce. AFIC is an Armenian membership-based business association, established by former CIPE business association trainees, devoted to the promotion of foreign investment, international economic cooperation, and private entrepreneurship. What began as an informal network among friends and colleagues eventually, thanks to CIPE’s and AFIC’s assistance, took on greater structure as a reform-oriented coalition.