Category Archives: Eurasia

Protest Movement Electrifies Armenian Civil Society

(Photo: BBC)

(Photo: BBC)

By Ann Mette Sander Nielsen

The Electric Yerevan protests began on June 19, when protesters gathered on the street to express their discontent with the local power company, the Electric Networks of Armenia (ENA) and its planned 14 percent increase in electricity tariffs from August, the third price raise within the past two years, which would result in a more than 60 percent overall increase in electricity tariffs.

Public discontent was further aggravated by a report revealing evidence of gross corruption and mismanagement at the utility. The report exposed the extravagant lifestyle of the ENA management and revealed that the ENA has accumulated debt by overpaying suppliers and contractors.

On June 23, four days after the start of the protests, roughly 2,000 protesters gathered on Baghramyan Avenue to express their grievances with the ENA management. They were blocked by police forces, and in response the protesters sat down and spent the night there. They were forcibly dispersed by police water cannons and around 250 people were detained.

Images, video clips and anecdotes about excessive police force circulated on social media under the hashtag #ElectricYerevan. The next day, around 4,000 protesters showed up on Baghranyan Avenue, and a few days later, the number of protesters peaked at 20,000.

The organizers of the protests developed guidelines for the protests, including a no alcohol policy, mutual respect, and tidiness, and organized a general assembly consisting of civic initiatives and working groups open to the public with the aim of discussing issues related to the protests. In Armenia, like many other countries, social media has become the main tool for producing a counter narrative to the state-owned media outlets and has allowed the distribution of ideas and the coordination of action and attention of participants.

After two weeks of protests, the police showed restraint while clearing Baghranyan Avenue on July 6. Perhaps the Armenian authorities had understood that police violence would only attract additional protesters, as it did on June 23. The effect of social media and the loose and horizontal structure of the Electric Yerevan protests made it difficult for the Armenian authorities to dismantle.

A reason for the loose and informal structure of the protests can be found in the non-democratic context under which protesters are forced to operate in Armenia. People are afraid to lose their jobs if they participate in more organized movements. In Armenia here is a general mistrust of NGOs and social movement organizations, which are traditionally more structured and technocratic. Civic initiatives like Electric Yerevan are more consensus-based and horizontal in their decision-making process and therefore seek to distance themselves from the NGOs, relying instead on street protests, occupations, or more creative forms of protests.

In fact, over the past few years, protests by civic initiatives have been frequent. Although civic initiatives in Armenia usually address very specific issues, they symbolize the display of informed grievances concerning corruption, government mismanagement, and the absence of rule of law and democracy. The size of the Electric Yerevan protests made it different from the previous protests. Perhaps Electric Yerevan has given renewed power to Armenian civil society to make demands from its government.

Ann Mette Sander Nielsen is a Eurasia intern at CIPE.

Building a Network of EntrepreneuHERS

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Forbes estimates that 90 percent of startup businesses will fail. However, the entrepreneurship ecosystem – that is the enabling environment that is more or less conducive for startups – varies drastically throughout the world.

This year the World Bank Group’s Ease of Doing Business report rated Serbia and Nicaragua as the 91st and 119th easiest countries for doing business out of 189 countries, respectively. The Global Entrepreneurship Index ranked Serbia as the 78th and Nicaragua as the 87th most entrepreneurial countries out of 130 according to their index. These rankings highlight the progress albeit continued uphill battle entrepreneurs face in operating a business in these countries.

More accurately, the 2015 Female Entrepreneurship Index (FEI) elucidates the unique institutions impacting women in starting and operating a business: a provision for childcare services, work-family conflicts, limitations to freedom to work and travel due to traditional family and religious norms, and equal legal rights, in addition to meeting expectations and gaining access to education, capital, and networks.

In a unique mentorship structure aimed at maximizing the number of beneficiaries of the project, CIPE partners the Association of Business Women in Serbia (ABW) and Red de Empresarias de Nicaragua (REN) linked successful women entrepreneurs with emerging micro-entrepreneurs for one-year mentorship programs. Though FEI reports a nine percent increase in the number of female entrepreneurs who have participated in some form of post-secondary education, factors such as lack of confidence or practical know-how still prevent young women from actually acting on their business ideas and subsequently making it through the first few years of operation. To account for this in Nicaragua, REN linked each mentor-mentee pair with a female university student studying business at the top universities in Managua. Seeing first-hand how a real business operates and a microenterprise can scale allowed interns to apply the skills learned in their coursework.

This month’s Economic Reform Feature Service articles on the case studies of Serbia and Nicaragua outline the mentorship structure of each respective program and bring to light the power of women-to-women mentorship in building leadership and confidence, considering long term career goals, and creating a nurturing and supportive network to rely on when navigating difficult professional and even personal decisions. Women’s business associations like ABW and REN aren’t waiting for an enabling environment for women entrepreneurs but rather are creating their own.

Stephanie Bandyk is the Program Assistant for Global Programs at CIPE. 

CIPE Launches First Annual Photo Competition

Photo: © 2011 Swapping aid for trade in northern Uganda, Pete Lewis/UK Department for International Development

Photo: © 2011 Swapping aid for trade in northern Uganda, Pete Lewis/UK Department for International Development

“There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment.” – Robert Frank

Show us your best story-telling photo

Do you like to tell stories through photography? Then show us your best work! The first annual Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) Photo Competition is now open for submissions.

Open to participants of all ages, including student, amateur, and professional photographers, the inaugural photo competition will focus on the theme of Entrepreneurship.

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Riinvest Institute Celebrates 20 year Anniversary

Riinvest 20th Anniversary 2

CIPE’s long term partner Riinvest Institute for Development Research is celebrating their 20th anniversary this year. To mark the occasion, Riinvest held a conference on May 15 and 16 titled, “Activating the Sources of Economic Growth in Kosovo”. The conference brought together an impressive audience— the President and the Prime Minister of Kosovo*, the Deputy Minister of Finance, the World Bank Country Manager, other high level public officials, academics, business people, NGO leaders, the donor community, and members of the media.

*Kosovo’s newly-elected Prime Minister, Isa Mustafa, is the former President of Riinvest.

Riinvest leaders presented awards to a number of partners, individuals, and organizations who have supported the organization since its inception. CIPE had the honor of being presented the first two awards, one for Executive Director John Sullivan and one for the organization as a whole. CIPE Senior Consultant Carmen Stanila kindly received both awards on behalf of John and the organization.

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Working Together for the Future of Serbia’s Youth

serbian-youth

 By Milos Djuricanin, Program Manager at Serbian Association of Managers. Duracanin was a 2014 ChamberLINKS participant.

“It is clear that youth unemployment is one of the biggest problems of our society. If we want to successfully solve the problem of unemployment, we have to listen more to the voice of the economy and private sector. This is the absolute priority of the Government of Serbia. That’s why we initiated conversations with businessmen, in order to get first-hand information on their personnel needs and to create a common set of measures which will enable increase of youth employment”– Vanja Udovicic, Minister of Youth and Sports.

The status and position of young people in the labor market in Serbia falls into the category of challenges with no quick fix. Year after year, we are faced with statistics that continue to confirm that every second, a young person is left without a job. According to data presented at the National Youth Strategy for 2015-2025, youth unemployment in August 2014 in the Republic of Serbia is 41.7 percent for people aged 15-24, and 33.27 percent for people aged 15-30 years. Young people are inactive in the labor market: last year the inactivity rate of young people aged 15-30 years was over 50 percent and in 2013, it was noted that 20 percent of young people ages 15-24 belonged to the category of young people NEET (not employed, in education or training).

One of the key issues affecting the high youth unemployment is a mismatch between the skills that young people acquire through formal education, and the knowledge and skills that employers expect them to have. According to research conducted by the Union of Employers of Serbia, young people throughout the formal education system receive and adopt only theoretical knowledge and only 4.12 percent of young people are considered to possess the knowledge and skills for real business. Eighty-six percent of young people reported that they felt they did not possess any practical knowledge.

Among the barriers for business development in Serbia, the lack of adequate staff is increasingly climbing on the list: from an 8th place ranking in 2006 to third place ranking in 2013. This is a clear indication of how difficult it is to find high quality staff.

Given this information, the Serbian Association of Managers (SAM) with the support of the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) organized an event titled “Support for the youth – future for the country,” during which a Memorandum of Cooperation was signed between the Ministry of Youth and Sport and SAM aiming to increase opportunities for top university students in the country to intern for SAM’s member companies.

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Can Women Entrepreneurs Help Serbia Overcome Recession?

serbia-women-entrepreneurs

Recently I visited Serbia to attend events for a women’s mentorship program led by our partner, the Association of Business Women in Serbia (ABW). I was excited to speak with the local women entrepreneurs, because I had read literature on how women in business face serious barriers in Serbia despite the country’s history of socialist emphasis on gender equality. What I saw from Serbia’s women entrepreneurs was impressive.

In Serbia, men and women have similar levels of education and equal treatment in labor legislation. When it comes to access to economic opportunities, however, it’s a different story.  The employment rate for working age women is over 20 percent lower than that of men. Women-owned enterprises (small businesses, limited liability companies, partnerships, etc.) make up only 26 percent of all registered businesses and companies active in the Serbian economy.

Economic growth has been anemic since 2009 and the country slipped into recession in 2014, due in part to severe floods. Despite overcoming the setbacks of the 1990s — conflict, international sanctions, and breakup of the former Yugoslavia — and being in negotiations to join the European Union, Serbia now faces an unemployment rate of nearly 17 percent. The unemployment rate is even higher among youth — 47 percent. Many economists have argued that the answer to revitalizing Serbia’s economy is encouraging more women into the private sector, especially to start small and medium enterprises. And ABW for the past 10 months has been doing exactly this: inspiring and supporting entrepreneurship among women throughout the country.

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The Moldovan National Business Agenda Goes to the Regions

A national business agenda (NBA) is a powerful tool and platform for business people to engage in a proactive dialogue with policy-makers on issues affecting the private sector in a given country. Developing an NBA requires the private sector to collaborate to identify issues that constrain business activity, offer proposals and solutions to address the issues, and present them in an open and transparent manner to public officials. This private-sector led approach has been instrumental in advancing economic reform agendas in countries around the world.

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