Category Archives: Eurasia

Building a Network of Women Entrepreneurs in Serbia

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By Olivera Popović

While the global economic crisis in 2008 affected many countries worldwide, the shock to Serbia’s society and economy was magnified due to the ongoing transition processes there. For the past fifty years, women in Serbia were most often employed in the public sector as part of Yugoslavia’s socialist planned economy. In the past two decades, the transition from socialism to liberal capitalism and an open market economy has initiated changes in approaches to work and ultimately led to a greater presence of women in business.

In making this transition, women face an uphill battle – in gaining greater access to capital, technology, networks, and acquiring the knowledge to start and grow their businesses. On top of those challenges, the social and economic landscape is characterized by poor labor market outcomes, a high youth unemployment rate, and large long-term unemployment. According to the Regional Cooperation Council (2013), the country’s per capita GDP is currently only 38 percent of the EU average.

Data from the International Labour Organization (ILO) shows that the overall unemployment rate in Serbia is 23.9 percent, with almost 25 of women unemployed. Youth unemployment is remarkably high (51 percent) and even more astonishing, 57 percent of young women are out of work. Equally important, universities in Serbia do not foster enough entrepreneurial spirit among students. Consequentially, students fail to fully consider entrepreneurship as a viable career option.

Recognizing this need for support to aspiring and established women entrepreneurs in a complex economic situation, the Association of Business Women in Serbia (ABW) created “Inspiring Women Entrepreneurship,” a project to strengthen the leadership and entrepreneurial capacity of young women in Serbia.

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The Fall of the Wall: A Moment of Reflection

berlin-flag

This weekend the world celebrated 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall — the physical symbol of a divided continent. The Berlin Wall created artificial boundaries between societies, scarring Europe’s economic and political development for generations. The Iron Curtain defined where freedom ended and repression began. 

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Case Studies: Advancing Anti-Corruption Efforts in Armenia and Thailand

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Corruption is a systemic problem that plagues many transitional countries across the world, rooted in weak rule of law and lack of private property rights. Not only does corruption erode trust in public institutions, such practices also hinder economic growth and weaken democratic governance.

The corruption challenge can be addressed by building responsive institutions that offer basic assurances of private property rights and ensure law and order. CIPE programs address the root causes of corruption through a multi-pronged approach. CIPE programs mobilize the private sector to raise anti-corruption standards and advocate for reforms; streamline regulations and reduce implementation gaps to limit opportunities for corruption; improve corporate governance to strengthen firm-level integrity; facilitate collective action to level the playing field and coordinate company efforts; and equip small and medium-sized enterprises to resist bribery and meet the requirements of global value chains.

Two recent case studies, described below, show these CIPE approaches in action.

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Can Boards Help Fight “Compliance Fatigue” In Emerging Market Firms?

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In the first half of 2014, anti-corruption enforcement actions by the U.S. alone cost the business community more than $500 million. It would seem logical that as a result anti-corruption compliance would be at the forefront of every multinational corporation’s activities. But that’s not the case, at least as described in the 2014 Global Fraud Survey, perhaps one of the largest and most credible surveys on the topic, released by Ernst and Young (EY) earlier this summer.

The report indicates that businesses around the world are suffering from what EY has dubbed “compliance fatigue.” After surveying more than 2,700 business executives in 59 countries, EY discovered that “despite the aggressive enforcement environment…the percentage of companies that have anti-bribery/anti-corruption (ABAC) policies has increased by only 1%.”

According to the survey, the reason for such stagnation rests with chief executives who are reluctant to participate in compliance training programs and take other necessary steps. EY does note that “the majority of businesses have put in place many of the building blocks of effective compliance programs.” However, “one-fifth of respondents say that either their business does not have an ABAC policy or that they do not know if there is a policy” representing a “persistent minority” of firms that have yet to adopt any measures to prevent bribery.  Within this minority, the report shows that executives are not only apathetic towards compliance, but “are willing to act unethically to win or retain business.”

Because executive officers face greater exposure to corruption risks, EY posits that the best course of action to alleviate this compliance fatigue is for boards of directors to maintain a high level of pressure on C-suite executives to ensure they are taking the necessary precautions. The survey authors state, “This level of scrutiny will drive a higher level of engagement among senior executives.” This solution, however, hinges on the idea that board members have sufficient knowledge and understanding to provide such oversight. Unfortunately, CIPE’s work in emerging markets around the world have shown that this is not always the case.

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Empowering Everyday Folks through Economic Journalism

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It is when citizens are well-informed, equipped with facts, and capable of conducting independent analysis that they can better engage in the policymaking process. Access to information at every level is the backbone of an active citizenry that can come together to keep government honest, responsible, and accountable. In Kyrgyzstan, however, most journalists lack the analytical skills to report well on crucial economic issues, and citizens lack the necessary understanding of core social and economic realities (and values) that are needed to keep a democracy in place 365 days a year. This lack of information not only undermines the population’s ability to support basic market-based democratic reform, but detracts from their ability to engage in the development of their country – of their village, of the region, of the nation at large. It is with this in mind that CIPE partner the Development Policy Institute (DPI) began their work several years ago to improve mass media’s capacity to inform the public on economic concepts during Kyrgyzstan’s fragile period of transition to market-based democracy with protected property rights and rule of law.

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Mongolia Must Improve Its Institutions to Avoid the Resource Curse

mongolia-mine

By Dash Enkhbayar

The West tends to illustrate Mongolia as an “example of a developing country that, despite the odds, managed to accomplish a peaceful transition to democracy.” However, simply achieving an electoral democracy does not complete a country’s democratic transition. Recent years have shed light on the major institutional flaws that still exists in the country’s public and private sectors.

Sandwiched between China and Russia, Mongolia has been attracting significant attention for the past couple of years due to its rapid economic growth and burgeoning mining sector. It recorded the world’s fastest GDP growth rate in 2011 at 17 percent, which put Mongolia in the international spotlight for investment opportunities.

But corruption, poor governance, and unstable government regulations threaten Mongolia’s economic potential. In 2013, due to unfriendly investment laws such as the Strategic Entities Foreign Investment Law, foreign direct investment (FDI) in Mongolia plummeted by 48 percent, which effectively scared away many investors interested in the nation. Mongolia is, in fact, not a model democracy that it seeks to invoke. Instead, the last few years have demonstrated that unless Mongolia seriously starts tackling its institutional weakness it may succumb to the “resource curse,” in which a country with an abundance of natural resources experiences poor economic growth and a worsening political climate.

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Businesses in Eastern Ukraine Threatened by Instability

(Photo: Kyiv Post)

(Photo: Kyiv Post)

When protesters first took to the streets in Ukraine’s largest cities in 2013, economic concerns were at the top of the agenda. As the geopolitical situation in eastern Ukraine has heated up, economic prospects in the contested regions of the country have only gotten worse. Yet average Ukrainians are still working for a more prosperous and democratic future.

Since the Maidan protests, the business climate in the Donbass, the easternmost, coal-mining region of the country, has taken a turn for the worse. Amid the turmoil, local businesses – in particular small and medium-sized firms – have suffered.  Many have been shaken down for so-called “donations,” and in some cases have been looted and ransacked.

A recent article in the local press has documented fines, bribery, and other abuses committed against local businesses by police departments and government officials. Many people have even left the region, heading either for Western Ukraine or even Russia. The owners of small businesses have left their homes and their enterprises behind. They are unsure when they can return, or whether they will find their businesses in the same condition.

As one CIPE partner in the Donbass noted, “Public sector bribes have grown by several times what they were prior to the strife, and not one Grivna [the Ukrainian currency] is going to the budget.” He confirmed that many business owners and heads of banks in the region are being forced to leave their businesses. “Because of roadblocks and military activities, there are just no opportunities to run a business,” he laments.

The pro-European, Kiev-based protests that led to the ouster of former President Viktor Yanukovich made Ukraine a hot topic in international news. Yet in many ways, the situation that set international media ablaze in early February is really a much older story.

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