With shocking disregard for property rights, due process and the rule of law, overnight on February 9 the Moscow city government set out around city to raze hundreds of small businesses. The demolition took place in spite of the fact that many of these businesses had the proper paperwork to operate a business in that location, and in some cases court orders staying any proposed demolition. While the Moscow city government can rely on revenue from other sources, these kiosks and mini-malls supported hundreds of small shops that provided employment for over 2,000 Moscow residents according to the city’s own estimates.
Photo: Hanna Rhodin
By Hanna Rhodin
There is a long history of a bustling merchant culture in Kuwait. Since the 18th century, the country has been known for trade: whether in exchanging goods with India, boat-building, or its pearling industry. Wealth has come to be associated with certain families within the country, thanks to their past success in business that, in some cases, dates back generations. Today these families continue to dominate the private sector. However, according to the official statistics, nearly 85 percent of the Kuwaiti population is still employed by the government. While the last decade has showed a surge in entrepreneurial initiatives, roadblocks and barriers remain.
A shop in Hong Kong where people can receive money sent from abroad. Remittances accounted for more than 80 percent of foreign investment into mainland China from 1979 to 1995. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
“There is nothing more powerful than individuals motivated to invest in meaningful programs in their home countries,” said Eric-Vincent Guichard, the Founder and CEO of Homestrings, an online platform facilitating global diaspora investments. The son of a Guinean father and an American mother, Eric spent most of his formative years in Guinea attending primary and secondary school before moving to the United States. From his personal experience, he knows the challenges that diaspora communities face when trying to invest in their country of origin.
Remittances comprise a significant portion of the foreign directed investment (FDI) in many countries. According to the World Bank, global remittances consistently dwarf foreign assistance by a factor of three, with $414 billion projected this year alone. Even in countries that attract a lot of investment from global markets, the role of diaspora investment is substantial: between 1991 and 2001, the Indian diaspora was responsible for $2.8 billion of the $10 billion in foreign investment the flowed into the country. In China, diaspora investment accounted for the vast majority — 80 percent — of total FDI between 1979 and 1995.
Remittances have come to play this vital role as source of FDI despite various rules and regulations that make it difficult for individuals to invest in private companies back home. Traditionally, diaspora remittances have flowed mostly to family members, religious institutions, and non-governmental organizations.
These channels are invaluable when it comes to supporting charitable causes and small family businesses, but do not give investors much control over how the money is used or provide the opportunity to re-invest or make a profit. This significantly limits the potential of diaspora investment to develop larger, more productive businesses that can create jobs and economic growth back home.
Kiev is Ukraine’s political and economic capital. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
The Ukrainian government is in the difficult position of trying to overhaul a wide range of economic, judicial, and political institutions, all while fighting a war in the country’s east. The challenges are stark: Ukraine is in the midst of its worst recession since 2009, and the government expects the economy to shrink by 9.5 percent this year, with annual inflation likely to reach 48 percent. Thus it comes as no surprise that many Ukrainian citizens have begun to complain that the government isn’t doing enough, or that the pace of change after the EuroMaidan is too slow.
A policy paper released by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in November 2014, not long after the current government took office, analyzed a range of Ukrainian policies that are slanted against the business community, creating particular challenges for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
While the reform effort since 2014 has been intense, many SME owners are still not satisfied with efforts to ease the regulatory burden, according to the findings of a national survey of over 1,600 SMEs, recently conducted by CIPE as part of the USAID project Supporting Urgent Reforms to Better Ukraine’s Business Environment (SURE) .
“When women come together in Nicaragua, we usually talk about families and communities. We never discuss about our businesses. That’s why a community like Red de Empresarias de Nicaragua (REN) is important, where women are encouraged to talk about their businesses without offending someone or thinking it’s a taboo.”
Marla Reyes Rojas, the owner of Techno Commerce Group, told me this over a cup of coffee during my recent trip to Managua. I was glad to hear first-hand how a CIPE partner is fostering a community where businesswomen, like Marla, can openly talk and build networks with other women in business.
Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprise (MSME) growth has been touted as a key for Nicaragua’s economic growth, but the country remains one of the most difficult places to start a business in Central America (for example, the licensing process takes more than 200 days to complete). This is even more pronounced for women entrepreneurs who confront myriad of challenges, and as a result only represent around 25 percent of the MSME sector in the country. Additionally, women face the rooted machismo culture that prevents them from achieving gender equality in the economy.
In such an environment, it’s crucial for women in business to come together and motivate one another. That’s why for the past year, REN led a mentorship program to develop leadership and entrepreneurship skills among women in Nicaragua. The program linked successful women entrepreneurs to female university students with business degrees (who served as interns) and emerging women micro-entrepreneurs (who were the mentees). REN matched ten teams — a team consisted of a mentee, mentor, and an intern — and each group worked to improve the mentee’s business.
Under the banner of “Identity, Community, Vision,” over 1,300 delegates from around the world gathered in Turin, Italy on June 10 to attend the World Chambers Congress. The main focus of the three day event was how to strengthen small and medium enterprises (SMEs) worldwide to create jobs. Organizers focused on the need to create enabling environments for these businesses to grow and prosper – especially when it comes to youth and entrepreneurs.
“Chambers of Commerce play an increasingly important role in the global economy and are central to the International Chamber’s vision to promote trade as a driver of growth, jobs and sustainable development,” International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Chairman Terry McGraw told the delegates. “The World Chambers Congress is an essential forum to promote knowledge sharing between chambers from around the world – driving real development of public-private partnerships.”
More than a year after the EuroMaidan protests took the world by surprise, Ukraine’s political and economic struggles continue. Developments in the country since the new government came to power highlight the ongoing challenges of systemic overhaul following an exciting, rapid transition. These challenges clearly illustrate the link between democratic development and economic reform, so central to CIPE’s work. Accomplishing the tasks facing Ukraine, from combating corruption, to reducing the barriers to doing business, to creating space for public-private dialogue, will be no easy feat.
The success of Ukraine’s economic and democratic development largely depends on ensuring the success of the country’s small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The entrepreneurial and flexible nature of SMEs makes them integral to achieving a number of the country’s goals: economic diversification; closer integration with Europe; building an adaptable economy; stimulating job growth; and boosting productivity.
Ukraine thus seeks to emulate the ways in which SMEs have helped make the U.S. economy among the world’s most successful. Boosting SMEs will require both giving the business community – and SMEs in particular – a seat at the policymaking table, and providing these firms with extensive support and training. CIPE’s partners are playing an important role in both of these processes.
CIPE’s primary focus in Ukraine has been to reduce policy barriers to business through cross-regional advocacy. Since opening the Kyiv office in 2010, CIPE has developed an extensive network of partner business associations and chambers of commerce across the country that work to represent and support Ukraine’s citizens through the work that they do.