The Women Business Council in Georgia (WBCG) is continuing to arrange a number of trainings and meetings in order to promote recognition of women in Georgia, to bring together women of diverse occupations and to provide opportunities for them to help themselves and others grow both personally and professionally.
The WBCG is a membership-based non-profit organisation founded in May, 2015. WBCG works with women from diverse communities locally and regionally and delivers a broad range of services that inspire participants to become economically active and personally fulfilled.
“Our organization constantly arranges seminars and trainings in different directions. This year we paid special attention to professional development, tax and accounting directions, as well as turning innovative ideas into business initiatives,” said Natia Meparishvili, Chairwoman of WBCG.
In this interview Meparishvili talked about what challenges businesses face in Georgia and especially women-run businesses, how the culture of doing business has changed in the country and what the WBCG’s contribution to the empowerment of women is.
Q. How has the culture of doing business in Georgia changed since signing the Association Agreement (AA) in June 2014 and starting the implementation of those regulations set out by the AA?
A. Since signing the AA many projects have been getting implemented in Georgia with the financial support of the European Union in order to support businesses and implement those standards set by the AA. This process is dynamic for small and medium-sized businesses. With this support there have been many positive developments of note, especially in the field of agriculture. Export of Georgian agricultural products to the EU has been growing. I would single out the winemaking field based on the example of our women entrepreneurs.
Q. Georgia today has free trade agreements both with the EU and China, yet businesses here are still facing difficulties in increasing their export capacity and entering these markets. In your opinion, beyond signing free trade agreements, what other kinds of support do businesses in Georgia need to fully enjoy the benefits of those agreements?
A. In general, small and medium entrepreneurship is the most vulnerable in terms of access to finance, irrespective of gender.
In developed countries support of small and medium-sized businesses is a priority. The EU also maintains that for developing and maintaining a strong economy it is important to have a strong SME segment. For this reason these developed countries create different tax legislative regulations for SMEs to give them the opportunity to develop further.
In Georgia an important development was the amendments made to the Tax Code that further liberalized it. I’m referring to when we switched to the Estonian Taxation model. Under the Estonian Taxation Model all businesses, except for profit-sharing businesses, should be exempt from income tax. If a company reinvests their profit they will no longer be obliged to pay income tax. In other words, if a private entity does not receive a dividend from his/her company, he/she will not pay income tax meaning he/she will not pay tax for the reinvested money.
This amendment made a positive impact on the reduction of tax expenses of the companies, so they became able to reinvest this money.
Q. How do the problems of men and women entrepreneurs differ from each other in terms of doing business? Is there an equal environment created for both genders of entrepreneurs?
A. At first glance nothing is different – the challenges and needs are the same for both genders. Problems include a lack of access to finance, lack of entrepreneurship skills, lack of eco-environment, etc.
The obstacle becomes more cultural when women face challenges in terms of having access to real estate. The environment is not equal in terms of employment and equal salaries either.
Q. There is not an official statistic but from your observation has the number of women start-uppers increased in Georgia recently?
A. Yes, there is no official statistical data on this but from my observation the growth was faster two years ago than now. I think the reason for this decline is that women have learnt the entrepreneurial skills, and so whereas earlier their will to start a business was spontaneous, now they think more about getting better commercial results.
Q. Have the main fields of interest for women changed?
A. Many families are still kept afloat in Georgia by the money earned and sent to them by emigrant Georgian women. In the past, women might have had some savings but they would spend it on their families, while today the majority of women try to invest this money in economically profitable businesses.
I would single out the winemaking field which has become very attractive for women entrepreneurs. More and more women are starting businesses in precisely this field. Also, honey-making is an interesting field for women and especially for those women who live in the high mountainous regions of Georgia; also the hazelnut growing field. Two women from the Samegrelo region are doing very successfully in this field.
Q. What does WBCG do to support women entrepreneurs living in the regions of Georgia?
A. Every year we invite women entrepreneurs from different regions of Georgia to take part in conferences and learn how to better position their businesses towards donor organizations. They take part in exhibitions and in trainings scheduled throughout the year. I am glad that many projects are targeted at the regions but it does not mean that all of them are equally effective. I would distinguish the EU programme ENPARD and its projects, which has been contributing to development of agricultural businesses in the villages. I would also highlight the ZRDA project and G4G projects of USAID.
Q. Finally, please tell us more about you. Besides your activities in the WBCG what else is in your field of interest?
A. As of today I give lecturers to students on internal and external communications, business communications, marketing, etc. I have work experience from both the private as well as public sectors and personally, I have always been in search of interesting and useful business ideas. I was an editor of the first bilingual magazine which was innovative in Georgia as we offered discount vouchers through print media. Also, we used to feature the profile stories of representatives of different successful companies.
I am the producer of one feature and three documentary films and the director of several movies and clips.
We are a non-governmental organization that always tries to offer events that are targeted at challenges and useful practices.
Life itself is a challenge and my biography is a clear example of that. And there are many people like me who have a diverse professional archive: director; painter; producer; communications specialist; marketing manager; expert of economic development; doctor of social sciences; art expert.
And finally, it is the women around me that give me strength. We never forget about the difficulties we all encounter and are always ready to share our experiences to help each other avoid similar mistakes.