December 8, 2009

Changemakers in Moldova

Most of the world is now focusing on the COP15 developments. Meanwhile, in Moldova, a small country between Romania and Ukraine, where little attention is given to climate change or global negotiations, an important step on the road to sustainable solutions and environmental improvements was taken this Saturday.

In the capital Chisinau, 200 participants took part in the first nation-wide gathering of its kind, to strengthen entrepreneurship and development of small enterprises throughout the country. A much needed effort in a country that has long ranked as Europe’s poorest. Its agricultural industry – once its pride – is almost collapsed, and today a quarter of its population is working abroad (often illegally). Adding to that, the country is squeezed between the borders of EU and the almost-nextdoor neighbor Russia, with whom Moldova has frosty relations but is totally dependent on for its energy supply.

If change in a sustainable direction is to take place around the world, part of the solution lies in the entrepreneurial initiatives that are about creating brighter and more reliable futures in places such as the countryside of Moldova. If that is to happen, there need to be crowds of creative and confident entrepreneurs in the country. The need is evident, and the potential is great. These future entrepreneurs are the ones to start solar energy generation facilities to allow for secure, cheap and climate friendly energy; to start ecological farming of premium vegetables to be sold in Europe; and to open up the IT service centers of the future.

The meeting, that was held to launch the first Moldovan platform to support sustainable youth employment, provided a possibility for the 100+ participating entrepreneurs to learn about concrete possibilities for financing, incubator support and networking opportunities. Among the presenters were representatives from banks and financial institutions. They made it clear that lack of money is not Moldova's greatest problem. Funding programs in the ranges of EUR 100 million were presented. But the links between the funds and the entrepreneurs are not there, the models of the big institutions are not accessible for the small businesses. Maybe the presentations and discussions that day took a small step towards bridging that gap.

Maybe links between resources and entrepreneurs were also made by the fact that the Prime Minister, Vlad Filat, participated and explicitly offered support and asked for feedback to help make improvement in the legal frameworks –he participated together with ministers and vice ministers of finance and youth. The government is young. The Prime Minister has been in office only two months, and is eager to quickly achieve real change in a direction “towards Europe”. I hope they will.

This event was put together not by the government, not by an international organization. It was organized by a young serial entrepreneur and change-maker. Igor Casapu is in the restaurant business – and at the age of 27 he has already successfully bought, built and sold at least three cafés. He has also built an impressive network of 140 young entrepreneurs around the country, supporting them with necessary connections, advice and training. Revenues from his restaurants are making this work possible. When institutional funding is slow, his business income makes it possible to achieve change quickly. That is a social entrepreneurship model that is worth copying – for quick change in the right direction.

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