The Women Business Council in Georgia is planning to establish an entrepreneurship academy in Georgia to create opportunities for women to hone their entrepreneurial skills and knowledge.
This year the Council also plans to establish ties with women's organizations of Ukraine, Slovakia, and Serbia, and hopefully to organize a joint forum in the future, Chairwoman of WBCG Natia Meparishvili told Golden Brand.
In 2023 the WBCG plans 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 grow personally and professionally.
WBCG is a membership-based non-profit organization founded in May, 2015. It works with women from diverse communities and delivers a broad range of services that inspire participants to become economically pro-active and personally fulfilled.
In this interview, Meparishvili talked about what challenges businesses face in Georgia and
especially women-led 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. Please share with us the most memorable moments from the activities of WBCG of 2022.
A. 2022 turned out to be very fruitful for our organization. Together with the Association for Women Entrepreneurs' Development in Azerbaijan (AWEDA) we undertook a one-year project called “Promoting Gender Equality and Women’s Economic Empowerment on the Road to Sustainable Development: Enhance and Peer Learning”. Forty entrepreneurs received practical and professional knowledge from business experts and professional trainers. We also held a forum entitled "Women Entrepreneurs in Digital and Eco-Friendly Businesses". Under the same name we announced a competition, revealed two winners and gave them a monetary award.
Our organization visited the "International Women's Conference" held in Baku, where we reviewed the challenges and stories of female entrepreneurs, met strong women from different countries who are at war every day - and fought to break down stereotypes.
It is an important achievement that our digital event, Digital Exhibition Week of Women in Art, has become an annual event and this year it is being held for the third time. The mission of this project is to create a global platform on which female artists are given an opportunity to exhibit their art to a wide audience, and contribute to the exchange of ideas. The main goal of our project is to provide access to the works of female artists and to promote their economic empowerment.
Q. What are the rules of becoming a member of the WBCG and why young entrepreneurs should join the Council?
A. Membership in our organization is open to women entrepreneurs registered in Georgia and not residents.
This year we are launching various events to motivate our members, and our goal is to provide effective services based on the capabilities and requirements of women entrepreneurs and to advocate for them.
Q. How has the interest of female entrepreneurs changed recently towards the economy?
A. Mostly female entrepreneurs are involved in micro-, small- and medium-sized businesses. According to statistics, women are mostly self-employed, so they have the status of individual entrepreneur and micro-entrepreneur. The number of women-led startups has increased, which is very good. There has been an increase in female startups.
However, as you know, more access to finance for women is important for development. So I would like to point out that it is important to have various grant programs, even run a small and micro-business development grant program in Georgia, or various programs by financial institutions to support women entrepreneurs, which simplifies the process of taking out business loans.
Many feel it is more difficult for women to do business, and the European Union is trying to strengthen the role of women in the economy through various projects and programs. Moreover, when countries are evaluated, by economic or other development indicators, one of the important factors in giving a rating to a country is "women in business".
Q. How should the business environment be changed in Georgia so women may better succeed in their economic activities?
A. The list of needs of women entrepreneurs remains unchanged in Georgia. Achieving gender equality is an imperative of modern business. The list is quite long. I will single out access to finance and gender balance in the workplace.
We should focus more on the development of entrepreneurial skills. We and similar NGOs try to provide a variety of training, inasmuch as it helps women plan their business idea from the beginning and think about possible means of future development.
Stereotypes about female entrepreneurs have already begun to break down. Women have become interested in unconventional and unpopular professions, and have even become more accustomed to such professions as bus driver, engineering, building, and more.
Q. Overall, how has the business environment improved in Georgia and for female entrepreneurs in particular?
A. The last three years have put a heavy burden on the private sector and especially on small and medium businesses. There were unforeseen expenses that led to the needs caused by the pandemic to digitize systems and services. This was necessary to keep companies alive.
When it comes to talking about today's business environment, there are challenges, and business support organizations like ours are taking the initiative to respond to various needs.
Women entrepreneurs are the most vulnerable due to their unchanging needs. Effectively responding to the economic needs of women in business is paramount. The current environment has not improved and the challenges remain, which include access to finance and the development of practical skills and knowledge. In the case of female entrepreneurs, I would mention as an improvement the fact that women have moved into businesses that are not typical for women (logistics, construction, energy, winemaking, etc.).
Q. WBCG supported the Golden Brand Awards this year again. How would you evaluate your cooperation?
A. The Golden Brand is a gift for business people, which the private sector looks forward to every year. I have so much to say about the fantastic team behind this truly massive award show.
We are proud to cooperate with Golden Brand, which has been going for eighteen years. Every year this award ceremony gives us an opportunity for a kind of review and analysis of the various companies’ operations from the previous year. Businesses are proud to accept the award and display the Golden Brand logo.
Q. Why did you come up with the idea of helping female entrepreneurs?
A. The WBCG is a non-profit organization based on membership, the purpose of which is to popularize entrepreneurial skills in Tbilisi and the regions of Georgia, to strengthen economic opportunities for women, to organize various events (seminars, conferences, forums, etc.).
I am the co-founder and chairman of this organization for the second term. I am also an associate professor of Alte University and the author of various scientific works.
In response to your question of why I had the idea to help women entrepreneurs, I would say that the most effective way to gain independence and reduce violence against women is their economic empowerment. A financially strong woman is free in her choices and decisions.
When I was young I loved cinema, painting. I successfully mastered the desired professions, however, in real life, an “iron curtain” was erected in front of me. Due to my overly realistic nature, I made a proper assessment of the reality in which I would have to spend the coming years. I refused many attractive opportunities to continue my studies abroad, and at the same time I realized that I was refusing the desired profession in the process.
I did not stop and continued to study for my Ph. D, and soon I was transferred to the business field, then the public sector in the direction of business followed by projects with donor organizations on social and economic topics.
As soon as I was starting to talk about establishing the women's organization, many people were angry and even worried that women do not need support at all. Even women around me made such criticism.
To this day, many women think that no one has abused them, because in the opinion of many, violence includes only physical action. However, what is considered a norm for many may also be a violation of women's rights. Imagine when the career growth of a woman with much higher qualifications is very difficult and she often cannot be promoted just because she represents the
Co-founding the WBCG is a great honor for me. Although it requires a lot of effort, at the same time it creates new opportunities for others and speaks loudly about our needs and desires and, very importantly, creates a group of women who strengthen each other and are ready to share their experiences or failures at any time. Join us! Our door is open to everyone!