Urbanization is neither a new phenomenon, nor peculiar to Georgia only. As the world continues to urbanize, the population living in urban areas will increase to 68% by 2050, according to UN. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, more and more people have shifted to the cities in pursuit of better life and economic opportunities. But as the saying goes 'there is an exception to every rule' and there are people who prefer to swim against the current and find new opportunities in rural areas. These are the people who make a big difference to the local economy.
"I had a job in Tbilisi and a stable income. My wife is working in Tbilisi even now commuting every day from the village. Eight years ago when we purchased a house and a land plot, we did not plan to move to the village. It was supposed to be a family dacha (a Russian word for a seasonal or year-round second home) in a beautiful village built by Germans (until 1944 the village was called Traubenberg)," says Artur Akopyan, 51 years old.
Being a city boy, Artur could never imagine he would one day move all his belongings to Tamarisi village (50 km. away from Tbilisi) and start living there from scratch. It was not until the first lockdown that he realized that village life held opportunities rather than just challenges.
"Living in the village allows me to run my own small business and follow my passion – winemaking. I kickstarted the business with my limited savings. I built the wine cellar with my own hands. As winemaking has never been a tradition in my family, I had to educate myself to produce good wine. By my own effort, I have become a small wine producer who sells wine to a close circle of people. But my goal was to upscale and diversify my business and try wine tourism for which I needed to mobilize funds. Honestly, I did not believe in [state] grant programmes and was skeptical about receiving anything," says Artur.
Georgian citizens coming from ethnic minorities often face a language barrier impeding them from applying to state programmes which mandate that all applications must be in Georgian. But the language barrier is not the only stumbling block. Born in Tbilisi, Artur is fluent in Georgian; nonetheless, he faced a different kind of hurdle that discouraged him from applying, like low confidence and limited information about how to apply for state funds.
In 2021, Switzerland started a new project which aims at increasing income and employment for people who live in rural areas by enhancing access to business support services and affordable financing. In one of its interventions, the project supported Enterprise Georgia (EG) to conduct targeted outreach and support activities with minority groups. Specifically, the project facilitated an information and media campaign to encourage ethnic and linguistic minority populations living in the Kvemo Kartli and Samtskhe Javakheti regions to register; and helped EG mobilize civil society organizations to provide targeted support to registered applicants to improve their chances of success. It was at an information session facilitated by the project that Artur learned about the funding opportunity with EG’s micro and small business support programme.
In total, 8’956 individuals accessed information on the grants programme in minority languages and 69 received additional application support. The number of minority winners more than doubled in 2022 – 47 compared to 20 in 2020. Artur Akopyan is one and with the additional funds his business is set to thrive. He is positive about the prospects of other people with rural businesses benefiting too, whatever their background, "when you are driven and want to do something, you will get support, the way we got it."
The project "Rural SMEs Development in Georgia" is implemented by Swisscontact in consortium with Mercy Corps Europe and the Springfield Centre for Business Development.