REDI repesentatives speak about the Roma entrepreneurship
Even among people who do not have a priori a low opinion of the Roma, the initial image and association is avoidance of the job and if one works, then they collect raw material in the simpliest, basic manner - by rummaging through bins. Stereotypes and prejudices are still stronger than the efforts to integrate the Roma community into the society as completely equal one.
REDI organization, Roma Entrepreneurship Development Initiative, is the result of the realization that the Roma can win the poverty and marginalization only if they develop their entrepreneurial capacities. Of course, this initiative also contributes to the development of the society in which those entrepreneurs live and actively earn. Since it was launched, the Initiative has been supported by the Open Society Foundation and its founder George Soros who distinguished himself in the previous three decades as one of the greatest if not the most significant benefactor of Roma community in Eastern, Central and Southeast Europe.
We would like to remind you that George Soros’s Foundation together with the World Bank launched the Decade of Roma Inclusion which was declared in Sofia on February 2nd, 2005 when the Presidents or Prime Ministers of 12 European countries joined the Decade. Very important player in the process of launching the Decade and securing the support for Roma communities and for the policy of inclusion across Europe is the European Union. Having realized the shameful negligence and systematic discrimination od the Roma, it invested and still invests both significant material resources and growing but still insufficient political will to improve their situation with regard to the housing, social and existential issues. However, it was only recently that the need to recognize the Roma as the potential engine of development arose and REDI marks the new step towards the emancipation of the Roma.
Novi Magazin spoke with Nadire Redjepi and Jasmina Useinovic, managers for Macedonia and Serbia, and with Petrica Dulgheru, Executive Director of REDI for Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans, about the significance of REDI. We asked him if he could describe in detail how the idea of founding REDI and encouraging the Roma population to become entrepreneurs had come about and what had been the experiences so far.
„The idea was based on the belief that Roma communities can only develop from within capitalizing on existing resources and capacities. The key assumption is that we need to identify those who are taking their own life in their hands and focus on developing products and services which enable them to grow their business and gain capital while also creating jobs for their families and loved ones“, Dulgheru says for Novi Magazin.
*The model of financing your organization is very interesting. The initial funds for the establishment of your organization have been allocated by the Council of Europe, the Open Society Foundation, and you are also addressing the Governments of the countries in which REDI operates. Do Governments have an understanding of your organization, and do they want to allocate any funds?
PETRICA DULGHERU:The organization is financially supported by three sources – the Open Society Foundation, the Council of Europe Development Bank and the European Commission. Governments have not been interested in and involved so far. I think that the governments understand that this is a problem, many of them perceive the Roma as the citizens of their countries and believe that they have access to the main industrial resources. In my opinion, it is only partially true because if we speak about people from the threatened communities and people from the special rural areas, discrimination is still very significant component of their everyday life. With the regard to the support, I think that most Roma, at least we know about, do not receive any suuport from the loan officers or banks. I think it is the reason the governments should be more active...
*For now, you operate in Bulgaria, Macedonia, Romania, and Serbia. How many funds did the Governments allocate for REDI so far in total, and what kind of entrepreneurship is prevalent in the Roma community?
The governments allocated nothing. The Roma are very active in numerous entrepreneurship domains. One of them is trade, they are very active in selling many various goods which can be bought on the secondary markets, then in manufacturing, many of them make clothes and other products, in agriculture and I think that in Serbia many of them are engaged in agriculture. One of the domains in which the Roma are very active is culture or music, and there are more than 300 Roma in Serbia who would like to form the association in order to make the type of music they like and we work with them on finding the best possible way to achieve this.
*Can you tell us what is the degree of interest of the Roma community to engage in specific types of entrepreneurship, how many are employed in this way, and which are the most successful?
Usually the Roma people encounter difficulties to find a job that are accessible by the non-Roma, therefore, in most of the cases they become small entrepreneurs and work two times more in order to ensure the living of their families. The majority of Roma entrepreneurs do not have specific training on entrepreneurship, business development or marketing and develop their activity informally. REDI through its business facilitation services comes to offer technical assistance to such entrepreneurs, helping them formalize their activity, grow their business. In the last week, we completed the Roma Digital Boost program, through which we trained 30 Roma entrepreneurs from North Macedonia, Serbia and Romania, whose businesses have been affected by the pandemic crisis, to transit their activity to online business. This will help them maintain the entrepreneurial activity going instead of bankrupting. From our experience, mapping more than 1500 Roma entrepreneurs in North Macedonia, Serbia and Romania, we have concluded that most of the Roma entrepreneurs are involved in trade business, import-export, also owning companies that produce furniture, handicrafts, provide sanitary installation services, cleaning services, agriculture, etc.
*Is it possible through Roma Entrepreneurship Initiative to change the established public opinion that Roma people do not like to work, they like to live on social help and they prefer to work in the gray zone?
The Roma people unfortunately lived under stigmata and discrimination for more than 100 years. This led to less chances for them to access education, employment and be part of decision-making. This drastically affected their lives and put them in a vicious circle. Without proper or lack of education it’s impossible to obtain a good job, to buy a house and so on.
Being left without choice, most of the Roma can work informally but their employers still pay taxes. The ones that are affected in this case are Roma who do not benefit from health insurance and social benefits of the regular employees. Also the salaries for the low skilled jobs are very small. Therefore, it is difficult for a Roma to find a job in the city 20-60 km far from his house, having to pay the transportation to work and additionally support the family. The money would simply not be enough. These lead usually for Roma to stay unemployed.
It’s quite difficult to change the general public opinion, but from our organization perspective and field data collected from the beginning of our activity, we can admit that even though they suffered from oppression and continued antigypsyism which they everyday face, the Roma people want and tries as much as possible to integrate and be part of a society that provides a sustainable development induction in the work field. Through our business clubs, we created the capacity of getting in touch with a large number of successful Roma entrepreneurs, and through our NGO’s activity, we organize programs which are focused on the development and empowerment of young Roma entrepreneurs who need to upgrade their professional skills and boost their early-stage businesses.
We share our knowledge with enthusiasm and we believe that Roma communities have great potential with their capacity of work, dedication, and integrity, especially because these values are part of the tradition among Roma families.
In the last decade, there have been big improvements in the field of education. Currently we have thousands of young Roma graduates. Now it is time to improve the economical capacity of the Roma communities through employment and business development programs. In this way, we will succeed to improve the life in the Roma communities.
REDI’S EXPERIENCE IN MACEDONIA
*What is the relationship of the Macedonian Government towards the REDI project? How much money did you get from the Government of Macedonia and how much from the other donators?
NADIRE REDJEPI:Since 2018, REDI Macedonia has established close collaboration with the Ministry of Employment & Social Affairs and the National Agency of Employment focusing on increasing the access to government measures, employment and entrepreneurship. In the last two years (2018 and 2019), REDI Macedonia has received financial support only from other donors such as Open Society Institution (Roma Initiative Office), International Visegrad Fund, Civica and others exceeding a total budget over 100 000 EUR.
*What kind of start-up Roma people from Macedonia mostly establishes with the help of REDI?
Through the years, Roma people have been known to run a various type of businesses, from crafts and trade to agriculture and livestock. The Roma people from North of Macedonia mostly have start-ups on commerce, trading clothes, textile and providing services such as restaurants, cosmetics with pedicure and manicure and etc. REDI has supported several startup businesses mostly on commerce with textile, online shops, jewelry, but also businesses who are providing services, one of which was really exciting to work on. Namely, it is about an entrepreneur who had a business idea explained in one sentence - I want to open a Cargo company. From one business sentence, we managed to develop a business idea that we wrote on a business plan and finally realized in a real medium-sized business. Currently, as one of the mechanism that we offer for responses to the COVID-19 crisis is supporting the Roma entreprenurs to transit from traditional business to digital business and open an e-shop where they will follow the trend of trading on web platforms and also protect their business from the covid crises.
REDI ACTIVITIES IN SERBIA
*What is the specificity of the Roma community in Serbia and what kind of entrepreneurship are Roma people the most interested in?
JASMINA USEINOVIĆ:Speaking of the sectors Roma entrepreneurs, formal and informal, are mostly involved in, are the secondary raw materials collection, agriculture and construction, trade, production, and services. According to the Regional Cooperation Council findings, there are around 40 000 Roma individual waste collects, and they collect around 75% of secondary raw material collected in Serbia. What is specific for Roma entrepreneurship is that most of the companies are family companies where family members are involved in the process and working and that these are mostly micro enterprises. Speaking of gender structure, owners of enterprises are mostly men, according to the latest research done by InTER. What also, unfortunately, characterizes Roma entrepreneurship in Serbia is low financial literacy which makes it harder for the entrepreneurs to understand, lead, and incorporate themselves on a trade market.
*Except for help with the money, what else could the government of Serbia do for REDI and the Roma community in general?
The support for Roma entrepreneurship must be comprehensive. In a situation where challenges are diversified, one type of support is not enough for a Roma entrepreneur to survive and grow on the trade market. First, unfortunately, Roma entrepreneurs are not well informed on the programs for entrepreneurship development. Roma formal and informal entrepreneurs need to receive comprehensive and understandable information about all the measures and incentives they can apply for, and about their rights from working contract or the formalization of the business. This means that Roma NGOs and individual experts must be provided with regular access to information, consultations, training, meetings with the relevant state employees involved in the process. The second measure, deriving from this one, is providing advisory, counseling, and mentoring services. A high number of Roma people have low financial skills, while according to the existing data, 90% of Roma people registered in the National Employment Agency are with low educational background. This leads to the situation where they need support in, for example, accessing the government measures, doing the paperwork for their business, registering their business, and so on. Providing advisory services, advisors in certain institutions counseling, or mentoring services, which REDI already provides, would be more than welcome. Support for the Roma entrepreneur’s association would be the next type of support. It is necessary to encourage cooperation among Roma entrepreneurs and between them and business associations and business development service providers (chambers of commerce, regional development agencies, business incubators, clusters, etc.). REDI’s initiative of forming the Roma Business Club with the Roma entrepreneurs actively involved in it should be supported in a sense of easing and ensuring communication with the relevant stakeholders and non-state institutions.