You can too! How the EU supports women entrepreneurs in Belarus
1. I want to start my own business, but I’m not sure my idea would work. Who can advise me?

The European Union is very active in supporting the development of new businesses, particularly among women, and whatever the level of business experience – indeed many programmes target women who may never have been involved in business before. So don’t think you need to be launching a hi-tech start-up in Minsk to access EU assistance: programmes are spread out across the country, with a strong focus on regional development and help for disadvantaged areas.

Women

Here are some examples of the support that is available:

The Mayors for Economic Growth programme supports local authorities in developing economic growth and job creation. Among the dozens of local authorities that have signed up in Belarus, three are running pioneer projects including support for new entrepreneurs with training and business development facilities, ensuring the equal access of women to development opportunities. The project in Hlybokaje district is focused on business support facilities with information and skills training for local entrepreneurs; Slaŭharad is encouraging ecotourism with training and business services; and Brahin district is improving support services for rural enterprises.

Since 2019, a new project aims to promote development and expand job opportunities at local level. The Support to Local Economic Development at the Local Level in the Republic of Belarus is implemented by UNDP and works in 12 pilot districts: Braslaŭ and Orša (Viciebsk region), Chocimsk and Bychauŭ (Mahilioŭ region), Žlobin, Chojniki and Brahin (Homieĺ region), Biaroza and Kobryn (Brest region), Lida (Hrodna region), Maladziečna and Barysaŭ (Minsk region). It aims to improve support for small businesses and entrepreneurs, as well as establishing incubators and a micro-finance facility to finance SMEs and social enterprises.

For young women, particularly from disadvantaged background, two EU4Youth projects – Employability and Stability and Fostering potential for greater employability – provide entrepreneurship training and mentorship. From 2018-2020, 2,217 young women in Belarus benefited from training and workshops under EU4Youth projects, and 43 became self-employed after receiving support.

If you live in the Jasieĺda river valley region, an EU-funded project (Landscape-Oriented and Community-Led Rural Area Development of the Jasieĺda River) supports residents of the area in sustainable development initiatives, with 8 local development clubs offering business support and skills development.

2. Business advice is all very well, but you need money to start a new business. How can I get funding when I have no money of my own and no business experience?

The projects above will help you to identify sources of finance as part of the training and advice they offer, and in many cases support you in preparing your application. Some will even provide grants: the Local economic development project is offering grants until 2022, and has just announced its latest call for $25,000 entrepreneurship grants, open until 30 March 2021. The EU4Youth Employability and Stability project includes financial support for the best business ideas developed as part of its training – ideas like those of Olga Kolyago and Milana Leonovich, who received grants to implement the projects they developed in the course of their training.

3. I already have a business, but I need help to take it to the next step: is there any EU support available for me?

If you already have a business and you are looking to develop, funding (and training) is available through a number of programmes under the EU4Business initiative, which channels EU support to private sector development across Belarus.

Specifically, the EBRD’s Women in Business programme offers loans, training and advisory services that are specifically tailored to women-led businesses. The programme works with local partners IdeaBank, BNB Bank and Belinvest Bank to offer dedicated financing to help women entrepreneurs, with products that specifically address the needs of women-led SMEs. The programme also offers a personalised online tool – the Business Lens – to assess your business and see what kind of support you can access.

EU funding is also available from the European Fund for South East Europe (EFSE), which works with local partners BNB Bank and Belinvestbank to provide finance (average loan size €22,000) including to the smallest businesses (less than 10 employees) in sectors such as agriculture, industry, trade and services.

Subsidised consultancy services are also available from the Advice for Small Businesses programme, in areas including strategy, marketing, operations, quality management, energy efficiency, financial management and more. Visit the EBRD website to find out how to apply.

If you have a business in the textile or clothing sector, you could also receive advisory and market access support under the Ready to Trade project.

4. Are there women like me, who started their own business with EU help?

There are more than you can imagine!

In 2019, 62 women entrepreneurs in Belarus received loans to a total value of more than €2.8 million under EU support programmes for SMEs, while 23 received grants worth almost €16,800. Another 286 women benefitted from consultancy services. Turnover among supported companies rose by almost than €16 million, and 1,186 new jobs were created as a result of the support.

For example:

Yekaterina Glushets received help to turn her idea into a business plan from the new ‘Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovations Promotion and Support’, established in the Hlybokaje District as part of the Mayors for Economic Growth initiative.

Lyudmila Chebotar, Tamara Tverdovskaya and Galina Yermakova received EU support to develop their small tourism businesses (traditional cooking, cheese making and beekeeping respectively) in the Slaǔharad District, under a regional development project aimed at supporting local initiatives and traditional heritage.

Svetlana Serikov and her husband Andrei started small with their underwear factory in 2009, but when they wanted to grow, it was the EBRD business advice project that provided a consultant for guidance on marketing and brand development. As a result, they expanded their range from lingerie to clothing, doubled exports and increased turnover by 87%.

5. I’m not sure I want to start a business, but I want to learn new skills: is there something for me from the EU?

The EU4Youth projects Employability and Stability and Fostering Potential for Greater Employability also have a strong focus on skills for under-35s, especially in less advantaged regions of Belarus.

For young people under the age of 30, the EU offers exciting opportunities under its Erasmus + youth programmes. You can join the almost 3,500 young Belarusians who have already learned new skills and developed valuable experience by participating in youth projects or volunteering for work abroad under the European Solidarity Corps.

6. Whom can I ask for help?

Check out the Mayors for Economic Growth website to see if your town is among the signatories and what it is doing to support jobs and businesses near you.

The programme for support for local economic development is implemented by the UNDP in Belarus – follow their Facebook page for updates, opportunities and contacts.

If you already have a business and are looking to develop it, check out the training and funding opportunities available under EU4Business in Belarus. The website includes comprehensive details of loan and grant opportunities and business development services. It also includes a COVID-19 information support centre, outlining EU support measures to help small businesses in Belarus to withstand the crisis.

EU4Youth projects are implemented by SOS Children’s Villages in Belarus (Employability and Stability), the Belarus Red Cross Society (Fostering Potential for Greater Employability) and Green Cross Belarus (School Garden for Agricultural Entrepreneurship).

For education and youth opportunities, contact the national Erasmus + office in Belarus.

And stay in touch with all news about EU funding by following the Facebook page of the EU Delegation in Belarus.