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Boosting entrepreneurship education in Moldova to bring young people out of the shadows

Boosting entrepreneurship education in Moldova to bring young people out of the shadows

When asked “Do you want to leave the country?”, almost all students in a Telenești or Rezina school would raise their hands. Migration often comes to young people in Moldova as an immediate solution to their economic problems, whereas setting up own business in the home country seems unattainable for many reasons, such as lack of start-up funding, challenges in business registration, the tax burden, and so on. The Humanitarian Association ‘Filantropia Crestina’ believes that enhancing entrepreneurship education in small urban areas can help to retain young people in Moldova. And with EU support, the association succeeds in nurturing young entrepreneurs in Telenești and Rezina districts.

Marina, 33, comes from the small commune of Ratuș in Telenești District. She spent several years in the UK, running her own cleaning business, but after the outbreak of COVID she had to return to the Republic of Moldova. In her home country, Marina had to restart her life from scratch, trying to earn money for herself and her seven-year-old son. “I was struggling through a period of stagnation. I didn’t have enough money to support my child, recalls Marina. “A social assistant from my village contacted me, saying that the Humanitarian Association ‘Filantropia Crestina’ was looking for young people for their entrepreneurial education programme ‘Startup-EDU School’. I agreed. I was open to any work opportunity at that time”.

Petru, 21, left his hometown of Telenești for Chisinau to follow barber courses and eventually to find a job there. Petru did not plan to come back, but when he came across information about the NGO’s educational programme in the city hall of his hometown, he – just like Marina – decided to grasp the opportunity and to start his own business.

“In more than 10 years of our activities, ‘Filantropia Crestina’ has helped to integrate into the labour market over 500 young people from Rezina and Telenesti districts,”  says Sergiu Aga, Executive Director. “In recent years, our attention was particularly focused on NEETs – young people not engaged in employment, education or training.”

NEETs make up a considerable share in the total number of young people in Moldova – around 28%. However, this segment is often hidden, even to the central public administration. Local authorities are often unaware of the existence of NEETs, of their needs or actions to be taken to integrate them into communities, to employ or self-employ. And this is where civil society organisations can make a change.

In 2021, ‘Filantropia Crestina’ developed an idea of entrepreneurial education for NEETs from Rezina and Telenești districts, which grew into a project that received EU financial support through the East Europe Foundation. The key objective was very concrete: to engage motivated young people in the entrepreneurial education programme developed by the association, selecting ten beneficiaries to support with mini-grants for their businesses.

In collaboration with the local authorities, the social assistance department and local vocational schools, ‘Filantropia Crestina’ reached out to hundreds of young people in the area. Its first group of activities – a series of informational and consultative workshops, discussions and focus groups – had a dual purpose. On the one hand, they aimed to support the NEETs in their professional development, boosting their self-confidence, motivating and improving their employability skills. On the other hand, the workshops helped to pre-select a core group of 38 most motivated young people to be part of the educational entrepreneurship programme.

“The ‘StartupEdu School’ was conceived by me as a modular programme, consisting of five comprehensive modules – a sort of the ABC of young entrepreneurs,” explains trainer Veronica Mirzac. “The participants would go step by step through the modules, so that at the end of the programme they would have all the necessary theoretical information on how to start a business, what is the initial capital, what are the alternative sources of financing, how to set up pricing for products or services, what is cash flow, and so on.”

Upon completion of the programme the participants were assisted – through mentoring and consulting – in drafting business plans based on their business ideas. The developed business plans then took part in the Business Ideas Competition, and the best ones were awarded with mini-grants to put them into action.  

Marina and Petru were the two ouf of eleven winners. Marina received €1,250 to launch a business in art crafting and developing decorative goods for weddings, birthdays, and other events. Currently, she develops her business part-time, working from home, but she plans to open her own workshop. Petru has opened his own barber’s shop in Telenești – the first one in the town! He trains other young people in barbering to eventually employ them.

“If young people want to start a business, they should believe in themselves, they should be persistent, they should be courageous! Throughout the project, we encouraged our participants to go ahead, we motivated them not to give up,” affirms the trainer. “For example, our study visit to Romania gave them a chance to speak to entrepreneurs across the Prut River, not only about success, but also about obstacles. Understanding that entrepreneurship challenges are not unique to Moldova was a strong motivation to pursue their dreams.”

The entrepreneurship literacy and practical experience obtained by the young people make them eligible for new funding opportunities, e.g. under the ODA, IFAD, AIPA and other national and international entrepreneurship support funds in Moldova, which means significant support to their businesses, but also a brighter future in their home country.

This initiative, titled “INNOVA BUSINESS – we grow to share” was implemented by the Humanitarian Association ‘Filantropia Crestina’ and funded by the EU through the East Europe Foundation within the grant project, titled ‘Local Civil Society Contributes to Inclusive and Sustainable Economic Development in Moldova

Author: Volha Prokharava