Pioneering Hairdresser in Suto Orizari Shows Potential for Roma Businesses

With true entrepreneurial spirit, strong motivation and a bold dream for her future, Fejme Agush, a young 31-year-old Roma woman from Skopje, has become the owner of the first officially registered hairdressing salon in Suto Orizari, the largest Roma settlement in the country.

As she busily clears up the salon after another hard day’s work, helped out by her husband and four children, Fejme explains “We work non-stop here! All of us—me, my husband and my children—we all see our future in this place. So we plan each move carefully and work hard to make this business a success.”  

The results of her efforts and dedication are clear to see. “Justin” is the best equipped salon in the area, offering everything from simple trimming to highlighting, dying, styling and perming. And after training as a hairdresser in Kumanovo and working for many years on an irregular basis, Fejme has the hard-earned skills and experience to offer her customers any hairstyle they desire.

Highlights

  • Roma jobseekers face many more obstacles to finding employment than the majority of the population: the jobless rate for Roma is estimated to be as high as 75%.
  • With UNDP's support, over 8,000 people have received coaching, training and start-up grants to start their own small businesses in the past eight years.

“It’s taken twelve years to get to this stage,” she says, “though I always dreamt of having my own business. I was already running a salon but the job wasn’t secure because the business wasn’t formalised. To be honest I was frightened to start up my own company because of the risks and all the paperwork.”

Fejme’s big push to gain greater job security and improve the prospects for herself and her children came in 2014 when a friend told her about the Self-Employment Programme. “I felt caught in a trap working in what they call the ‘grey market’, so when I heard there was a programme offering help to make companies official I thought ‘this could be my last chance – it’s now or never!’.”

After making her first enquiry, Fejme was assigned an expert mentor from UNDP’s Mentoring Programme. Sinisa Pekevski helped Fejme with the application procedure and supplied her with information about the business training and support provided through the Programme, as well as about the requirements and the conditions for receiving a special grant to start up her company.

Fejme successfully applied for the course and found herself pleasantly surprised at how quickly she learnt the ropes. “The course was very practical,” she says, “and I realised I’d been doing a lot of management tasks all along without realising it. It boosted my confidence and made it easier to learn the new information about running a formal company.”

Having completed the workshop part of the Programme, Fejme went on to apply for the grant to buy new equipment as a foundation to expand her hairdressing business.  She is now one of 8,000 beneficiaries who have so far registered their own business.

Fejme has kept on learning and making the most of all opportunities available to her, becoming a member of the National Craft Chamber and regularly visiting the Employment Service Agency and the Roma Info Centre to learn about new possibilities for support, tips and advice on how to develop her business.

Her oldest son is keen to join the business and continue the family tradition as a hairstylist, adding to the stability of the company. And in order to serve more clients, the family is thinking of getting a bank loan for expanding the workplace in the family house.

She encourages others who work illegally from her community to follow her example and try starting their own company. “We all know it isn’t easy, but good things come to those who work hard and never give up”.  

Roma jobseekers face many more obstacles to finding employment than the majority of the population. To help address these obstacles, UNDP, with generous funding from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, has implemented a project to provide coaching and mentoring services for Roma jobseekers.

Since 2014, this type of support has proved highly successful in overcoming some of the key obstacles faced by unemployed Roma and other people at risk of social exclusion, helping them to access available employment services and ultimately to enter the labour market.

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