Succeeding with style: A new project is helping Roma entrepreneurs achieve their dreams

Erdal's dream is to open his own hairdressing salon. (Photo: UNDP)

“What I’ve always wanted more than anything else,” says Erdal Ibraimov, a young man from the Roma community in Kumanovo, “is to carry on the family tradition and open my own hairdressing salon. My family have been cutting hair for fifty years and my mother, Zizi, is one of the most popular hairdressers in town. People say she can do miracles! So I’ve been learning the trade since I was a child and having my own salon was my earliest ambition. But running your own business is more than just being good at something – you need the start-up capital and you need to know how to make a business plan and get your company regulated. Sometimes, these obstacles just seem impossible to overcome.”

Making it happen

  • In the last seven years, the Self-Employment Programme has helped over 6,000 people to start up their own companies.
  • A new initiative aims at ensuring that the opportunities offered by the Self-Employment Programme are extended to unemployed Roma.

Daunting as these obstacles seemed, Erdal is now well on the way to achieving his dream thanks to a new initiative for helping potential entrepreneurs from the Roma community to join the national Self-Employment Programme.

The Self-Employment Programme has been implemented for the past seven years by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy and UNDP, and has already helped over 6,000 people throughout the country to start up their own companies. The new initiative aims at ensuring that the opportunities offered by the Programme are extended to unemployed Roma.

“We want to reach out to people like Erdal who make up some of the most socio-economically vulnerable population in the country,” explains Sinisa Pekevski, one of many mentors now putting the initiative into practice. “What we’ve found is that a lot of Roma lack the self-confidence needed to put themselves forward for the Self-Employment Programme. There’s also quite bit of scepticism about official state programmes and a general lack of information about the opportunities available. Many Roma simply aren’t aware of the benefits of registering their own formal business. So there’s a real need to supplement the national Programme with initiatives like this that go out into the Roma community, informing people and identifying those who can make the most of the opportunities.”  

Sinisa is working with an employment trainer in Kumanovo to implement a project entitled Finding Innovative Solutions for Better Roma Inclusion in Society. As well as helping potential Roma entrepreneurs to set up their own businesses, the project aims at strengthening the capacities of Roma to get better access to efficient social services.  

In addition to appointing mentors who can work with individual Roma like Erdal, the project has engaged four professional employment trainers in the municipalities of Tetovo, Kumanovo, Shuto Orizari and Prilep. Using the existing network of Roma NGOs as well as informal contacts in the Roma community, these mentors and trainers are going out into the field to inform people about the Self-Employment Programme and to identify those who have the interest and potential to participate in the Programme.

It was the employment trainer appointed for Kumanovo who first identified Erdal as a good candidate and provided him with all the initial information about the project and the Self-Employment Programme. Now under Sinisa’s mentorship and guidance, Erdal is busy working on defining his future business profile and brainstorming on how best to make his ambition a reality.

By taking part in the initiative and the Programme, both of which are being implemented by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy and UNDP, Erdal will not only receive valuable support in developing a realistic business plan and help with the legal procedures for starting a company, but will further be entitled, once his business plan is approved, to 3,000 euros’ worth of funding for start-up equipment—sufficient funds to enable this young aspiring hairdresser to open his own hairstyling salon for men.

According to the National Operational Plan for Active Labour Market Measures and Employment Programmes for 2014, it is envisaged that 20 Roma will be employed this year and that 100 Roma will have a chance to improve their skills and possibilities for faster integration in the labour market.

“In the last six months since the project started,” says UNDP’s Roma Project Manager Jelena Krasic, “we have already identified 250 potential candidates, of whom 72 have expressed an interest in joining the Self-Employment Programme.”

At the same time as helping to develop the capacities of all those who are involved in promoting greater Roma inclusion, the project – implemented with the financial support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, is also seeking to identify the major reasons for the social exclusion of Roma in the country.  

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