The Roma are one of the most discriminated populations in Europe. The REDI initiative (Roma Entrepreneurship Development Initiative) seeks to reverse that trend by supporting entrepreneurs in this community.
It is no secret that in most European countries, the Roma face discrimination which leads to rampant unemployment. The REDI program seeks to create a mechanism to change this state of affairs, starting with Romania and Bulgaria, by facilitating access to financing for Roma entrepreneurs. « I’m a chemist and I live in Brussels, but I come from a Roma family. Whenever I come home, I am asked the same questions: how can I start my own business? How do I support my family? In these communities, lack of access to funding is a problem, of course, but the worst is the lack of knowledge of administrative matters. At REDI, we seek not only to improve the creditworthiness of entrepreneurs, we also work a great deal on technical support and mentoring, » says Petrica DULGHERU, President of REDI.
REDI is supported by the RIO (Roma Initiatives Office) which is part of the Open Society Foundations, and CoopEst, an investment company that strives to shape the development of socially responsible finance in 10 Eastern European countries. Half of the funding comes from the Development Bank of the Council of Europe. The initial funding of €400,000 led to identifying and assisting over 500 entrepreneurs. At the same time, support was given to 85 of them in applying for loans from micro-finance institutions. Although RIO had been carrying out important work in both the cultural and political arenas, its forays in area of economics had been rather timid due to a lack of experience in this field. Cooperation with CoopEst can change all that. « We are working with many local micro-credit institutions. For CoopEst, this implies a broader commitment. We are seeking to be a catalyst to enable excluded populations to have access to financing, » says Bruno Dunkel, Secretary General of CoopEst.
The pilot phase has been an opportunity to get a better understanding of the situation on the ground as well as to test certain assumptions. Of the 500 contractors receiving assistance, only 5 obtained a financing offer. “There is a great deal more to be done. If we want to build real bonds of trust, we must continue to reassure micro-finance professionals on the one hand, and to professionalize Roma entrepreneurs on the other “, explains Petrica Dulgheru. The architects of the program are aiming to assist people who want to take control of their life through microfinance and entrepreneurship, without having to resort to accepting toxic loans or to emigration.
The REDI program is now going to move up to the next level. Individuals who are eligible for the program are sought after now more than ever, because in 2017 REDI will be raising more funds and financing business projects on a larger scale. Activities will expand in Serbia and Macedonia, where there are almost 700,000 Roma. And Bruno Dunkel concludes, “We know that this issue is critically important in the European political agenda. The REDI project will perhaps serve as a showcase, and will make it possible to announce a new effort to support Roma integration”.
Learn more at www.coopest.eu/