North Macedonia Launches Fund to Boost Roma Entrepreneurship and Employment, an Initiative Supported by the Open Society Foundations
SKOPJE—The Prime Minister of North Macedonia, Zoran Zaev, today launched a €2 million development fund in partnership with the Roma Entrepreneurship Development Initiative (REDI) to support Roma businesses and to combat high levels of unemployment in the community.
The new fund in North Macedonia aims to create favorable business conditions for Roma entrepreneurs by facilitating easier access to business loans, with supporting coaching and business development services, in order to create new jobs that make the most of Roma potential.
REDI, launched in 2016 with support from Open Society, is already creating access to capital, skills and markets for Roma communities in Serbia and in Romania.
Prime Minister Zaev said his government “recognizes the value of Roma entrepreneurs and their contribution for the development of the Roma community.”
“We see this fund as an important step towards building an economically stable community. Our expectations are that around 100 individuals and businesses managed by Roma will be able to get access to funding that will provide an important boost to both new ideas and plans for expansion.”
Alexander Soros, deputy chair of the Open Society Foundations, welcomed North Macedonia’s commitment to building an inclusive economy. “This initiative comes at a very important moment for the region, when there is growing momentum towards regional collaboration,” he said.
“Hopefully, this initiative can be expanded with the help of European Union funds for recovery and green investment as well as public and private investors. Our foundation is ready to continue supporting REDI and help North Macedonia, Serbia, and other countries scale it up,” he added.
Traditionally, Roma have been denied commercial loans and business investment in Europe because of bad credit history, lack of collateral, lack of proof of business activity, and racism. They have found it difficult to win either government support or private sector investment for their businesses.
“Investing in Roma will pay high dividends for the Western Balkans”, said Zeljko Jovanovic, director of the Roma Initiatives Office at the Open Society Foundations, which initiated the creation of REDI.
“There is evidence that Roma exclusion hurts economies in the region, and this will only get worse due to the pandemic and demographic trends. Governments now have an opportunity to reverse this trend. More Western Balkan governments should sign up to this initiative.”
Petrica Dulgheru, executive director of the REDI network, said: “Today is a historic moment for us, as it is the first time that a government has recognized the potential of Roma entrepreneurship and the contribution that they can make towards the development of their own communities as well as the country. This matching fund is the first step towards creating an equitable society.”
REDI has a track record of aiding Roma entrepreneurs:
- Muamed Malikovski, a young artist entrepreneur from Bitola, North Macedonia, received a start-up COVID relief grant of €5,000 from REDI and the European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture in 2020 to put together his initial collection of traditional clothes for Roma women. He also received branding and digital marketing support from REDI. Today, despite COVID, Malikovski has managed to sustain his business and continue to serve the community.
- Businessman Malik Maliki, owner of a pizza restaurant in Suto Orizari, who was repeatedly denied access to a commercial loan, received technical assistance from REDI in 2021 to apply for a government grant to expand his business. This helped him to employ more people and secure further business support from the government.
In a related development, the Open Society Foundations also announced the donation of an ambulance and funding for medical staff in the largest Roma-governed municipality in Europe, Suto Orizari. The municipality’s profound lack of access to public heath care has been highlighted by the devastating impact of the COVID-19 virus.