CHF International Making Strides Across Georgia

CHF International Making Strides Across Georgia

$2.5 million for 250 Community Investment Projects

The Georgia Employment and Infrastructure Initiative (GEII), a large-scale community investment program, has been a great success so far. Implemented by CHF International and supported by USAID, GEII has worked with more than 150 competitively-selected communities in 41 districts throughout Georgia during its first year.

In October 2004, CHF International launched the Georgia Employemnt and Infrastructure Inititiative (GEII), a program developed specifically to improve essential infrastructure services and generate income for a socially and economically empowered citizenry in Georgia. GEII is expected to continue through September 2009.

In launching a total of 250 projects this year, nearly $800,000 in community contributions were pledged by 20,000%20 people in CHF partner communities. Local government committed approximately $85,000 to support 88 community investment projects.

CHF International also launched the new, Georgian-language Community Activities Network (CAN) Database (www.chf.ge). The Community Activities Network (CAN) Database, a public, searchable web-based resource enabling NGOs, government and other stakeholders to post information about Georgian communities with which they work and projects they are undertaking. CAN is unique in that it is operated on a powerful search engine, allowing users to enter and search for community activities in any of the over 3,700 villages of Georgia. This database is an essential resource for the strategic coordination of development initiatives. CHF encourages any and all development agencies (including government, NGOs, CBOs and community groups) to enter information on any recent development initiatives taking place in Georgian communities nation-wide.

Georgian Business Week interviewed Mr. Patrick Somerville, CHF Country Director.

"GEII' s objective is to re-build infrastructure within the country, promote economic development and community leadership", says Mr. Patrick Somerville, CHF Country Director.

"We have covered 41 regions in Georgia. We go through a community empowerment and mobilization process with the communities. A Community Development Council is democratically elected. They hold community meetings, then become eligible for projects which we support."

"To date, councils have been elected, trained, and gone through our process in more than a 150 different locations. We’ve just launched/completed approximately 250 projects around the country. Projects are an average size of $10,000 for small and medium-size infrastructure, including roads, bridges, water system and enterprise development projects. The total budget is approximately $2.5 million, including community, government and private sector contributions."

Q. What are CHF’s achievements in terms of creating employment opportunities in Georgia? A. For the project that we're currently implementing we have created more than 500 full time jobs and more than 8,000 part time jobs.

Q. What opportunities does CHF offer to young entrepreneurs? A: Currently we’re developing youth entrepreneurship program, so in the coming year we’re going to focus more on training small entrepreneurs to start businesses and possibly, if they have strong business plans and ideas, we can move forward in terms of supporting their businesses. We're starting a youth apprenticeship program in Akhalkalaki. This is a program where we match youth, generally under 25 years of age who are unemployed, with existing business in the region. Overall, we support about 61 projects in Samtskhe-Javaketi region with a total investment of approximately $600,000. Most of our assistance in Samtskhe- Javakheti goes to Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda where we have 35 projects with total budget of about $350,000.

Q. Which CHF projects are regarded most successful in Georgia? A: Well, the most successful ones, I'd say are infrastructure projects, electricity, and water projects. Also irrigation projects have been quite successful. We're also starting enterprise projects but we'll see the results later as time tests them. We work with businesses within the communities or associations and cooperatives to do small community-based enterprises.

Q. What were the major issues dressed in the 2005 CHF report? A. Basically, the conference addressed two topics: first was the result of the program and the second was Community Activities Network Database. The Database is posted on our website in Georgian language, it is accessible at www.chf.ge. Hopefully, if we start linking our communities with potential investors that will be a good opportunity for business development.

Q. The GEII program was funded by USAID. Do you cooperate with other international donor organizations as well? A. It's a five year project, started in October 2004. The overall value of the project donated by the USAID is $18.8 million. We also cooperate with a lot of financial and business institutions around the country as well as with NGOs.

Q: Judging based on the first year's results do you think the time will be enough for the total completion project? A: Five years will be enough to accomplish the project goals, but it won’t be enough to completely address the problem of Georgia's economic development. That brings us back to the overall purpose of this project, introducing ideas about communities and providing them with financial support so that they can start acting. As Georgia's long term economic development, we hope that ground-breaking steps that communities take will initiate change. We are working to create what I call, "entrepreneurial leaders" in rural areas, who are able to make connections with businesses, government, and others to lead their future development.

Q. What are the major projects planned for 2006? A: We'll be doing a lot more in terms of the small enterprise development with community-based businesses and associations that we're working with. We'll also be doing the main line infrastructure projects like roads, bridges, water systems. Also we plan to publish a business directory and we'll also be launching a lot more trade fairs and other events. Business activities are very fragmented in almost all Georgian regions. Generally, the biggest problem seems to be the farmers' inability to lead business and grasp the opportunities that come to their doors. Big businesses, like wine or hazelnuts companies are within their reach and could be turned into big success with little negotiation. Our community members and farmers have no ability to consolidate their product and market in urban areas or for export. So, in terms of the future, I'd say it'll really depends on the development of business associations and communities being able to organize themselves.

Q. CHF works in 35 countries. Viewing from the perspective of such diverse experience do you think Georgia is a success? A: I'd say, Georgia right now is somewhere in the middle, with great opportunities for growth. Several Eastern European countries we work in are a little bit ahead of Georgia in terms of economic development. However, we've seen a lot of investment over the past couple years with the new government and more liberal trade policies. Businesses are continuing to expand. So, I think, what we'll see here, by the end of our project four years from now, will be very different from the situation we see now. It's just a matter of time.