In Russia, 60 million people are unable to access financial services due to inadequate infrastructure and severe administrative barriers. This means that it’s very difficult for people to get a loan to start a business, or to get more support as their business develops.
That’s why Oxfam’s work has been focused on creating economic opportunities for poor people, helping them make a sustainable living through developing their own small businesses. Thanks to Oxfam’s support, by 2008, 4,000 people were able to start their own business, increasing their family incomes by an average of 30 per cent and providing better access to medical care, nutrition and homes.
Yuriy Lavinsky, the director of the Micro Finance Fund, which together with Oxfam’s Youth Business Russia program provides loans to entrepreneurs, explains the importance of this program in the post-recession climate. "Banks cut the number of loans available for start-up businesses," he says, and "we offer an alternative source of funding for entrepreneurs." Part of this support comes in the form of training and mentoring. Seminars in taxation and management equip young people with the skills they need to conquer the market, while mentors provide guidance and insights.
A flowering business
For Olga Cherkasova, a young florist, the training provided by the Youth Business Russia program was invaluable. "It was very helpful – I had no idea about taxation or how to manage people before this." Olga’s flowering enterprise is a testament to her deep resilience. Working long night shifts, Olga catches only snapshots of her children’s lives but she is determined that "one day I’ll own at least ten stores in this town."
Turning rubbish into roubles
Igor was inspired to start a recycling business after growing increasingly frustrated with the amount of rubbish dumped on Russia’s residential streets. He explains: "In my town there were no efficient services to deal with the problem." Together with his employees, Igor has struck a deal with major restaurants and businesses to collect their rubbish and sell this onto recycling plants. Despite the unpopularity of recycling, Igor believes he can change attitudes. "I hope I can change the situation and improve services in this town."