I recently had the great pleasure of sitting with two Bill Maynes Fellows at the Eurasia Foundation. Both of them, woman leaders in the small business communities of Belarus and Tajikistan, are inspiring and really impressive people to learn from. Their stories have dovetailed nicely with my own research into the role that supporting and encouraging entrepreneurship must play in any sort of development effort in Central Eurasia. I wrote a bit about this for The Atlantic:
Belarus may have the fundamentals, but it is far from functional. Like in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, the natural entrepreneurship of the Belarussians runs into a sclerotic bureaucracy. Ms. Klitsuonova and her husband originally ran a publishing company, but were forced to close when they began printing economic tracts by Frederick Hayek. To this day, new initiatives need the personal approval of Lukashenko to have any hope of surviving–which may be fine for something innocuous like a country inn but is not healthy for the overall economic performance of Belarus.
What both of these women show, however, is that the real problem in international development is not teaching people how to run businesses. The training for how to conform to modern accounting standards is necessary, but most people really are natural entrepreneurs. They can find opportunities in their communities far better than any international group can, and they know how to make decisions and choices for those businesses better than a visiting expatriate consultant.
There’s more to explore about this, and a lot of really messy politics to consider as well. But it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that the fostering, encouragement, and support of locally-led small businesses is the only way these countries will ever develop economically. Now the way you go about encouraging small business growth is another matter entirely — and one that is very much up in the air. But just getting to the point of acknowledgement would seem an important step.