In keeping with our mission to improve the health and well-being of vulnerable populations, International Medical Corps held its 5th Annual Conference dedicated to the development of small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) in the North Caucasus. Over 60 participants gathered for the July 29 event at Grozny Business Center in Chechnya, among them the Deputy Minister of the Economy of Chechnya, the Advisor to the President of Chechnya, representatives of local business associations, the Chechen Chamber of Commerce, larger Russian banks, managers of local business advice and training centers or “incubators” and International Medical Corps’ project participants.
The conference, organized with support from the European Commission (ECHO) and USAID, provided an opportunity for key stakeholders to increase their impact on the economic development of Chechnya and Ingushetia by discussing problems that local SMEs face and identifying priorities for their development.
Since the majority of the North Caucasus’ population is concentrated in the countryside where the economy is the least developed – urbanization of the region is 54% compared to 73% in Russia as a whole – the primary local economic activity is agriculture and related industries and services, such as food processing and packaging. Therefore, International Medical Corps has focused on building SMEs in rural areas, creating linkages among existing actors of the agricultural value chain and introducing modern technologies to make agricultural production more efficient.
International Medical Corps, supported by ECHO, USAID, US Department of State, DFID and Stichting Vluchteling, helped create 596 SMEs, 90% of them in rural areas. Dairy production and livestock constitute a large proportion of the new enterprises. International Medical Corps also introduced new technology to local greenhouses that allows the families running them to gather up to four harvests a year with two harvests during the cold season – when retail prices for produce are highest.
SMEs require low capital investment – which is especially important for the regions that receive the majority of their funding from the federal budget (Chechnya – 84%, Ingushetia – 93%, Dagestan – 78%). Since they are capable of creating a competitive environment, increasing the number of available jobs, and making production more efficient through introducing modern technologies, International Medical Corps believes that supporting SMEs located in rural areas should become a priority in regional development. Eventually this will contribute to the development of a vibrant civil society with operational interest groups guided by a growing need to represent their economic and property rights, create a healthy interaction among different groups within society and the government and reduce potential for future conflict.
Through Small- and Medium-Sized Business Enterprises and Microfinancing, International Medical Corps has created over 3,600 new jobs in the region to date and helped over 20,000 people in the communities served, helping them become healthier, happier and more self-reliant.