Interview – Nadire Redjepi: Economic empowerment of Roma is one of the best channels to solve the multidimensional issues of Roma communities

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Foto: Nadire Ređepi

At the beginning of the conversation please, tell a few words about yourself – education, work experience, current activities, etc.

I am Nadire Redjepi from Macedonia. I come from a traditional Roma family, from a Roma neighborhood where most of the people were speaking Turkish.  Since my childhood, I had a strong motivation to study and become a successful woman in the profession.  I struggled a lot, but I succeeded to achieve my personal and professional goals.  I learned that being a woman does not stop you to make changes in your life; it is your own willingness and motivation, which make you to take a step towards a new direction.  I studied Business Administration in the South Eastern European University in Tetovo. Later on, I graduated MA in Economic Policy in Global Markets at the Central European University, Budapest. I was also part from the Roma Graduate Preparation Program at CEU.

Since the age of 13, I am actively involved on Roma issues. I am one of the founding members of the Institute for Research and Analysis – Romalitico in Macedonia. Currently, I work for Roma Entrepreneurship Development Initiative as Director of Operations.

When and with what purpose is Roma Entrepreneurship Development Initiative established and what are your functions in the organization?

Roma Entrepreneurship Development Initiative (REDI) is a startup-stage impact investing NGO focusing on catalyzing new approaches to business development and financial inclusion of Roma entrepreneurs. Led by a team of young Roma Professionals, REDI aims to (i) provide access to affordable finance for Roma entrepreneurs in Central and Eastern Europe and (ii) provide technical assistance for the selected pool of entrepreneurs to increase their know-how and skills.

Roma Entrepreneurship Development Initiative (REDI), initially started with a pilot project, in June 2015, implemented by Impulse Europe in Romania and Bulgaria. The aim of the project was to build a pipeline sufficiently large to support the creation of a specialized financial institution for Roma entrepreneurs, but also understand the entrepreneurial potential and challenges in the Roma communities.  As a follow up of the project, REDI was established in Romania and currently we operate in four countries, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Serbia.

During the pilot project, I worked as a fellow, and this was the first time when I got in touch with the idea of REDI. I was impressed by the ideology and the theory of change it produces. After my fellowship I continued working for REDI. So far, I worked as a Country Manager for Macedonia. My main role was focused on managing the interns from Macedonia (loan officers), expanding REDI in Macedonia, and managing the field activities in the country. I worked on various tasks related to development of REDI in general. Currently, as REDI is in a new stage of its development, my position changed. Now, I work as a Director of Field Operations and I am responsible to manage the field activities in all the countries.

What is the importance of the economic empowerment and what measures contribute to it?

The economic empowerment of Roma is one of the crucial aspects for creating long term positive impacts in Roma communities, enabling them to grow, become competitive and financially stronger to influence and create changes in their communities.  Up until now, many NGOs worked on discrimination, anti-gypsism, women, education and many other issues. On the ground, we were lacking the economic empowerment of Roma. At the same time it was highly needed to turn the focus on different direction, and focus on the economic empowerment and social entrepreneurship of Roma. Because, by creating stronger economic Roma community we influence the “poverty trap”, solve the long term unemployment issues, and build strong entrepreneurial spirit among Roma communities. In my opinion, economic empowerment of Roma is one of the best channels to solve the multidimensional issues of Roma communities.

Are the projects with this goal already applied in practice and what results have they shown?

Nowadays, we can see that the self-employment became a very important component in policy actions aiming to reduce the unemployment rate and boost economic activity in each of the countries. There are many EU funded projects, local and national actions targeting the economic empowerment of socially disadvantaged groups, including Roma. However, when it comes to implementation of specific measures there are always issues on the ground. For example: In Macedonia, the National Agency for Employment is implementing various active labour measures for socially disadvantaged groups. When we analyze the number of Roma who benefitted and were part of these measures, we can see very low participation rate, indicating that the measures do not have efficient approach to the targeted group.

Foto: Nadire Ređepi

What are the biggest problems for Roma entrepreneurs and are they the same for small, medium and large entrepreneurs?

Access to capital is one of the biggest issues that Roma face in their businesses. We know that most of the entrepreneurs operate informally in the market, they are not registered. Operating non-formally in the market,  limits their choice in getting eligible for using different financial products in banks and other financial institutions. Microfinance institutions (MFIs) are the ones who provide loans to non-formal businesses; however the issue with MFIs is that most of them do not trust Roma entrepreneurs.

Depending on the size of the business the needs are different. The medium and big size entrepreneurs have easier access to financial products of different institutions, while we cannot say the same thing for the small size entrepreneurs. The needs of medium and bigger size entrepreneurs are more related to networking linkages in order to bring their business in a higher level.

Which branches of economy prevail among Roma entrepreneurs, for example commerce, construction, IT technologies , etc.?

I would say that we have entrepreneurs in all the fields, just depending on the country some entrepreneurs are more concentrated on trade and commerce and some on agriculture. We have entrepreneurs working also with IT and technology, but I think we need to improve and increase the involvement of Roma entrepreneurs  in this sector and attract more young people in IT and technology.

Do you think that young Roma should be encouraged to enter entrepreneurial waters?

Of course, we think that the new generation is the driving force to make changes in the entrepreneurial world. We highly encourage and support young entrepreneurs to turn their dreams into reality and show up with innovative ideas in the market. We organize different trainings on building the capacity and boosting their ideas. We are here to help and support the ideas of everyone, not only young Roma but also Roma women and men who are willing to grow their businesses.

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