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FEATURE STORY March 4, 2019

Empowering Entrepreneurs – Three Georgian Women Share Their Stories



  • Around 2,000 entrepreneurs and 600 micro-businesses have benefited from a small-grant project that empowers micro-entrepreneurs in Georgia’s tourism sector.
  • Three-quarters of the project beneficiaries are women micro-entrepreneurs.
  • The small-grant project is financed by the Japan Social Development Fund.

“I am an artist. My life has always been about art and drawings,” says Irine Isakadze, a young woman from Kutaisi, Georgia. After receiving her degree in fine arts, Irine started oil painting, and soon became interested in iconography. With support from her local priest, she began painting Orthodox icons.

Two years ago, Irine met an old friend who told her about a micro-grant program run by Elkana, a local non-governmental organization. Although hesitant at first to apply, she eventually did, and was pleasantly surprised when she received a grant from Elkana. In addition to funding, she received financial training and help on branding and marketing her art to tourists.

Until that point, Irine had earned most of her income from selling landscapes and portraits commissioned by individual clients. But now, she produces a wide variety of souvenirs and paintings on plaster and wood, with multiple shops around Kutaisi selling her art. 

The small-grant from Elkana was just a starting point for Irina. She subsequently registered as an entrepreneur and recently received a larger financial grant through Enterprise Georgia, a government-run program. 

“I have to become more motivated and goal-oriented,” Irine says, reflecting on her long-term business goals.

For now, Irine is assisted by her daughter, but she hopes to enlist another employee to help with her workload. Ultimately, she aims to expand her customer reach beyond Kutaisi, where tourism is seasonal, and sell her work in other locations all year-round.

Beyond making a living from art and souvenirs, Irene is proud to showcase Georgia’s culture both at home and abroad.


Watch Irine's story on Facebook

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Not far from Kutaisi, in the old mineral spa town of Tskaltubo, pensioner Nunu Toradze describes how she managed to both increase her income and expand her social circle by doing what she loves most – hosting guests. 

Once a bustling spa town with over 20 mineral water sanatoria – of which only 3 are active today – Tskaltubo may have lost many of its foreign visitors, but not its resort charm.

Nunu fondly recalls “the old days” when she was able to host guests from all over the Soviet Union. By the late 1990s, however, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, her house had fallen into such a dilapidated condition that she was no longer able to welcome people. 

That all changed thanks to a micro-grant from Elkana. With the funds, Nunu was able to renovate three bedrooms and a bathroom in her two-story guesthouse. She then secured another small grant from Enterprise Georgia and managed to buy new furniture. And, with help from her grand-daughter, Nunu advertised her guesthouse on a well-known global travel website. She now receives tourists from Georgia, Azerbaijan, and even countries in Western Europe.

Unlike many pensioners in Georgia, Nunu does not depend financially on her family. On the contrary, thanks to income from her guesthouse, she can help them financially when needed.

Just as important for Nunu, however, is the opportunity to meet and socialize with guests from near and far. Even though breakfast is not included in the room price, she is pleased to prepare tea and sweet treats for her guests every morning.

“The Elkana project has helped me earn my own income and, fortunately, there is always someone in my house, so I am never alone,” she says with a smile.

Nunu is confident about the future of her business. Both her daughter and grand-daughter are involved in running the guesthouse. Shrugging away a question about barriers to women running businesses in Georgia, Nunu stresses the importance of the financing from Elkana. All other challenges she can manage on her own. “I am a business woman,” Nunu says proudly. 


Watch Nunu's story on Facebook.

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Mariam Shanava fell in love with cycling as a child. After graduating college with a geography degree, Mariam and her husband started a bicycle tour business, offering tourists an opportunity to see beautiful, scenic places around Georgia while enjoying a healthy lifestyle experience.

With a small-grant from Elkana, they purchased some bicycles, helmets, knee-pads, and camping equipment. To meet growing demand, they plan to expand from 5 to 15 bicycles in time for the summer tourist season. Unlike most other tour operators, Mariam aims to expand her clientele not only among foreigners, but also among Georgians.

“Georgians need to learn from foreigners how they can benefit from traveling with a healthy means of transportation while getting pleasure from it at the same time,” she says.

Mariam sees social media as an opportunity to expand her client base and profits, as well as to promote cycling tourism and get more people involved in a healthy lifestyle.

Before starting the business, the young couple had no steady income. Like many other young Georgians, they faced limited job opportunities in their hometown. The bicycle tour micro-business gave them the motivation and opportunity they needed to turn a hobby into a livelihood.

While developing the business, Mariam also enrolled in a Master program in Regional Development and Recreation. During the year, Mariam and her husband plan to rent a new space for their equipment, and to invest in GPS devices for the bikes, for easier tracking and increased security. She is very optimistic about the future of the business and believes they could eventually employ around 10 to 12 people.


Watch Mariam's story on Facebook

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Attracting over 8 million international visitors each year, Georgia is a country with a wealth of culture, history, fine cuisine, and natural beauty. As such, tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy, contributing to over 7% of GDP.

Irine, Nunu, and Mariam are just three of the beneficiaries of the Empowering Poor Communities and Micro-Entrepreneurs in the Georgia Tourism Sector, which has led to the creation of over 700 new jobs in the tourism sector. All three women play an important role showcasing Georgia’s warm hospitality and helping boost their local economy. And, just as importantly, they demonstrate to young Georgians, especially young women, that there are opportunities for everyone.