Photo: Vladimir Valishvili/UNDP

As Georgia cautiously reopens its economy, local communities are struggling to overcome the disruption caused by the pandemic. In partnership with local governments, civil society and businesses, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is working in four regions to save jobs, increase incomes, promote entrepreneurship and help people get back to business.

The efforts are part of a long-running programme ”Forstering Regional and Local Development in Georgia” to support economic development and good governance at the local level that UNDP is implementing in partnership with the Ministry of Regional Development and Infrastructure with support from the governments of Switzerland and Austria.

On 28-30 July 2020, UNDP Head Louisa Vinton, Deputy Minister of Regional Development and Infrastructure Mzia Giorgobiani, Ambassador of Austria Arad Benkö and Economic Programme Head at the Swiss Cooperation Office for the South Caucasus Beka Tagauri visited the municipalities of Oni, Ozurgeti, Zugdidi and Senaki to meet with local entrepreneurs, civil society activists and local authorities and assess the progress of the local economic development projects that they are supporting.

“Even before COVID-19, regions were searching for economic solutions that would bring more jobs and better living standards to their communities,” said UNDP Head Vinton. “That quest has become even more urgent now. UNDP is helping local communities pursue durable options for post-pandemic realities.”

“The Government of Georgia supports local economic initiatives that vitally contribute to broader efforts at the national level, creating a healthy economic environment for national development,” said Deputy Minister Giorgobiani. “When local self-governments join hands with civil society and the private sector, together they can improve the economic future and the quality of life in the regions.”

In 2019, two funding programmes were launched to support municipal initiatives and civil society projects in the regions. At a total cost of USD 640,000, both funding schemes aim to promote employment and sustainable economic development opportunities in rural Georgia. The programme covers four regions: Racha-Lechkhumi-Kvemo Svaneti, Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti, Guria and Kvemo Kartli.

To better address needs on the ground, the project introduced a new modality of direct funding for municipalities. As a result, the municipalities of Tsageri, Senaki, Martvili, Zugdidi, Tsalenjikha, Poti, Lanchkhuti and Chokhatauri received a total of USD 250,000 in assistance to support local entrepreneurs, artisans and farmers and implement local economic projects focused on tourism development.

During the field visit, UNDP Head Louisa Vinton signed two new agreements with the municipalities of Oni and Ozurgeti. In Oni, UNDP, Switzerland and Austria will support small and medium enterprises to help address the negative economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in Ozurgeti, it will help create a spatial planning document for the picturesque high-mountainous settlement of Gomi Mountain.

“Georgia’s remote and rural regions have huge potential,” said Austrian Ambassador Benkö. “Austria is proud to help Georgia benefit from our experience, especially in the highlands, and support economic development initiatives that aim to unlock that potential for the benefit of local communities.”

“Switzerland is a strong supporter of regional and local development in Georgia,” said Danielle Meuwly, the Regional Director of the Swiss Cooperation Office (SCO) for the South Caucasus. “We are working with the national, regional and local authorities, civil society, the private sector and communities to help promote sustainable growth that leaves no one behind.”

In the region of Samegrelo, the delegation attended the opening of an adventure park with a zipline, a ropes course and other touristic attractions constructed next to the historical site of the ancient city Nokalakevi, and attended a display of local crafts in a newly opened exhibition space in Zugdidi.

In Guria, the guests took the first ride on a specially branded bus that serves as a “tourist information centre on wheels” as part of the “Discover Guria” project, initiated to re-discover less known but no less amazing historical and cultural sites of the region.

They also visited local tea producers and guesthouse owners engaged in the “Tea Route” campaign reviving traditional tea culture in the region combined with hospitality services for tourists.

Alongside direct cooperation with municipalities, UNDP fosters participation of local communities in economic development and self-governance and supports projects carried out by local activists and civil society organizations. One of them is based in the high-mountainous town of Oni, where a local organization in partnership with a group of artisans trained 80 women in traditional crafts. Ultimately 25 of them will be permanently employed in a workshop established as part of the project.

The funding programmes for municipalities and civil society organizations will continue throughout 2020, yielding at least 12 local development initiatives that deliver tangible benefits for local communities.

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