Striving for more against the odds
UNDP, Switzerland and Austria support entrepreneurs with disabilities
Tamaz Gablaia doesn’t like to think of himself as a person with a disability.
“I play football, even though I have lost my leg,” he laughs.
His high spirits have helped him overcome trauma and start life anew.
Gablaia fled the conflict-torn Abkhazia region in the 1990s to settle in western Georgia’s town of Zugdidi.
“When we first came here, we had to start from scratch — we didn’t have any belongings whatsoever.”
Today, however, Gablaia is a successful entrepreneur. Recently opening his own business (a small agricultural firm that produces vegetables for a local market) has boosted his confidence and, more importantly, created a new source of income to support his family.
The construction of his greenhouse was supported by a grant programme implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with funds from the governments of Switzerland and Austria.
UNDP introduced a flexible grants mechanism and provided consultations and training to potential beneficiaries to ensure that the grant programme reached the most vulnerable.
Gablaia’s business is one of fourteen UNDP-supported initiatives that were started by people with disabilities in the Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti region. Other grant-funded enterprises include a fish farm, a mill to produce honey and dried fruit, a confectionery shop and various handicraft workshops.
Ema Gulua, a grantee from Grigolisa village, bought 20 beehives and started her own honey-making business.
“I suffer from bronchial asthma. I was four years old when I took a swim in an ice-cold stream flowing by my house. I got sick and have had a shortage of breath ever since. Running my own business gives me a lot of confidence. I believe in myself now. I know I can do much more; I can work to sustain myself and help others.”
As Georgia’s economy struggles to overcome the pandemic crisis, jobs are scarce and incomes are shrinking. People with disabilities and chronic diseases are hit the hardest, often left with nothing more than meagre state support. On top of economic hardship, those living in rural areas have almost no access to information, consultation or training. When the rare economic opportunity does present itself, a general lack of outreach often means that it passes overlooked.
UNDP helped establish the regional Association of Entrepreneurs with Disabilities. The Association nurtures business ideas and assists members’ efforts to bring them to life. In 2020 alone, the Association supported over 15 people with disabilities find and implement their business projects.
Ruslan Sajaia, the Association’s founder, runs a sewing workshop in Zugdidi that employs six persons with disabilities. Being in a wheelchair himself and running a successful business, Ruslan sets an example for others to follow.
“We help people with disabilities to be active and to establish or expand their businesses and get involved in economic activities.”
UNDP research has revealed that even though attitudes are changing, persons with disabilities often face physical barriers and stigma in seeking employment; they remain one of the most excluded, vulnerable and marginalized groups in Georgian society.
“Jobs and incomes are crucial for people with disabilities to fulfil their economic and social rights,” says UNDP Acting Head Anna Chernyshova. “Disability should not be a barrier to enjoying human rights, contributing to the community or feeling accomplished in all aspects of life.”
Grants worth a total of US$44,000 supported 14 enterprises of people with disabilities in the Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti region. These grants are part of UNDP’s programme for regional and local development, funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, the Austrian Development Cooperation, and Georgia's Government.
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Visit the UNDP website for more information about our work in Georgia.