Why I Spent A Month In Moldova Working With Young Entrepreneurs

The Ungheni class

At the end of October 2018, I boarded a plane to head to Moldova, a small country in Europe most known for wine, walnuts and being the poorest nation in Europe. This was my second time in Moldova and I was excited to be heading back.

With my favorite interns at GEN Moldova

In April I had the opportunity to provide mentorship and training to youth in Chisinau, Soroca and Ungheni. Now I was headed back to run additional workshops for 200 youth across the small country, this time working in Cimislia, Ungheni and Chișinău with participants also coming from Palanca, Grigoriopol, Transnistri, Dubăsarii Vechi, Criulen, Făleșt and Soroca.

With 68% of the population leaving the country to work or emigrate and a very low tourism rate, you may wonder why Moldova?  The answer is simple – the youth!

The Ungheni class

Youth in Moldova are very intelligent and determined. By the end of college, and often by high school, most youth speak several languages including Romanian, Russian and English. Extra curricular activities often seem to focus on skill development, particularly in language, science and math.

These youth have grown up in a country that only gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. War, occupation, drought, corruption, political instability and economic depression are barely a generation from them and the after effects of same still exist today. North America is a dream for many – a place of freedom, opportunity to make money and a better life. As a Canadian in Moldova, I see crumbling buildings, broken infrastructure and the need to make sure you carry toilet paper and bottled water. There are improvements needed but at the same time I see a very long history stretching way back beyond the 13th century. It is wonderful that so much history still exists.

As an outsider, I also see potential among what some from North Americans would consider run down or a slum. It’s simply a way of life. Many buildings are centuries old or survived wars and uprisings. Items don’t get discarded, they get reused. There is no driving force making people throw out the old and buy the new. Aside from lack of disposable income, they see purpose in what works resulting in an eclectic pattern of furniture and housewares in most homes. The people, though reserved, are friendly.

I also see potential for business. Moldova has one of the lowest tourism rates in the world despite having amazing wine including brands made from a variety of grapes only grown here and being home to the world’s two biggest underground wine cellar cities – yes cities – Mileștii Mici and Cricova. The fortress of Stephen the Great and Candle of Gratitude in Soroca and the Orthodox Monastery located inside the cliffs in Orhei are just a few more of the amazing touristic locations though perhaps it is the untouched qualities that make them so special.

The youth are also recognizing potential for business. By the time the National Congress took place on November 18, 2018, 21 of the 34 teams we had trained and mentored for the last few weeks were ready to pitch to an international team of judges. Their ideas included  tourism, personal and professional development, IT, environmental protection, media, video, and social impact. The teams stunned the judges with their impressive ideas and pitches. One of the teams was an animation studio with prototypes that highly impressed my friends in the gaming industry (and me as well)!

Though I know most of these teens plan to leave the country, I also hope that more of them will stay to build a business here and strengthen the economy. Still, I understand their desire to leave when an average salary is 4611 MDL, a mere $360 Canadian a month – less than what many people in North America spend on a car payment or eating out each month. The youth are the key to building a brighter future for Moldova by building their economy and creating amazing local and global businesses. They have a difficult path ahead of them since it is vital to not only create business and improve infrastructure, they also have to help the older generation think differently. They need to want to stay here and create change. And, they have to stand out in a country that has learned to blend in.