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INTERVIEW - EBRD to help SEE countries face energy, food security issues, support SMEs

INTERVIEW - EBRD to help SEE countries face energy, food security issues, support SMEs Photo: EBRD

SOFIA (Bulgaria), June 23 (SeeNews) - In response to the war in Ukraine, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) will support the countries in Southeast Europe in tackling challenges to energy and food security, trade finance, infrastructure, as well as back small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) facing trading and supply chain hurdles, a senior EBRD official said.

“In the context of Ukraine, our resilience framework is about energy security, about food security, trade finance, infrastructure - and in affected countries beyond Ukraine itself it is about supporting SMEs,” the bank’s director in charge of gender and economic inclusion Barbara Rambousek told SeeNews in a recent interview on the sidelines of the EBRD’s annual meeting in Marrakech, Morocco. The bank will help SMEs with advisory services, access to financing and support for capacity building to handle this situation, she explained.

The Covid pandemic strongly exacerbated inequalities across a range of different areas, as women and young people were among the most affected groups, she noted.

“Women were exposed to a number of additional barriers and risks, and so were young people. Their education was interrupted, creating huge - sometimes life-long - challenges in terms of earnings and opportunities to complete their education and enter the labour market, which is always a difficult process, but particularly hard during times of crises,” Rambousek said.

“And now, on top of that, the war that is being waged on Ukraine has a huge impact on Ukraine itself, but also on the wider regions,” she went on to say, pointing to the issues stemming the influx of refugees and threats to energy and food security. “The challenges arising from these two crises are multiple, one overlaying the other.”

“EBRD set up a covid crisis response package in 2020, and now with the war in Ukraine, we established a Ukraine crisis response: , the Resilience and Livelihoods Package, which integrates a strong focus on preserving and supporting livelihoods and human capital ,” Rambousek noted.

Apart from dealing with the influx of refugees, the countries in SEE should sharpen their focus on circular migration and make the region attractive for young entrepreneurs, the EBRD official stressed.

“In the Western Balkans, we see a perfect storm. The region is characterised by very low female labour market participation, high outward migration and low engagement in the labour market of all the workforces. People tend to stop working early, the retirement age is still relatively low. This means that the size of the workforce that is left is shrinking,” Rambousek said. “Investing in local development is important, but is unlikely to reduce outward migration flows in the short run. Circular migration programmes can support potential migrants with the skills that are needed in host countries, but then also offer opportunities to return and reintegrate into the labour markets in the country of origin.”

Entrepreneurship can offer an attractive option for many in this context. The EBRD is supporting SMEs, and especially women and young entrepreneurs across the SEE region to grow their businesses, access advisory services as well as finance.

“We have some very interesting examples of young entrepreneurs who came back to Bosnia with some business ideas and who have set up there their businesses very successfully,” she added.

You can read the full text of the interview with Barbara Rambousek in the TOP 100 SEE 2022 annual publication.