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New Economic Opportunities Created by USAID/NEO

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Tuesday, January 28
New approaches and lessons learned by USAID’s New Economic Opportunities (NEO) initiative in community mobilization and local economic development planning activities across Georgia were discussed on January 27. USAID Mission Director Stephen M. Haykin,Tengiz Shergelashvili, First Deputy Minister of Regional Development and Infrastructure, Irakli Tripolski, Head of the Parliamentary Committee for Regional Policy, Self-Government and Mountainous Regions; heads of municipal administrations and local community representatives participated in the meeting.

In 2012, USAID signed memoranda of understanding with 10 municipalities across four different regions of Georgia to increase economic growth, employment, and household incomes through its $20.5 million NEO initiative that works hand-in-hand with 85 communities helping them to develop market-based economic development plans (EDPs) and to act on them. Through NEO’s efforts, all 85 selected communities are equipped with community-level EDPs that identify promising economic sectors, prioritize infrastructure projects, facilitate public-private dialogue, and leverage additional investments for the communities’ priority projects.

According to Stephen Haykin, USAID Mission Director, “to-date, NEO implemented 45 infrastructure projects in 42 communities that benefit approximately 8,313 local households with NEO’s input of $695,300 and municipal contributions of $502,700. Over the next year, NEO plans to support an additional 40 infrastructure projects identified by the communities in the Mtskheta-Mtianeti, Shida Kartli, Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti, and Racha Lechkhumi-Kvemo Svaneti regions of Georgia.’’ Moreover, NEO implemented numerous agricultural value chain development initiatives in its target communities.

Nickolas Gvishiani, USAID/NEO’s Regional Economic Development Advisor emphasized that community members are directly involved in local economic development planning activities.

“Once we identify and prioritize challenges, we allocate funds and assist the community to solve its problems. If the problem is related to the infrastructure or some other issues related to the local government, we contact the local administration and help both to solve the problem. The local administrations in the NEO target municipalities have always been very supportive and constructive in meeting community needs,” Gvishiani told The Messenger and noted that the situation might further improve after self-government reform.

“Now, we have to gather the community members to discuss and list their problems. There is an urgent need for a local body aimed at identifying and prioritizing village priorities,” Gvishiani stated.

Deputy Minister of Infrastructure Tengiz Shergelashvili told The Messenger that the economic plans elaborated through NEO would be very helpful for the government now and after the self-government reform is launched this year. However, it should be noted that the creation of public councils in villages is not planned through the reform. The initiative was voiced, but according to member of the coalition Gia Zhorzholiani, it should be specified what functions the councils would have in villages, and how people will enlist their problems and so on.

Gvishiani stated that it would be better if councils were created. Konstantine Kandelaki, from the International Centre for Civil Culture told The Messenger that the government’s argument was “less grounded.”

Irakli Tripolski told The Messenger that he was one of the initiators in creating public councils in villages for people to be directly involved in the decision-making process over their issues.

“We are going to raise a new draft concerning the issue, as many things need to be specified. At the end of the year, the draft will presumably, be completed,” Tripolski said.

Regional representatives stated at the meeting that through the projects undertaken under USAID/NEO, locals were taught how to be involved in the decision making process. They mentioned the benefits gained through the projects and appealed to the government to encourage public engagement in the decision-making processes more often.

NEO is funded by the U.S. Government through USAID to help Georgians access markets, attract investment, and implement economically beneficial infrastructure projects. The NEO will benefit at least 70,000 rural and vulnerable households in 10 municipalities, including Dusheti, Kazbegi, Kareli, Gori, Khashuri, Oni, Tsageri, Lentekhi, Zugdidi, and Tsalenjikha.