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Georgia: business grants fuel tourism, agriculture, and brighter futures

Scenic photo of a green mountain valley

Samshvilde Canyon is rugged, scenic, and popular with adventurous hikers. Photo: Paata Vardanashvili/Wikimedia Commons

Samshvilde Canyon is rugged, scenic, and popular with adventurous hikers. Photo: Paata Vardanashvili/Wikimedia Commons

Samshvilde Canyon is a picturesque hiking destination in the country of Georgia, just about 40 miles from Tbilisi, the capital.

For years, as visitors navigated the rugged cliffs, lush greenery, and waterfalls, they would ask Luso Dostibegiani, then a national park ranger, where they could buy local products and food after their hikes.

“I didn’t have an answer because there was nowhere like that around here,” she says. “That’s how the idea of my business was born.”

Luso secured a loan from a friend to buy land in the area, then sought several grants including the Community Development Initiative (CDI-7) business development grant. CDI-7 (seventh phase) is implemented by CARE Caucasus.

“CARE Caucasus has been in this community for a long time. I knew people who had gotten grants from the organization, so I knew I could apply for one and get support.”

The Community Development Initiative project began in 2003 with a goal of fostering social and economic development in 98 communities located along the BTC/SCP operational area, which includes Samshvilde Canyon and its namesake village. CDI’s seventh phase runs from 2022 through January 2026.

Woman in green shirt, smiling, facing camera
Luso Dostibegiani. Photo: Emily Janoch/CARE

Naming is easy, finances are hard

Luso wants you to come visit, to love your stay, and she wants to make it easy and comfortable for you to do so. You want to go visit Samshvilde village, and maybe more importantly, meet Luso. As a friend says, “When you speak to Luso, she lights you up.”

To make sure you can come visit in comfort, Luso has built Orbis Bude—which means “Vulture’s Nest,” a center that doubles as a tourist information and services hub and a youth community center.

“Coming up with the name was easy,” she says. “There are a lot of vultures in the canyon, and I always saw them when I worked there as a ranger. The finances were hard. Starting a business and getting money is a lot of responsibility. The process for getting loans and registering the business and doing the accounting is heavy. I had to learn all that.

I built all this from scratch. I got grants, and money, and I did a lot of hard physical labor. I built everything you see here. The last piece was the furniture. The chairs you’ll sit on, I paid for those with the CDI-7 project grant.”

Down payments on brighter futures

Luka Avchaleli, a farm-equipment entrepreneur, used his grant to invest in irrigation equipment. Most of the economic grants have gone to businesses in the agricultural sector.

Since the project’s inception, 73 entrepreneurs have been funded across various business areas, and they are also required to contribute a minimum of 30 percent. The demand for agri-business is high, and these businesses tend to be profitable since many farmers lack access to modern and sufficient agricultural machinery.

Recipients of “economic” grants, like Luso and Luka, are required to contribute, in cash, 30 percent of the total project cost.

Portrait of a man outdoors, agricultural field behind him.
Luka Avchaleli. Photo: Emily Janoch/CARE

Luka, 20, lives in the small Georgian village of Marabda that has 90 families. Most of his neighbors are farmers, and they struggle to get the water, equipment, and services they need. Luka has found a solution to that.

“I was born and raised here. This is my home. I want to help my village. I love it here and I have never wanted to leave.

"I know we can grow more here, and our whole country depends on farms and rural development. I want to help it grow.”

Luka Avchaleli

Five years ago, Luka participated in a government project to develop his skills and learn more about modern agricultural technology.

“We farmers decided to take matters into our own hands,” he recalls.

For Luka, this means building an agriculture services business, which he started when he was 17. He rents his equipment to farmers in his community to plant, plow, and process crops.

“Three years ago, I started my business to provide mechanization for farming. I’m the only full mechanization service provider in my community, and demand is really high. It’s an advantage that I have no competition as a fully mechanized service provider.”

Irrigation innovation

Luka’s main advantage isn’t the lack of competition, it’s his thirst for knowledge and willingness to apply creative ideas. Getting water for crops is one of the biggest challenges his customers face, and he was on the lookout for a better solution.

“Several years ago, I went to the agriculture expo in Türkiye, and I learned about the sprinkler equipment. I saw the possibilities,” he says.

So, Luka filled out CDI-7 grant application to finance his business expansion. With support from the project’s business experts, Luka priced out equipment options, built his business plan, found data on drought in the area that showed why they needed his plan, and figured out how he could pay for 30 percent of the cost. He received the grant and support from the project team to buy the equipment and deal with the business paperwork so he could expand into portable, computerized irrigation systems.

Wide image of open landscape from Republic of Georgia
Photo: Emily Janoch/CARE

Expanding the lens beyond Luka’s irrigation innovations, businesses funded by similar grants have collectively generated an income of 625,805 GEL ($232,215) and a profit of 370,999 GEL ($137,666) to date and have created 106 jobs, with 20 of them filled by women.

Luka’s not just changing his own business. He has plans for his community.

“To attract young people to agriculture, you need to make them care about their homeland,” he says. “You need to make it fun for them to learn. The training helps a lot. The first training I went to was really fun. It was casual and informal. We had conversations and role plays. It wasn’t like sitting in a classroom. That was so attractive, and it made me want to come back and learn more.”

Since agriculture is so susceptible to climate change, these grants also promote climate-smart agriculture practices, setting an example for other farmers to adopt eco-friendly technologies in their plots.

A chain reaction

Back in Samshvilde, Luso is negotiating with tourist companies to get her village on the map while working with Georgian companies and international organizations that might want to use her center for teambuilding, retreats, or strategic meetings.

And Luso has inspired others to grow, too. “On my team, we have five young people who work for me. We have two women who are bakers from the local village, and one woman who makes cheese. We have hired six people and trained them to do tours of the local canyon, and we’ll hire one more to run the information center and store.

Portrait of woman with white head covering rolling dough with a rolling pin on an outdoor table
Ana Chilingiriani, one of Luso’s employees, rolls out dough for baking. Photo: Emily Janoch/CARE

My friend noticed that I don’t have anywhere for people to spend the night here. So she’s building a hostel where people can stay and complement my business so even more people will come.”

Luso has more plans than just running a tourist center. She sees business as a venue for social change. “I’m opening this space for tourists. That is the fun part. But I have another reason, too. I’m opening this as an afterschool center for young people. They don’t have anywhere to go after school. Most people here are ethnically Armenian, and it’s very hard to integrate into the broader community. The language barriers make it really hard. Young people here are so afraid and shy. They don’t like to speak up because of their language and because of the prejudice they face.”

“I want to break that fear. I want them to have confidence. I want to build a space and jobs for women and young people.”

Luso Dostibegiani

Luso proves—if it needed proving—that local leaders possess the best answers, and the ones that will last the longest. “I have wanted to do this since 2016. I am local and I live here. I want to continue living here; this is my home. I know all the problems here. I know there is nowhere young people can meet. But I can’t just build a center for young people. I need to make sure it will last. We won’t always have projects to lean on. So, I know I need to have a business that will make money and that can help solve social problems. I want to do both.”

The Community Development Initiative project, phase 7 (CDI-7) is initiated and funded by bp and its co-ventures in Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) and South Caucasian Pipeline (SCP). The project is implemented by CARE Caucasus.

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