The Municipality of Kamëz is a suburb of the capital Tirana and is centrally located within Albania. A medium-sized city with 125,632 inhabitants, Kamëz is 100 times more densely populated than the national average, with nearly 3,400 persons per square km. A rapid transition from a rural to urban community overloaded the existing infrastructure, and the growth in average family size outstripped the rate of economic development. This imbalance in expansion has led to an overall unemployment rate of 50% in Kamëz, with women (55%) and youth (63%) being most adversely affected. Even prior to the increased hardships under the current pandemic of the covid-19 virus, citizens of Kamëz suffered from social exclusion and a lack of available economic and social opportunities.
In early 2020, Albania experienced its first case of confirmed covid-19, and the Government of Albania responded swiftly. Life changed drastically in Kamëz and all across Albania. Schools were closed, women and men could not go to work, many businesses were forced to close, and public events and gatherings were forbidden. These developments further intensified difficulties that women in Kamëz face. In addition to their traditional domestic roles, mothers now became teachers for their children. Additional economic stress and isolation raised the risk for domestic and intimate partner violence, statistically experienced by over half of Albanian women.
With covid-19 shuttering businesses and further repressing the economy, how could those already struggling in Kamëz sustain their loved ones? USAID supports women as they work to improve the quality of life for their families. In Albania, USAID’s Planning and Local Governance Project (PGLP) conducted Gender-Sensitive Value Chain Analyses in six partner municipalities including Kamëz, advocating for inclusive economic development and recognizing the (often informal) contributions of women to current operations. Based on their findings, PLGP designed and launched the Women’s Small Business Program (WSBP) in late 2019. Using a mentorship framework, the 30 women selected (with diverse backgrounds including single heads of household, unemployed, and registered victims of domestic violence) are guided through three phases: classroom training, individual/group coaching, and practical business planning. The result? Women will be able to refine their business ideas into concrete plans and move forward as empowered entrepreneurs.
These activities were even more crucial considering their potential impact for women in a post-pandemic economy. With this in mind, PLGP was compelled to creatively move forward with the WSBP and made plans to complete virtually the three phases. For some, this would be their first online training. With a little technical assistance from their children, relatives, and friends, all of the women were able to download software and took their interactions online! On April 20th, the final classroom module addressing financial planning, cash flows, and other operational necessities was conducted via a group video conference, and coaching sessions were offered via phone and video calls as well. The final and most practical stage, creating their business plans, was now possible. As a result, 15 women were able to finalize successfully their business plans. Lateral thinking during times of uncertainty enabled USAID not only to empower each of these women individually, but also to build a sense of community as they move forward together as positive agents of change within Kamëz.
“The training session on finance and taxes was necessary to finalize my business plan. Now I have clarity on the steps I have to undertake”, says Klodjana Premci, whose dream is to establish a day care center for children with special needs. Participants thank the team of experts for conducting the training. -“Thank you very much for the training. You changed our day.” “It was a blessing.” “Thank you, I really needed to talk to all of you.”
The WSBP strives to strengthen the entrepreneurship skills and business acumen of marginalized women in Kamëz. As a result, participants are now able to:
These steps provide guidance through all phases of business planning and implementation, laying a strong foundation on which to build a new future.