Held annually, the EBRD’s Investment Council Conference this year was in a virtual format. The conference held on June 2-3, 2020 focused on the Investment Councils role in supporting the EBRD’s Countries of Operation in the economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
The opening session was held by Maya Tskitishvili, Vice Prime Minister of Georgia, Anila Denaj, Minister of Economy & Finance of Albania, Jurgen Rigterink, First Vice President, EBRD and Mattia Romani, Managing Director Economics, Policy & Governance, EBRD discussing the governments’ and EBRD’s policy responses to address the economic and business impacts of Covid-19.
Gevorg Poghosyan, the Head of Business Support Office in Armenia, introduced Armenian experience of key COVID-19 policy responses supported by the IC in Armenia.
“The Government started an immediate process of designing economic and social support measures. The first 5 measures were already announced on March 26, with non interest loans for paying taxes, utilities, salaries, raw materials, equipment, etc… as well as subsidy for Agricultural loan interests, small grants for SMEs, meanwhile as a social support the Government has paid monthly average salaries of the employees from sectors which have been most affected by the lockdown or for those who have lost their job within the pandemic period. Up to now the Government has introduced 17 measures, including grants for microbusinesses and support to the IT sector companies.”
The BSO’s outreach actions to business community in the beginning of this difficult period were introduced by the Head of the office:
“We, at the Business Support Office, in cooperation with the Ministry of Economy, started the #BusinessVSCOVID19 initiative and made 2 announcements: firstly, we shared a questionnaire for SMEs to understand what are their main challenges and to which activities shall the Government forward the financial support, and we also asked the business in which direction they have the most challenges and what are the topics of the webinars they would like to take part, secondly we asked the consultants and consulting agencies to register in the system if they are willing to conduct webinars and provide pro bono support to SMEs. To our surprise over 1300 SMEs responded to the questionnaire and provided very precious information on their needs and challenges, and over 50 consultants and/or agencies registered for the pro bono support.”
Gevork Poghosyan also introduced all the initiatives undertaken afterwards, such as organization of 23 topics for free online webinars for businesses with impressive participation and further dissemination of the topics on YouTube. Following up next, together with the Small Business Advisory team at the Resident Office the BSO assisted 5 online workshops on digitalization, including SMM and Digital Marketing within the topics, as these were the most interested ones during the quarantine period.
The BSO also prepared a detailed guideline for SMEs to analyze the situation within their company and design a business continuity plan: Business Continuity Plan Development Amid Covid-19
Gevorg Poghosyan also introduced the #BusinessVSCOVID19 coaching initiative, by means of which 1050 free consultancy tickets which we made available with 55 different consultants and consulting agencies for SMEs. The topics are again crisis management, restructuring and repurposing, marketing, financial management, legal, etc..
The Head of BSO also stated that this unique period also resulted in organization of SME Development Sub-Council online meeting:
“The next was the enlarged Sub Council meeting with the Minister of Economy where we invited more associations, besides the council members, with quite a tough agenda of around 25 issues, which were discussed in details within 3 and half hour. As a result some amendments to the Government measures which are still valid have been introduced, a couple of legal drafts have been provided to the Ministry and a couple of working groups shall be designed to discuss some long term ideas.”
From the Armenian representation, Ruben Osipyan, the President of the SME Cooperation Association in Armenia, which is one of the Private Sector representing members of the Armenian Investment Council- SME Development Council, also commented on the mechanisms for business community state support programs and their efficiency:
“The Government made good job quickly creating a number of support measures. We value the fact that the Government acted quite quick and agile responding to the requests coming from the private sector. In the meantime, private sector urges the Government to provide support programs not only in terms of grants and loans but also in terms of increased level of Government purchases, which will provide to SMEs a long term revenue source and reduce the level of uncertainty.”
Investment Councils’ work in different countries was also highlighted as a very vital one during this period. This tough period challenges and information and experience interchanged during the conference, will surely, be of great importance for countries to address.