New Challenges emerge for women Entrepreneurs as a result of the Covid-19 Pandemic
I am the Director of a cheese factory in Tsintskaro, Georgia, a village municipality mostly comprised of ethnic minorities and internally displaced persons (IDP). I am personally an eco-migrant from western Georgia, and it has been four years since we turned our family business and artisanal creation into a modern factory. We produce high-quality, natural products made from raw milk in an ecologically clean environment. We prepare different varieties of cheese, cottage cheese, and butter. We collect milk from 250-300 farmers not only from Tsintskaro, but also from several other villages and neighboring municipalities. The opening of our enterprise created new jobs in the village, and our factory has become a source of additional income for local farmers, especially female farmers.
The outbreak of COVID-19 brought new challenges to our business. At first, we were afraid of the situation; but later we felt a greater responsibility to contribute a positive change during this hard time. Consequently, our motivation and willingness to continuously offer our population high-quality products has doubled.
Fortunately, the quarantine across the country did not take place in winter when lactation is low. Therefore, this spring’s milk yield was moderate and the collection of raw milk from the farmers went without interruption. But there were several cases when farmers, based on fears caused by the pandemic, restrained themselves from selling milk. Even though the price of milk had increased, we kept the prices of our production at pre-quarantine levels. Because the dairy products we produce are good for the human body and can help boost the immune system, it was essential to have them available for food rations during the pandemic.
The market demand increased, and we started working and producing with doubled forces. During quarantine, the production process did not stop. As a result, my female staff members became overworked, so we decided to employ two additional female staff members. The production process was carried out according to the standards recommended by the World Health Organization, including FS&H standards and HACCP principles.
For safety reasons, the demand for packaged products had increased. Our packaging displays the Georgian Milk Mark (GMM), describing our product as a trusted and quality product, giving confidence to consumers and increasing our sales. We have always followed the rules of safety and cleanliness in our enterprise. But since the spread of the coronavirus, we have started to use more disinfectants and sanitizers, started testing the temperature of the staff, and used facemasks together with other equipment. During the curfew, transporting goods was restricted. However, we were able to obtain a permit for distribution from the Government of Georgia, which helped us to supply markets with our products without any interruption.
Finally, I would like to point out that while the pandemic has affected our enterprise and the lives of our employees, it did not have a totally negative impact. We have managed to quickly adapt to the situation and thanks to the right strategy, we were able to fulfill our responsibility, which is delivering natural products to our customers. During the quarantine period, we developed strong feelings of gratitude for the people who had to deal with the pandemic. Therefore, we decided to take some charitable steps. Despite the limited time and conditions, we distributed our products to the Infectious Diseases and AIDS Center in Tbilisi to support medical staff during the outbreak. As the virus is more dangerous to the elderly, we have delivered our products to the beneficiaries of Barbare Otsdaerti Nursing Home.
We believe that kindness is contagious, and we are proud to serve as motivators for other entrepreneurs to contribute as well. I believe that any start-up enterprise will face challenges. As a female entrepreneur, I believe this is especially true for female-led businesses. But we always endure it through diligence, purposefulness, and collaboration. I see this daily in the women entrepreneurs who give us milk each morning and help us to have a constant production line in our enterprise.
Zeinab Abuladze is the Director of Ltd Tsintskaro+ in Tetritskaro, Georgia.