We are currently running our first Mi-fi Module in Georgia, where we are collaborating together with the MFI Crystal. Two of our Mi-fi members, Noah and Stepanka are in and around Kutaisi, to work together with the local Microcredit provider. Our visit has two main goals – the first is to present some basic research and inputs on extension services and value chain finance. The second lies in an analysis and feedback on workflows and processes on the different products and services offered by Crystal.
Arrival at Crystal – Historical Georgian Innovation
Around 2600 years ago, the ruler of the Georgian realm of Colchis started minting coins made of copper. This made the kingdom next to the Black Sea one of the first empires in the world to have its own metal coins. Three millennia ago the Georgian mountains surrounding the Colchis capital of Kutaissi used to be some kind of ancient Silicon Valley. That is why, we are told by Manuchar Chitaishvili, Head of Innovation at Crystal, his employer will collaborate with the Georgian National Museum in order to remember the Georgians of the fact that their country also has a rich history of innovation and economic prosperity, not only the stagnation of the post-soviet Shevardnadze years.
Mister Chitaishvili welcomed us the first day we arrived at Crystal. In the light and modern rooms of Crystal’s headquarters on the outskirts of Kutaissi, we will learn about microfinance and microlending in the coming weeks. After a fascinating presentation from his side and talks with other staff members we were invited to have lunch together with all the staff of Crystal’s main office. All the co-workers shared local Imereti specialties from plates in one of the office meeting spaces. The Swiss chocolate we brought proved to be very popular. We felt instantly welcome by the staff, who were debating last night’s football final. Another proof of Georgian hospitality – we have did not have the chance yet to pay for a meal since we have arrived, as we have always been invited to join for lunch or even a more lavish Georgian “Supra”. Already during our first talks with Manuchar Chitaishvili and Sophio Vacharadze, Crystal’s Head of Marketing and PR, we were exposed to so many insight that we could already fill a whole book and we can’t wait to write it all down.
Crystal, is Georgia’s second largest Microfinance institution and has contributed to the country’s progress in recent years by enabling entrepreneurs in different sectors. Founded in 1998 in Western Georgia’s urban centre of Kutaissi it funded rural businesses in the surrounding villages. Aged 18 it is one of the oldest MFIs in the whole Caucasus region. The history and character of Crystal is closely intertwined with the history of Georgia and its way to democracy.
Drive for Business
Everyone we met so far was engaged in some sort of business activities. Lewan, our guide in Tbilisi, founded an IT business with some friends and shows his hometown to a growing number of tourists. Our hosts Mano and her son Reso rent out some beautifully furnished rooms of their big house to guests. Kotiko, an acquaintance of Stepanka, used to be a journalist and now runs three restaurants in Kutaissi and Tbilisi. In many cases this entrepreneurial way of life was made possible by MFIs like Crystal. How exactly Crystal does this will be examined by Stepanka and me during the following weeks.
Please stay tuned and check our blog for more stories from Georgia. We will be visiting some of Crystal’s clients and their businesses and are looking forward to sharing our experiences with you.