On 31 May 2016, the European Parliament together with the EU Programme for Employment and Social Innovation (EaSI) Technical Assistance (TA) organised the ”Microfinance for all?” workshop in Bratislava to discuss the role of microfinance, entrepreneurship education and best practice learning for Slovakian entrepreneurs. The workshop aimed at exchanging examples of good practices on how to target micro and social enterprises among different public, private and non-profit stakeholders and on how to implement these practices for Slovakia. The current challenges in Slovakia, with high long-term unemployment rates, especially among youth and women, represent a call for action in the fields of microfinance as well as training and mentoring programmes to create an economic and social impact. The focus of the workshop was on disadvantaged groups that have so far been neglected in the country, e.g. people that are socially excluded or at risk of losing their job.
Workshop speakers included international experts on microfinance, representatives of the European Commission and the European Investment Fund, as well as representatives of the Slovak government and non-profit sector. For Jana Žitňanská, member of the European Parliament, who organised the workshop together with the EaSI TA team, the right support for disadvantaged groups can also be entrepreneurial: “If we create conditions to support business ideas of disadvantaged people, we can strengthen the Slovak economy by millions of euros each year. But sole access to finance will not be sufficient. We need to make sure that people can access non-financial services, e.g. mentoring on how to develop a business plan or marketing strategy. We have clear evidence from other parts of Europe that this works and results are fantastic.”
The first part of the workshop focused on the European framework and European best-practices related to financial instruments. It was opened by Cornelia Andrei from DG EMPL, European Commission, and Stefan Oberbichler from the European Investment Fund. This was followed by experiences from Slovakia. Dušan Haliena from OTP Bank explained how the bank entered into the microfinance business. Oleg Moraru from Patria Group in Romania presented the evolution of his organisation to become the leading non-bank financial institution in Romania, with a country wide presence and a rather commercial strategy to reach social goals. Subsequently, Patrick Sapy from the Belgium microfinance institution microStart gave insights about the organisation’s best practice approach in providing financial services to disadvantaged people. MicroStart mentors its clients before microcredit is provided, but also later, when the business is started.
In the workshop’s second part, the discussion moved to the subject of entrepreneurship education in Slovakia and learnings from Europe: Silke Müffelmann, EaSI TA Team Leader, presented international best practices in business development services. This included the case on the TEB Bank in Turkey, which has established business development strategy being considered as one of the top three worldwide. The Dutch microcredit institution Qredits presented their strategy based on e-learning and voluntary groups to provide entrepreneurship education. "Our business plan template has more than 100 downloads per day," said Elwin Groenvelt from Qredits. Slovakian representatives from the public, private and non-profit sectors reflected on their experience of entrepreneurship education.
By going into a vivid discussion, the workshop participants learned different approaches on how to target micro and social enterprises in Europe and on how to implement the lessons learned for disadvantaged groups in Slovakia. The overall conclusion from the event was that such workshops help link different actors across microfinance in Europe and encourage different disadvantaged groups to be entrepreneurial as well as actors from Slovakia to continue exploring ways on how to foster microfinance in their country.