In the past three years, the Belarusian private sector appears to have been caught between a hammer and an anvil, experiencing domestic repressions and de-liberalization as well as collateral damage from sanctions and a deterioration of the country’s image. This policy brief discusses the challenges that Belarusian businesses have been facing since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and argues that the private sector may be the last hope for sovereignty and transformation of the country.
The years that have passed since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic shocks have significantly altered the entrepreneurial landscape in Belarus. This period has seen the emergence of private businesses’ social and political activation during the pandemic, as well as during the 2020 election campaign and post-election protests (Bornukova & Friedrich, 2021). Businesses have also had to adapt to reactionary government policies, cope with sanctions against Belarus and deal with issues related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In the face of these challenges, the reactions and responses from small and medium-sized businesses signals that the private sector still has the potential to remain a driving force for socio-economic development in Belarus – despite the current political forces in power.
Private Sector Development; Liberalization and Regulation
The liberalization of the business environment, which lasted more than a decade and ended in 2020, allowed the private sector (enterprises without any state ownership share) to become the most dynamic part of the economy (see Figure 1).
From 2012 through 2020, the share of the private sector in employment increased by 7.7 percentage points. Similarly, the contribution from the private sector to the export of goods and services, as well as to GDP, exceeded the contribution from state-owned commercial enterprises. Moreover, even in the absence of significant privatization and restructuring of state-owned enterprises, the private sector took over the “social” function as an “employer of last resort”, absorbing workers released from the public sector (including from fully and partly state-owned enterprises) (IPM Research Center, 2020).
In addition, the development of the private sector increased the diversification of Belarus’ foreign trade. Private companies in the IT sector, advanced instrument manufacturing, electronics, and other high-value-added industries shifted their focus to developed countries’ markets, which reduced the dependency on Russian resources and markets. This increased Belarus’ economic sovereignty and its resilience to political tensions and other external shocks. The year 2020 however marked the end of the liberalization of entrepreneurial activities, as private businesses and private capital started to be seen as a threat to the political system (Bornukova & Friedrich, 2021).
Figure 1. Contributions from the Belarusian private sector to main economic indicators.
Although there are no uncontestable figures describing business’ attitudes and activities during the political crisis in 2020, several non-academic projects documented that 58 percent of people protesting the fraud elections in 2020 worked within the private business sector (Devby.io, 2020). Dozens of businesses also openly supported the anti-regime strikes (The Village Belarus, 2020). As a consequence, legislation and law enforcement have since been steadily tightened, the tax burden has increased, and the possibility for using simplified taxation and accounting systems by small-scale businesses, in particular for sole proprietors, have been substantially reduced.
Against this backdrop, the government has also suppressed the publication of detailed statistical data including those on entrepreneurial activity. Since 2020, the Belarusian Research and Outreach Center (BEROC)’s quarterly enterprise surveys have become the main source of information and analysis on the business development situation.
In general, BEROC’s surveys demonstrate that, despite a reduced safety cushion and the lack of substantial state support during the pandemic, Belarusian businesses had, by the end of 2021, adapted to the shocks from the post-election crisis and harsh de-liberalization, by realizing their ability to cope, and finding creative solutions in the turbulent environment (Marozau, Akulava and Panasevich, 2021). Before Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, Belarusian entrepreneurs’ optimism about overcoming external barriers – i.e., factors that are out of a firm’s control such as macroeconomic instability, etc. – was the highest since 2015. However, increased uncertainty forced Belarusian businesses to focus primarily on maintaining the achieved scale of activity, halting investments (Kastrychnicki Economic Forum (KEF) & BEROC, 2022).
Optimism In Challenging Times
In general, the institutional environment for doing business in Belarus has deteriorated in recent years, both due to actions such as changes in tax legislation, price regulation and pressure on disloyal businesses, and due to negligence from the state, such as lack of significant support measures for private business, an outflow of businesses due to sanctions and an increasingly negative image of the country (KEF & BEROC, 2022). The Business Confidence Index (BCI, ranging from 0 – “extremely negative” to 100 – “extremely positive”), developed by BEROC and the Kastrychnicki Economic Forum based on OECD methodology, documented that at the end of 2020, the confidence level of business representatives regarding future developments was in the negative zone – arguably due to the political unrest and the Covid-19 pandemic. As firms accepted a new normality and adjusted their businesses, the BCI steadily grew before comfortably settling in the neutral zone at the end of 2021 (see Figure 2).
In March-April 2022, however, macroeconomic instability, disruption of supply chains, and shortages of raw materials and/or components following the Russian war on Ukraine became serious external barriers for Belarusian businesses. This lowered the BCI and businesses’ perception of their economic situation.
Quite surprisingly, the risks of doing business in Belarus in the second half of 2022, until early 2023, were estimated to be lower than in 2021 (see Figure 3). This may be explained by the fact that (for companies remaining in Belarus) many of the potential risks (inflation, exchange rate instability, sanctions, counter-sanctions, disruption of supply chains, tightening of price regulation, etc.) had already realized (BEROC, 2023).
Figure 2. Business Confidence Index and GDP growth rate, October 2020-March 2023.
Figure 3. Risk perception by Belarusian Businesses.
The New Reality
The reaction from most Belarusian businesses to both pandemic- and war-related challenges has manifested in their search for new business models, an introduction of new products/services, and the entry into new export markets. Despite a bundle of powerful shocks to the economy stemming from the Russian war on Ukraine and related sanctions, some factors have dampened the anticipated drop in the economy: in particular, the increase in Russian support, export re-orientation to Russia and developing markets, alongside monetary stimuli, and interference with the activity of state-owned enterprises as well as artificial price controls (Kruk & Lvovskiy, 2022). As a result, the standard of living has remained at pre-war levels: in January-April 2023, real household disposable income and real salary grew by 1.6 percent and 3.8 percent respectively. With sanctions on Belarus being comparatively softer than those on Russian businesses, Belarusian businesses may have gained a comparative advantage and additional opportunities in both the domestic and Russian markets (BEROC, 2022). This caused optimism among entrepreneurs and in March 2023 – for the first time in the considered period – the composite BCI turned out to substantially exceed the neutral zone (see Figure 2). These positive spillovers are however likely to be bound in time – they will end both if the state of the Russian economy worsens (as this would reduce Russian support and decrease export revenues for Belarusian firms), and in the unlikely scenario that Russia’s current isolation is reduced. Whether Belarusian businesses will withstand the current protracted crisis depends on the ability of state authorities (current or new) to restore a constructive dialogue with the business community, return to the rule of law and create a business environment conducive to entrepreneurship.
According to business, the key factor needed to expand business activity is a reduction of external barriers (such as disruptions to supply chains, shortages of raw materials and/or components), rather than government support (e.g., financial, informational, etc.) (KEF & BEROC, 2022). Thus, “We do not need state support, but need the state not to worsen legal conditions for doing business” has become a motto of Belarusian entrepreneurs. Even in the context of war and political instability in the region, it allows looking at the prospects of the private sector in Belarus with some positive expectations.
At the same time, factors such as political repressions, sanctions against Belarus, problems with logistics, and the refusal of business partners to work with Belarusian companies due to the Russian aggression towards Ukraine have forced many Belarusian businesses, especially in high-tech sectors, to relocate. While the scale and direction of Belarusian business emigration is still difficult to assess (Krasko & Daneyko, 2022), these processes devastate entrepreneurship capital in Belarus and jeopardize the prospect of entire sectors such as the IT sector. In addition, the popular opinion about the lack of business opportunities implies that, unless conditions improve in terms of state policy and public confidence in the future, the socio-economic effects (employment, value added, tax revenue, innovations) from entrepreneurial activity in Belarus will diminish (GEM-Belarus 2021/2022). With operations severely affected by external barriers and restrictive legislation, halted investments and limited, if any, commercial contacts with Western countries and individual businesses, Belarusian private enterprises can hardly be seen as a source of stability for the current regime.
To promote an increased role of the private sector in the Belarusian economy, and to ensure high-quality and sustainable growth of the same, two prerequisites are critically necessary.
Firstly, a resolution of the political crisis and a restoration of authorities’ and state institutions’ legitimacy will significantly increase the populations’ confidence in state policy on business and economics. The principle of rule of law must be recognized and public and private actors must be treated equally in all spheres. It is also necessary to ensure the stability of tax legislation and economic law and the mitigation of excessive state control of business activities. All the above would lower external barriers and create stimuli for long-term business investments that, in turn, would facilitate economic transformation.
Although the sanctions’ packages imposed on Belarus by most developed countries due to domestic repressions, and complicity in the aggression against Ukraine, were directed towards the public sector, the private business suffered substantial macroeconomic and reputational consequences in their wake. The refusal of many foreign partners (suppliers, customers, banks, transport companies etc.) to work with Belarusian businesses – regardless of their affiliation with the state and attitude towards Lukashenko’s regime as well as towards the war on Ukraine – also substantially undermine businesses’ potential and Western soft power in Belarus. Such refusal is often driven by the argument that, by paying taxes, private businesses in Belarus support the current regime, when they should instead undermine the regime by halting operations (and thus tax revenues). At the same time, with the complete liquidation of civil society organizations and the termination of international projects and initiatives, the Belarusian private business may serve as the last resort in the hope of achieving independent, decentralized, and autonomous decision-making – all cornerstones of modern democracy (Audretsch & Moog, 2022).
From this perspective, the preservation of the private sector in Belarus may be of decisive importance in the future political processes, necessary to take into account by policymakers and business elites alike in developed countries.
In addition, relocated Belarusian businesses can play an important role in transforming the country by developing social ties between entrepreneurs and civil society, by providing support when solving problems related to doing business outside of Belarus and by investing in the Belarusian economy in the future. In this regard, establishing non-partisan Belarusian business associations abroad creates preconditions for consolidation of the most active part of the Belarusian community and its involvement in the envisaged economic transformation of the country.
- Audretsch, D. B., & Moog, P. (2022). Democracy and Entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 46(2), 368–392.
- BEROC. (2022). “Will Entrepreneurs Be Able to Reactivate the Belarusian Economy?”. FREE Policy Brief.
- BEROC. (2023). Bulletin “Small- and Medium-sized Business”. March 2023 (in Russian).
- Bornukova, K. & Friedrich, D. (2021). “Private Sector in Belarus and Political Crisis”. Policy Brief | December 2021
- Chubrik, А. (2021). “Back to the Future or a Short Historical note on the Belarusian Private Sector”. Discussion paper #2021/03 (in Russian).
- GEM-Belarus 2021/2022. (2022). “Global Entrepreneurship Monitor. Belarus Country Report”.
- IPM Research Center. (2020). “Graph of the Month, Table of the Week: Employer of Last Resort”. #6-7, June 2020 (in Russian).
- Kastrychnicki Economic Forum & BEROC. (2022). “Small and Medium-sized Business of Belarus: Situation and Plans on the Eve of Shocks” (in Russian).
- Krasko, N. & Daneyko P. (2022). “Belarusian Business Abroad: Needs, Problems and Potential of Interaction within National Business Communities”. BEROC Working Paper Series, WP no. 80 (in Russian).
- Kruk, D. & Lvovskiy L. (2022). “Belarus Under War Sanctions”. FREE Policy Brief.
- Marozau R., Akulava M., & Panasevich V. (2021). “Did the Government Help Belarusian SMEs to Survive in 2020?”. FREE Policy Brief.
- National Statistical Committee of the Republic of Belarus. https://president.gov.by/en/statebodies/national-statistical-committee
- Devby.io (2020). “10,000 Days of Arrest. Portrait of a Protester from 23.34” (in Russian).
- The Village Belarus. (2020). “Which Companies Supported the Strike and Are not Working” (in Russian).
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.
Based on data from two recent waves of the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), we demonstrate that the Coronacrisis gave birth to many new necessity-driven entrepreneurs who will likely alleviate the current challenges of unemployment and income losses in the short- and medium-term. The readiness and willingness of Belarusians to become entrepreneurs in a harsh business environment could be considered a good sign for the economy and society. However, such businesses may fail to deliver a positive long-term impact on the economy, while the detrimental consequences of the war in Ukraine undermine the potential and sustainability of growth-driving businesses with international and innovative orientation.
Crises and Entrepreneurial Activity in Belarus
During the past 15 years, the Belarusian economy and, in particular, Belarusian entrepreneurs have experienced several crises of different scopes, nature, and origins (in 2009, 2011, 2015-2016, 2020). During these periods, Belarusian private enterprises responded faster to both negative and positive trends in the economy compared to state-owned firms. This has for instance manifested itself in private sector firms being swifter in decreasing or increasing the size of the work force in recessions or recoveries (IMF, 2019). Stagnating demand also led to deteriorating business opportunities that in turn incited a decrease in the number of both nascent and matured entrepreneurs. In line with Cowling et al. (2015), these circumstances suggest the presence of a procyclical trend in the entrepreneurship development in the country. In the same vein, the period of economic growth brought new entrepreneurs to the market to pursue business opportunities.
However, results from two waves of the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), conducted in May-June 2019 and June-July 2021 demonstrate that notwithstanding the Coronacrisis, political unrest, and worsening business climate, the Belarusian economy experienced an influx of entrepreneurs (not necessarily officially registered as a firm or sole proprietor). These findings contribute to the discussion on the motivation, potential, and effectiveness of this wave of entrepreneurs for the economy.
Belarusian Context for Entrepreneurs in 2019-2021
After the 2015-2016 economic crisis, 2019 represented the third consecutive year of moderate economic growth in Belarus. The gradual liberalization of the economic activity, as well as the give-and-take relationship with Eastern-European neighbors and the West, fueled the enthusiasm of Belarusian entrepreneurs, especially in the medium- and high-tech sectors. The year 2019 was supposed to be highly conducive to entrepreneurship. These conditions were captured by the GEM Belarus 2019/2020 (2020).
However, as in most other countries, small businesses were more affected by the pandemic than large enterprises in Belarus. Moreover, many of them were left to fend for themselves in dealing with COVID-related challenges, as only a small portion of enterprises benefitted from state support measures (Marozau et al., 2021). The recovery period was abrupted by the political crisis that broke out after the presidential elections in August 2020. This political unrest resulted in increased pressure on the private sector and NGOs as well as tensions with EU countries and Ukraine. Many famous entrepreneurs were forced to immigrate and re-locate their businesses. Consequently, GEM Belarus 2021/2022 (2022) captured a new reality of the Belarusian entrepreneurial ecosystem.
How the Entrepreneurship Indicators Changed
According to the GEM 2021/22 survey, Belarus experienced an increase in the percentage of the adult population (18-64 years old) involved in all stages of the entrepreneurial process (Figure 1). Nevertheless, the level of the total early-stage entrepreneurial activity (which includes nascent entrepreneurs – up to 3 months old businesses and baby businesses – 4–42 months old) is still lower than one might predict based on the country’s level of economic development (Figure 2).
These positive changes are paradoxical because, according to the survey, Belarusians were not enthusiastic about the opportunities to start a business – respondents reported a high level of fear of business failure, and that the entrepreneurial framework conditions had deteriorated.
Figure 1. Percentage of the adult population involved in the entrepreneurial process
Figure 2. Early-stage entrepreneurship rates and GDP per capita.
Moreover, the GEM survey reveals that the profile of early-stage entrepreneurs changed between 2019 and 2021 – the educational level of early-stage entrepreneurs increased, while their income level followed a negative trend. A plausible explanation for these changes could be that a relatively well-educated part of the population, employed in the sectors that were harshly hit by the pandemic (HoReCa, Sport & Leisure, etc), decided to start a business out of necessity due to wage shrinkages or layoffs. Therefore, neither a low level of opportunity perception nor an aggravating business climate kept them from starting an enterprise.
Support for this argument can be found if we examine the reasons why Belarusians started businesses in 2021 (Figure 3). The shares of both nascent entrepreneurs and owners of baby businesses that report ‘earning a living because jobs are scarce’ increased by about 20 percentage points. This phenomenon, when a depressive market reduces employment opportunities and forces individuals into becoming entrepreneurs, is regarded as necessity-driven entrepreneurship (Gonzalez-Peña et al., 2018).
Figure 3. Reasons to start a business
Keeping in mind that the unit of analysis in the GEM is on the individual and not the enterprise level, we can suggest a cautious hypothesis that the trend in entrepreneurship development in Belarus has changed from being pro-cyclical to countercyclical in the short term.
It is already obvious that the negative impact of the pandemic and political unrest on Belarusian businesses cannot be compared with the devastating effects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In this context, the countercyclical trend or, in other words, the readiness and willingness of Belarusians to become entrepreneurs against all odds, could be considered a good sign for the economy and society. However, such necessity-driven entrepreneurs are more focused on achieving a sufficient standard of living than on expansion and innovation. It is known that the growth and innovative orientations of businesses (product and process innovation, activity in technologically intensive sectors) are important predictors of technological change and total factor productivity (Erken et al, 2018). From this perspective, according to the GEM 2021/2022, Belarus is still doing relatively well in terms of impactful early-stage entrepreneurship (international and innovative orientation, growth expectations, and technological intensity). However, businesses with these characteristics are usually led by opportunity-driven entrepreneurs and are more sensitive to changes in the external environment. Therefore, the detrimental consequences of the Russian aggression against Ukraine (difficulties with payments and logistics, export/import restrictions, and tarnished reputation of Belarus) have already undermined the potential and sustainability of most such businesses and jeopardized the socioeconomic development of the country.
So, the answer to the question of whether Belarusian entrepreneurs will be able to reactivate the economy is rather ‘no’. Based on GEM 2021/2022 data, we argue that the augmented entrepreneurial activity rate will plausibly alleviate the problems of unemployment and income losses in the short- and medium-term, but may not have a strong and long-lasting effect on the economy as a whole.
The 2021 wave of the GEM survey has documented an increase in the share of the population involved in the different stages of the entrepreneurial process in Belarus. This, however, appears to be the outcome of the pandemic-related economic crisis, which manifests itself in income losses and layoffs. As a result, the crisis produced new necessity-driven entrepreneurs with vague prospects.
In this regard, policymakers should realize that stimulating self-employment and small-scale entrepreneurship may indeed be a temporary solution to unemployment issues. If this is the aim, the toolkit to support such businesses is well elaborated and accessible to the government (it includes educational & consulting services, easy access to finance, etc.).
As for impactful entrepreneurship, hardly anything can be done by the current government to retain innovative and international business in Belarus against the backdrop of the consequences and global reactions to the war in Ukraine.
- Cowling, M., Liu, W., Ledger, A., & Zhang, N. (2015). “What really happens to small and medium sized enterprises in a global economic recession? UK evidence on sales and job dynamics”, International Small Business Journal, 33(5), 488-513.
- Erken, H., Donselaar, P., & Thurik, R. (2018). “Total factor productivity and the role of entrepreneurship”. The Journal of Technology Transfer, 43(6), 1493-1521.
- GEM Belarus 2019/2020, (2020). “Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Report GEM Belarus 2019/2020”.
- GEM Belarus 2021/2022. (2022). “Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Report GEM Belarus 2021/2022”.
- González-Pernía, J. L., Guerrero, M., Jung, A., & Pena-Legazkue, I. (2018). “Economic recession shake-out and entrepreneurship: Evidence from Spain”. BRQ Business Research Quarterly, 21(3), 153-167
- Hill, S., Ionescu-Somers, A., Coduras, A., Guerrero, M., Roomi, M. A., Bosma, N., … & Shay, J. (2022). “Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2021/2022 Global Report: Opportunity Amid Disruption”.
- IMF. (2019). “Reassessing the Role of State-Owned Enterprises in Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe”, 19/11.
- Marozau, R., Akulava, M., & Panasevich, V. (2021). “Did the Government Help Belarusian SMEs to Survive in 2020?” FREE Network Policy Brief Series.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.
Nowadays, it is evident that equal participation of both men and women in entrepreneurial activity can boost the world economy, create more diverse teams, and decrease social inequality. While the subject of women-led enterprises is widely discussed and explored, the portraits of women who stand behind these companies are still not complete. This brief focuses on the social aspects a businesswoman faces in a transition economy such as Belarus: Who is she? What are her social roles? And how do entrepreneurial families differ from average families in Belarus?
Female entrepreneurship is widely discussed as one of the potential engines of sustainable economic growth (World Bank, 2018; IFC, 2017). This brief utilizes a recent wave of the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor survey to shed light on the key aspects of female entrepreneurship in Belarus – a transition economy with a relatively short history of private entrepreneurship. It looks at the social status and social norms surrounding female businesses to better understand the current situation and future trends in this part of Belarusian society.
The data for the analysis is provided by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) surveys conducted in the summer of 2019:
- Survey of the adult population of Belarus (GEM APS): 2002 respondents aged 18 to 64.
- Survey of entrepreneurs based on GEM APS: 208 business owners (107 men and 101 women).
Women Are More Willing to Study Hard
Following a long-standing tradition, women in Belarus are likely to obtain higher education. Based on the GEM surveys of the adult population, 35% of respondents have completed a bachelor’s degree (42% of women versus 27% of men) and 1.5% have completed a master’s degree. Among entrepreneurs, 60% of respondents have the first stage of higher education and 15% have the second stage. While most of the interviewed entrepreneurs have higher education (bachelor’s degree), women are more inclined to continue their studies: 19% of female and 11% of male entrepreneurs choose to enroll in master’s programs.
Access to business education is not a problem in Belarus: almost half of the respondents claim that their education is related to the business they run. A similar fraction also report participating in business training programs (with no significant gender differences). A third of respondents report having had a mentor who helped them start a business (42% and 58% of men and women, respectively). Entrepreneurs in Belarus are not inclined to be members of business associations or (in)formal self-support groups for entrepreneurs.
Are Female Entrepreneur Families More Equal?
Most often, an entrepreneur is married and has 1-2 children under 18 years old (this pattern being the same across genders). The majority of Belarusian families are of the so-called “Soviet” type, in which the most important woman’s role is to be a mother and “keep home”. At the same time, it is perfectly normal for women to have a paid job. In the case of preparing food, cleaning the house, and washing clothes, a comparable share of male entrepreneurs and men in the general population answer that most of these responsibilities are usually carried by women (65-68%). In contrast, half of the female entrepreneurs report having an equal distribution of these household duties [Figure 1]. We observe similar patterns in the caretaking of children: 68% of women entrepreneurs claim to have an equal distribution versus 44% of non-business women. This greater intra-family equality of women-entrepreneurs can be partially explained by the fact that businesswomen earn more than Belarusian women do on average.
Figure 1. How do you and your spouse/partner divide the task of cleaning the house and washing clothes?
According to data on the daily time use of the population collected by the National Statistics Committee for 2014-2015, women spend twice as much time as men on housekeeping and childcare. But, surprisingly, only 40-45% of women note that the traditional distribution of social roles in the family imposes an unfair constraint on women’s work and career possibilities. Therefore, we document a trend towards equal relations between spouses in households where the wife is an entrepreneur. At the same time, even a typical businesswoman bears a large burden of unpaid work.
A Successful Woman is a Happy Mother and a Wife
The respondents were asked a rather controversial question of what defines a “successful woman” [Figure 2]. Both entrepreneurs and the general population of Belarus were in solidarity in understanding a successful woman primarily as a happy wife and mother (75% of respondents). In second place, in terms of importance, respondents answered that a woman should be an educated and highly qualified professional (about 50% men and 60% women). Only 23% of male and 42% of female entrepreneurs agreed with the statement that a successful woman is, first of all, a successful entrepreneur. Remarkably, 46% of men in the general population survey completely or to a greater extent disagree with this statement, at the same time, 67% of those with children would like their daughter to run a business.
Figure 2. A successful woman is first of all a/an..
Parental Entrepreneurship or Are There Any Predispositions to Become an Entrepreneur?
According to the research on parental entrepreneurship, the probability that children in entrepreneurial families will also have a career in business is 30-200% above that of children from non-entrepreneurial families (Lindquist et al., 2015). In the case of Belarus, half of the surveyed entrepreneurs indicated that their fathers were employees, while 5-10% and 17-25% reported having fathers in business and leadership positions. By comparison, out of the 2000 respondents in the general population survey, 4-8% and 14-15% reported having fathers in business and leadership positions, respectively. As the difference is not very significant, parental entrepreneurship cannot play a decisive role in becoming an entrepreneur. This fact can be explained by the relative juvenility of Belarussian businesses, the absence of entrepreneurship in the USSR, and the attitude of society towards entrepreneurship in the 90s.
Nevertheless, the Belarusian business environment is changing as well as the social attitude. Among the 2000 respondents in the general population survey, about 68% would like their daughter to own a business, and 82% want such a future for their son. Among entrepreneurs, aspirations about their children’s future are rather predictable: a third of respondents do not make plans for their children and the majority of the remaining want their children to run their own business. Moreover, among those having preferences for their children’s future, both male and female entrepreneurs reached almost 100% consensus regarding their sons. When it comes to their daughters, 95% of women and 80% of men prefer a future in business while 15% of men would like to see their daughter become a homemaker.
Several key findings can be noted when comparing women entrepreneurs in Belarus with those who are not in business. Entrepreneurs are more likely to obtain higher education, both first and second stage; household chores more equally shared in families with women entrepreneurs. Female entrepreneurs more often want a future in business for their children, especially their daughters. Based on the above, it can be expected that a greater involvement of women in business can positively affect the state of gender equality in Belarus and the quality of human capital.
Nowadays, the promotion of entrepreneurship (let alone female entrepreneurship) is not a priority of the current Belarusian government, and independent development actors, who used to support it in the past, are out of the country. For the future, however, I will outline some general recommendations for developing female entrepreneurship (based on Akulava et al., 2020). With regard to education, the popularization of STEM programs among women can positively affect female involvement in entrepreneurial activity. Additionally, promoting examples of successful women-led enterprises will help combat stereotypes and inspire women to venture into entrepreneurship. Last but not least, an equal division of domestic responsibilities will allow women to spend more time on their careers.
- Aginskaya, Hanna; and Maryia Akulava, 2018. “Women Entrepreneurs in Belarus: Characteristics, Barriers and Drivers“, Free Network.
- Akulava, Maryia; Myck, Michal; and Jesper Roine, 2020. “Transition and Beyond: Women on the Labour Market in the Context of Changing Social Norms“, Free Network FROGEE.
- Belstat, 2015. „How do we use our time“, Statistical bulletin, National Statistical Committee of the Republic of Belarus (in Russian).
- IFC, 2020. “Women’s entrepreneurship in Belarus”.
- IFC, 2017. “Investing in Women: New Evidence for The Business Case”.
- Lindquist, Matthew J.; Sol, Joeri; and Mirjam Van Praag, 2015. “Why Do Entrepreneurial Parents Have Entrepreneurial Children?”, Journal of Labor Economics, Vol. 33, No. 2 (April 2015), pp. 269-296.
- World Bank, 2018. “An Operational Guide to Women’s Entrepreneurship Programs in The World Bank”.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.
This policy brief summarizes the results of the research on aspects of female entrepreneurship in Belarus. The aim of this work was to shed a light on what the features of female-owned business in Belarus are and whether there are any differences in the motives and barriers it faces compared with male-owned companies. Results show that female-owned companies are smaller in size, less likely to grow fast and less effective in the monetization and promotion of their innovative products and ideas. This is partly due to differences in social roles, motives, decision-making process and macroeconomic factors.
Women’s entrepreneurship is not just a question of gender equality but one of the sources for the sustainable economic development of the country. The presence of women among decision makers is beneficial for companies’ performance, effectiveness and innovativeness, and impacts the growth of profitability of the company (Akulava, 2016; Noland et al., 2016).
Little is known about the state of women’s engagement in economic governance in Belarus. According to the 5th wave of the BEEPS survey conducted by the World Bank, female top managers operate in around 32.7% of Belarus’ firms and 43.6% of firms have women among their owners (The World Bank, 2013). At the same time EBRD research shows that, on average, for every 10 men taking loans for the development of their own enterprise, only one woman did. Furthermore, the probability of loan rejection is 55% higher for women than for men in Belarus (these average numbers were presented by EBRD representatives during the conference “Business Territory: Women’s View”, Minsk, 2017). Unfortunately there is no information on the size and purpose of the loans, but potentially this may be a sign of discrimination and constraints on women’s economic activity.
We tried to expand the understanding of the role of women in Belarus’ private sector and to uncover individual, social, economic and cultural barriers that affect economic behavior and career choices of women, as well as introduce new drivers for female entrepreneurship in Belarus.
For this purpose we conducted interviews in 3 focus groups with the involvement of women entrepreneurs and also ran a survey that covered 407 owners and top decision-makers in the small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
The data analysis showed that around 30% of businesses belong to women (Table 1). Women tend to choose to operate in wholesale/retail trade, manufacturing, and medical/social services. Trade is the most popular with 28.9% of female-owned companies being part of this industry, while manufacturing stays second (10.1%). Trade also attracts the largest share of the male-owned companies (29.6%), next go manufacturing (23.9%) and construction (18.9%).
Table 1. Sectoral distribution by gender of the owner
|Share in total sample (%)||30.3||69.7|
|Medical and social services||8.7||1.3|
|Hotel and catering||8.7||2.5|
Innovative behavior changes slightly depending on the gender of the owner (33.3% of female- and 38.9% of male-owned companies have implemented innovations during the last 3 years). The measure of implemented innovative activities includes information on whether the company introduced any radical or incremental innovation (product/service/novelty in business processes/new strategy) during the last three years.An average female-owned firm grows much slower than male-owned business (Table 2). The annual sales gain and the sales gain over the last 3 years are 4 times and 2 times smaller respectively. The average number of employees is also smaller among female-owned companies (10 vs. 17 employees). On average, the owner of the male-owned firm has almost 15 years of relevant working and 13 years of managing experience. Similar characteristics for female owners are 12.8 and 9.7 respectively.
However, the realization of the implemented innovations as well as their relevance look more successful among the male-owned businesses. According to the answers in the survey, the profit share due to implemented innovations equals 28.8% among male-owned businesses and just 16.4% among female-owned. Thus, the major part of return is generated by the established business model and not the novelty.
Table 2. Business characteristics by gender of the owner
|Sales growth 1yr (%)||7.6||27.1|
|Sales growth 3yr (%)||18.4||36.1|
|Size of the company (employees)||10.6||17.3|
|Age of the company (years)||8.8||10.2|
|Relevant experience of the owner (years)||13||14.7|
|Managing experience of the owner (years)||9.7||12.8|
|Owners with a higher education (%)||91.3||86.2|
|Implemented innovation (%)||33.3||38.9|
|Profit share of implemented innovations (%)||16.4||28.8|
One of the potential reasons for differences in characteristics and performance indicators between genders is self-selection, meaning that women are choosing less productive sectors in order to have more flexibility in balancing various social roles they play. In order to check for this, we compare the characteristics mentioned above in three different sectors (manufacturing, wholesale/retail trade and medical/social services) (Table 2a). The male-owned companies form the majority in the manufacturing sector, while medical/social services industry is mostly presented by female-owned business. Finally, the wholesale/retail trade sector is located somewhere in between and is well presented by both female- and male-companies.
Table 2a. Business characteristics by gender of the owner in manufacturing, wholesale/retail trade and medical/social services
|Wholesale/Retail Trade||Manufacturing||Medical and social services|
|Sales growth 1yr (%)||9.8||31||2||26.2||10||n/a|
|Sales growth 3yr (%)||16.4||37.9||5.6||42.3||17.5||n/a|
|Size of the company (employees)||5.9||14||23.7||19.8||13||8.5|
|Age of the company (years)||8.8||7.8||16.1||9.2||12.6||16|
|Relevant experience of the owner (years)||13||13.8||15.3||14.8||15.2||16|
|Managing experience of the owner (years)||9.8||11.2||12.3||13.3||10.3||22|
|Owners with a higher education (%)||85||83||100||89.5||100||50|
|Implemented innovation (%)||35||34.1||57.1||57.9||16.7||50|
|Profit share of implemented innovations (%)||2.5||25||30||34.1||n/a||n/a|
There are differences in size and age of the businesses subject to the industry of the businesses. However, controlling for industry does not reveal any significant changes in the picture in terms of companies’ performance and effectiveness. Male-owned firms are still growing faster and are more successful in promoting implemented innovations Thus, this is likely not an issue of self-selection but of the way male and female owners operate their businesses.
The analysis revealed a number of internal and external barriers creating obstacles for doing business that breaks down into the following categories: social roles, educational patterns, decision-making process and general macroeconomic factors.
Women’s social roles in Belarus
Women in Belarus are mainly at the wheel of domestic responsibilities, which are rarely shared with male partners. According to the survey results, 40% of female and just 9% of male entrepreneurs are responsible for at least 75% of family duties (Table 3). 37% of female and only 0.74% of male owners said that they are in charge for taking care of kids. The same is true for the responsibility to stay at home when kids are sick (32.6% vs. 1.28).
Table 3. Distribution of domestic responsibilities by gender of the owner
|less than 25%||10.91||37.5|
|more than 75%||40.00||9.00|
|taking care of kids||36.96||0.74|
|staying at home, when kids are sick||32.61||1.48|
At the same time, participants of the focus groups admitted that particularly childbirth motivated them to start their own business with flexible working hours and the possibility to work from home, which is generally not possible in corporate business in Belarus. Thus balancing between family and business becomes challenging, impacting career decisions. That motive also appeared in the survey where on average 13% of female and 2.5% of male owners started businesses in order to combine work with parenting. This trend does not change much if we control for industry.
There is no significant gender difference in the educational level of business owners. According to the survey data, 91.3% of female and 86.2% of male owners have a university degree or higher. However, the established social role models of Belarusian women influence both their career and educational choices. Usually girls tend to choose education in arts and humanities, law or economics, rarely going to technical universities. Lack of technical background further prevents their access into hi-tech profitable industries.
Business and economic environment
During the interviews, women stated that “Both men and women businesses face generally the same obstacles in starting up, operational management and strategic development. But in an unfriendly environment – mostly men survive”. Similar messages were obtained from the survey, with almost no significant difference in the estimation of barriers was revealed. The main external barriers mentioned were government control (32.2% of female and 29.3% of male owners), administrative burden (44.1% vs. 41.1%) and tax system (33.5% and 30.5%) (Table 4). Almost all barriers were equally mentioned by the respondents except for corruption. Corruption is the only obstacle that differs between men and women, pointed out by 50% of women, while just 12% of men considered it a problem. We interpret it as women being more risk-averse and less likely do bold and dangerous actions in business like bribing. That corresponds to the literature, which finds women more risk-averse than men (Castillo and Freer, 2018; Croson and Gneezy, 2009).
Table 4. Main obstacles and motives for doing business by gender of the owner
|Administrative burden and legal system||44.1||41.1|
|Motivation to start-up business|
|Sudden business opportunity||47.8||42.8|
|Willingness to earn more||29||34.6|
|No chance to continue the previous activity||14.5||13.2|
|Improvement of state’s attitude to entrepreneurs||13||13.2|
|Possibility to combine work and parenting||13||2.5|
The statistical evidence showed that female-owned businesses are smaller in size and grow more slowly compared with male-owned competitors. There are no signs of gender differences in entrepreneurial innovativeness. However, the monetization of implemented innovations is more successful among male-owned companies.
Altogether, the barriers of female entrepreneurship in Belarus are associated with the huge burden of household duties and childcare; hindered access to technical and business education; lack of managerial experience and industry knowledge. The existing exogenous barriers, excessive control, contradictory regulations and unfriendly entrepreneurial ecosystems are seen as additional constraints and contribute to the quality and dynamics of female business.
The obtained results confirm the necessity for adding a gender perspective to SME’s policy support in Belarus as well as for taking it into account when estimating the potential effects of business support programs and policies.
Further research of women entrepreneurship, collection of reliable statistics, comparison of the results with other transition countries are vital. These will give an encouragement to new gender specific initiatives and will contribute to economic growth and innovative perspectives of Belarus.
- Akulava, M. (2016a). Gender and Innovativeness of the Enterprise: the Case of Transition Countries. Working Paper No. 31.
- Castillo, M. and M. Freer. (2018). Revealed differences. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 145: 202-217.
- Croson, R. and U. Gneezy. (2009). Gender Differences in Preferences. Journal of Economic Literature, 47(2): 448-474.
- Noland, M., Moran, T. and B. R. Kotschwar. (2016). Is gender diversity profitable? Evidence from a global survey. Peterson Institute for International Economics. Working Paper No. 16-3.
This policy brief summarizes the results of an on-going research project on the gender aspect of companies’ innovativeness in transition countries. The aim of this work is to examine whether there is a gender gap in innovative behavior within the sector of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The results suggest that the propensity to innovate is higher among companies with a presence of a female owner. This finding preserves for 5 measures of innovativeness. Thus, female involvement in business might be beneficial for the innovative sustainable development of economy.
The role of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) has increased lately and they are considered one of the main engines of economic growth (Radas and Bosic, 2009). Research on transition economies and development has emphasized the need for strong a SME sector, since it often acts as the backbone of the economy (Lukasc, 2005) and is the largest contributor of employment (Omar et al., 2009). Another important channel through which the SME sector contributes to development is through their innovative activities. Sustainable economic development requires competitive and successful industries. Being innovative is one way to achieve this goal. However, the innovativeness of sectors and industries depends not only on the actions of the largest companies, but also on the SME sector and individual entrepreneurs. Indeed, the latter are often argued to be more dynamic and more ambitious (Chalmers, 1989; Li and Rama, 2015).
The decision to follow an innovative strategy often depends on the company’s leader, their experience and other managerial characteristics. However, the experience of the leader is not the only factor affecting managerial actions – gender also appears to matter (Daunfeldt and Rudholm, 2012). In the absence of clear answers and knowledge about female managerial characteristics, including their innovativeness (Alsos et al., 2013), it is difficult to evaluate their role in modernizing the business society and to distinguish their competitive advantages or disadvantages over male managers and business owners.
The role becomes even more ambiguous for the transition, post-communist economies. The labor market under USSR officially provided equal rights to women. However, in practice women were treated differently than men. While women often had to do the same work as men, the patriarchal society remained with men being regarded as the main decision makers, and women being fully responsible for housework and childcare. This can explain the low presence of women in top-managerial positions and women’s weaker business ties and networks (Welter et al., 2004).
The question of gender and innovation in entrepreneurship has recently starting to attract attention. Earlier, innovativeness was strongly connected and associated with high-tech companies. Thus, innovation research mostly focused on technology-based and capital-intensive industries (Dauzenberg, 2012; Marlow and McAdam, 2012). As a result, innovation behavior in less capital-intensive SMEs was almost entirely overlooked. This can also explain the lack of focus on gender, as men usually dominated the capital-intensive industries (Ljunggren et al., 2010). In an ongoing research project, I am trying to expand the understanding of gender differences in innovation and SME entrepreneurship with a focus on transition economies and the CIS block in particular.
The idea is to estimate owners’ and CEOs propensity to implement innovations in the organization. The specification of the model follows the literature and uses a probit technique that allows for an estimation of these propensities while taking into account other influencing factors and individual characteristics of firms, their owners and CEOs, which likely affect innovative decisions. The data I use come from the 5th wave of the Business Environment and Enterprise Performance Survey (BEEPS) conducted in 2012-2013. The final dataset covered 5254 SMEs from 30 European and East Asia countries.
The main variable of interest is the innovativeness of the enterprise, proxied by 5 different indicators. The measures of implemented innovative activities are: 1) whether the firms introduced a new product or service during the last 3 years; 2) whether there was any new production process implemented; 3) whether there were any spending on research and development; 4) whether were was an introduction of a new marketing strategy and method; and 5) whether an enterprise implemented new methods in operational management. The usage of 5 indicators instead of one allows me to see whether there is any specific feature of innovativeness that differs by gender.
The list of control variables covers information on the gender of the CEO and owners, number of years of experience of the CEO, age of the firm, type of ownership, focus on internal and external markets, as well as the usage of foreign technologies and certification. I also have information on the share of skilled labor force, the share of females in the organization, and whether the organization bears additional costs on external consulting services and training of employees. Information on industry, country, size of the organization and type of residence is also available.
Unfortunately, the data lacks information on the number of owners, which will prohibit me from estimating the clear gender effects and limits the analysis to the effect of gender diversity among owners.
The obtained results (see Table 1) show that having a female as the only, or one of the, owner(s) increases the propensity of going into uncertainty and implementation of a new good/service by 4.5% in the CIS region and 6.7% in the non-CIS block. However, the effect of having a female CEO is insignificant. This finding contradicts the literature on gender differences in the willingness to take on risk (Wagner, 2001; He et al., 2007; Eckel et al., 2008; Croson and Gneezy, 2009) that mostly demonstrates that women, on average, are more risk-averse than men.
A similar effect is observed for the implementation of a new business process or marketing strategy. The only insignificant difference is the spending on R&D in CIS countries and new managerial methods in non-CIS block. However, these measures of innovativeness raise doubts regarding its applicability for SME sector. A shift from high-intense productions towards services makes it less useful to spend enormous sums of money on technological research. Instead, other innovative actions like the development of human capital are of greater importance.
Table 1. Propensity to innovate
The results show that having a female owner or gender diversity in the ownership structure positively affects the propensity of the organization to follow innovative behaviors and strategies. Therefore, promoting female entrepreneurship and gender equality in ownership seem positive for increasing the innovativeness of companies, and the economy in general, in both the CIS and non-CIS block.
- Alsos, G.A., Hytti, U., and Ljunggren, E. 2013.Gender and Innovation: State of the Art and a Research Agenda.International Journal of Gender and Entrepreneurship, 5(3):236-256.
- Chalmers, N. 1989. Industrial Relations in Japan: The Peripheral Workforce. London: Routledge.
- Croson, R. and Gneezy, U. 2009. “Gender Differences in Preferences”.Journal of Economic Literature.Volume 47, #2.
- Daunfeldt, S., O., and Rudholm, N., (2012). Does gender diversity in the boardroom improve firm performance? Department of Economics, Dalarna University, SE-781 88 Borlänge, Sweden; and HUI Research, SE-103 29 Stockholm, Sweden.
- Dautzenberg, K. 2012. Gender differences of business owners in technology-based firms.International Journal of Gender & Entrepreneurship,4:79–98.
- Eckel, C. and Grossman, P. 2008. “Men, Women and Risk Aversion: Experimental Evidence”. Handbook of Experimental Economic Results.Elsevier.Volume 1, #7.
- He, X., Inman, J.J. and Mittal, V. (2007), “Gender jeopardy in financial risk taking”, Journal of Marketing Research, 44: 414-24.
- Li, Y., and Rama, M. 2015. Firm Dynamics, Productivity Growth, and Job Creation in Developing Countries: The Role of Micro- and Small Enterprises. The World Bank Research Observer, 30: 3-38.
- Ljundggren, E., Alsos, G.A., Amble, N., Ervik, R., Kvidal, T., Wiik, R. 2010. Gender and innovation: Learning from regional VRI projects. Nordland Research Institute, Norway.
- Lukacs, E. 2005. The economic role of SMEs in world economy, especially in Europe. European Integration Studies, 4(1): 3-12.
- McAdam, M. and Marlow, S. 2008.The Business Incubator and the Female High-Technology Entrepreneur: A Perfect Match? Paper presented at the 2008 International Council for Small Business World Confrence, recipient of the 2008 Best Paper Award for Women Entrepreneurship.
- Omar, S. S., Arokiasamy, L., & Ismail, M. 2009. The background and challenges faced by the small and medium enterprises. A human resources development perspectives. International Journal of Business and Management, 4(10): 95-102.
- Radas, S., and Božić, Lj. 2009.The Antecedents of SME Innovativeness in an Emerging Transition Economy. Technovation, 29: 438-450.
- Wagner, M.K. (2001), “Behavioral characteristics related to substance abuse and risk-taking, sensation-seeking, anxiety sensitivity and self-reinforcement”, Addictive Behaviors , Vol. 26, pp. 115-20.
- Welter, F., Smallbone, D., Isakova, N., Aculai, E. and Schakirova, N. 2004. Social Capital and Women Entrepreneurship in Fragile Environments: Does Networking Matter? Paper presented at Babson College-Kauffman Foundation Entrepreneurship Research Conference, University of Strathclyde.
This policy brief summarises the results and implications of an upcoming Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) 2012 Latvia Report: a study on the entrepreneurial spirit and the latest trends in entrepreneurial activity in Latvia. The results suggest that Latvia is a rather entrepreneurial country (it rates second out of all EU countries by the share of population in early-stage entrepreneurial activity). GEM also finds that Latvian early-stage entrepreneurial activity is counter-cyclical. Early-stage entrepreneurship and self-employment have been important supports for those who were hit by the crisis in 2008-2009. Latvian entrepreneurs are measured to have strong international orientation and growth ambitions. The majority of them are young and middle-age males; in turn, females and the older age group (55-64) represent an “untapped entrepreneurial resource” potential to be addressed by policymakers.