Why Moldova? For us the answer is obvious. We lived in the country for more than 2 years and saw the difficulty citizens have in living productive lives. This was before the global financial crisis and whatever progress was being made then, it has stopped and now there is backsliding. Moldova is the poorest country in Europe. Though millions of dollars worth of goods are coming into the country, mostly humanitarian aid, we observed that, at that time, virtually none of the aid was helping families directly to improve their own lot. The aid did not provide a way for families to make money to sustain themselves. We are glad to report that some money now is available for entrepreneurs and start-up businesses — but much of it runs through government agencies, always bureaucratic and often politicized. That is why we have chosen to help create jobs to keep families together.
Lying at the crossroads between eastern and western Europe, Moldova has been buffeted throughout its history by other countries attempting to dominate it: Rome, Poland, Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, Austrian-Hapsburg Empire, Romania, and Russia. Until 1991, Moldova was part of the Soviet Union. And still there is a breakaway area, called Transnistria, that would like to remain with present-day Russia. Moldovans have absorbed all these ethnic and cultural influences, and it shows in present-day Moldova. For example, most people speak both Romanian and Russian; in many ways, Moldovans think more eastern than western; the dominant religion (99%) is Orthodox Christian, either Russian or Romanian, depending largely on ethnic background; and, Moldovan people tend to believe they cannot effect change and they tend to be “docile” and eschew confrontation or making waves. The population of Moldova is about 4,300,000. Urban population is only 47% and the remaining populace live in small villages and are extremely poor. Twenty-six percent of the people are poor. Per capita income is $2,500 per year. Inflation now stands at 7.3%. The country is land-locked and relies economically almost entirely on agriculture. There are few natural resources (except for the fertile soil) and not much industry, and no sea port.
Because of the scarcity of jobs, over a million people work outside the country. This, of course, disrupts families and causes even more hardship for those who stay in Moldova. Of the unemployed, 62% are men, and most are from urban areas. Many people are under-employed. Highly educated people — teachers, engineers, artists — gather pears, or ears of corn, to sell in the market. Because work is scarce, girls are vulnerable, and trafficking of women to other parts of the world, under false promises, is a serious problem. Of the people who emigrate to other countries, 71% are from rural areas. Unemployment affects 80% of families.
Moldovans value education and 99.1% are literate. The country is 7th in the world in percent of education expenditures. But a high literacy rate and the high value placed on learning is not enough to project the country into economic success.
Corruption, government oversight, and high interest rates for loans (18-25% per year, for a maximum of 3 years) keeps borrowing very low and thus economic activity very slow. In addition, when repayment of bank loans falls behind, undesirable visits from the “Moldova Mafia” are likely to result.
Many people are diligent and want to work, though for cultural and historical reasons, they lack managerial and planning skills, and an orientation to customers that those of us in western developed countries take for granted. Our aim is to foster those skills, allow people the pride of supporting themselves, and encourage families to stay together.