SEATTLE, Washington — Decreasing a nation’s poverty rate does not reduce it evenly across the nation. While global efforts have drastically decreased nationwide poverty in Belarus, USAID business innovations have been far more effective in addressing rural poverty.
Belarus, officially titled the Republic of Belarus, is an Eastern European country bordered by Lithuania, Latvia and Russia to the North, as well as Ukraine to the South. In recent years, poverty in Belarus has decreased significantly, but it remains a prevalent issue in rural areas.
Poverty in Rural Belarus
Belarus has one of the lowest overall poverty rates in Europe, at 5.6% as of 2018. However, this statistic is a national average and does not account for the vast regional differences between urban and rural areas.
Rural areas in Belarus have historically yielded significantly higher rates of poverty. The disparity between urban and rural poverty has been as high as four-fold in many cases. For instance, in 2004 the ratio of the population living under the “minimum subsistence level” in Minsk City was 10.4%, whereas in the rural sections of the Mogilev Oblast the ratio reached 45.6%.
While overall poverty in Belarus has quickly and drastically lowered in the past 20 years, the disparity between urban and rural areas has been slower to change. Many of the initiatives aimed at poverty reduction in the country target the more populated urban areas rather than the entire nation.
In order to change this, recent initiatives led by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) have revitalized the rural economy of Belarus.
Battling Poverty with Better Business
USAID’s “Increasing Access to Finance for the Rural Population in Belarus” project has opened the door for many rural citizens to build their economic status. Started in 2014, the program aimed to “broaden economic opportunities” of rural Belarusians.
USAID made good on this goal, seeing much success in the past 6 years. The funding successfully increased financial literacy, raised access to microfinance and bolstered the entrepreneurial skills of citizens in rural Belarus.
Lasting Impact of USAID
In March of 2017, over 900 rural residents and small business employees trained by the USAID project in Belarus were asked to report their experience with the program. Out of those surveyed, 98% saw a benefit to their entrepreneurship knowledge, financial management and planning and overall business opportunities.
Individual businesses have seen drastic improvements in their performance. For instance, one business, called “Shparkiya Vilki,” or “Fast Forks,” saw a 40% increase in orders and up to a 37.5% decrease in cooking time. The owner reported that his improved team and increased spending capacity for new equipment through USAID-funded micro leases were the keys to his business’s success.
Innovative initiatives such as the USAID “Increasing Access to Finance for the Rural Population in Belarus” are important for addressing each aspect of global poverty. An ample, diversified foreign assistance budget is paramount to successfully address issues like rural poverty in Belarus.
– Asa Scott