At a dinner with a European ambassador and a Russian public figure I heard a discussion about the lack of entrepreneurship in Russia and the difficulties that small businesses face in getting started and growing. Logically I should have agreed. Russian SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) produce, at best, twenty five per cent of GDP, whereas that percentage in most G20 economies is actually reserved for the big companies, with SMEs producing the lion’s share of GDP. However, to my surprise, I suddenly found myself defending Russian entrepreneurship in that discussion.
My awareness of Russian entrepreneurship came by accident when I bought a free-range chicken at my local food market. I asked the cheerful, rosy-cheeked sales lady where my free-range chicken was born and raised. She happily explained that every week she goes to Tambov, five hundred kilometers from Moscow, to buy her chickens from the various small family farms she stays in contact with. She knows what the chickens are fed and how they are raised. I realized that this is no different to what the owner of the expensive upscale butchers in my hometown in the Netherlands does. The only difference is that the owner of the expensive butchers in the Netherlands is a respected third generation small- sized entrepreneur who plies his trade with pride. The rosy-cheeked sales lady in my local Russian market, however, does not register in Russia’s SME statistics and is not considered to be the respectable business owner that she actually is. Fifty per cent of Russia’s agricultural products are in fact produced on small family-owned household plots, and this makes the number of SMEs involved in the agricultural value chain in Russia actually quite impressive.
In my surroundings I see many examples of Russian entrepreneurship. From my friends in Kabardino-Balkaria who run a small tourism business, a health clinic and keep fifteen cows, to my recent taxi driver, a former French Legionnaire running a fleet of fifteen taxis. There is an abundance of entrepreneurship in Russia but most of it happens under the radar of official statistics. Keep an open eye for it and you will be surprised and inspired! Let’s hope the Russian government will do the same.