Guido Beltrani, Director of the Polish office of the Swiss Contribution Office will speak at the European Congress of Local Governments

“There are many seeds of entrepreneurial spirit in the less developed regions”

Cohesion policy would not make sense if it was not supposed to awaken the potential of the so-called “less-developed regions”. It is believed that if they are aided now, this will bring fruit in the future, resulting in the development of singular states and the European Union. How to activate the potential of the less-developed regions?

A comment by Guido Beltrani

Every country is confronted with the problem of less developed regions, which are lagging behind in their socio-economic development, mostly due to historical and geographical reasons, a progressive loss of competitiveness of the main economic sectors in the region, or a mix of these causes. Typically, such regions are affected by a lack of job opportunities, in particular for highly qualified jobs and by a comparatively low income per capita. As a consequence, we often observe a negative dynamic characterised by emigration and brain drain, which further weakens the social structure of these regions, their economy and subsequently their tax substrate.

How to break this vicious circle?

Obviously, there is no magic solution, but there are promising approaches. These approaches aim at creating a virtuous circle of entrepreneurial activities and economic framework conditions that promote entrepreneurship. Often, these regions have an untapped potential, in particular in sectors like tourism or agri-tourism, agriculture combined with food processing, and sometimes also in industrial sectors which have a strong tradition in the region. The concrete way how to un-tap this potential can at best be discovered by the inhabitants of the region themselves or by those that have temporarily emigrated from the region and are ready to come back with a good business idea in their luggage.

Let me mention a few excellent business ideas which have been realised in less developed regions and have become a great success:  One of the family enterprise in the region of Lublin has launched a hotel consisting of “houses in the trees”, which is meanwhile always booked months in advance. I have also recently visited a winery in the Swiętokrzyskie region, whose wines have received international awards and which has created, together with other wine producers, a regional wine trail that increasingly attracts tourists. I was at a family farm in Podkarpacie, which has started to process their harvest, adding in this way value to their products. Their dried fruits are meanwhile sold across Poland. Finally, I could see innovative projects implemented by farmers’ associations, which aim at adding value to fruits and vegetables by processing them into juices, jams, cakes or dumplings in so-called kitchen incubators. One of them has been opened recently in the Małopolska region. These examples show that there are many seeds of entrepreneurial spirit in the less developed regions.

However, often these seeds do not sprout due to structural barriers. Regional development policies have a pivotal role in eliminating these barriers and in creating favourable framework conditions for start-ups, entrepreneurs and farmers. As a donor, the role Swiss-Polish Cooperation Program is to support the development strategies elaborated by the regions of Poland in order to create the framework conditions that allow entrepreneurial ideas to emerge and succeed. This program, which is part of a larger endeavour, the so-called Swiss Contribution to the EU Enlargement, emanates from the solidarity of Switzerland with the states that entered the European Union in 2004 and later.

1.9 billion PLN to spend for regional development

The support program for Poland is by far the largest. It amounts to 489 million Swiss Francs, which, as of today, correspond to over 1.9 billion PLN. The program covers a wide range of topics: health and social care, environment and infrastructure, security and migration management, support to the civil society, research partnerships, the development of the private sector, and also regional development. In the area of regional development our approach is to contribute to the creation of good framework conditions for entrepreneurs by focusing on the reduction of four structural barriers: i) the insufficient access to finance; ii) the lack of cooperation among local actors; iii) the lack of market access for local products; and iv) the lack of specific knowledge needed for creating and developing a business. (…) The business ideas mentioned above originated from bottom-up initiatives, which have benefitted from one or more of the instruments offered to entrepreneurs by the Swiss-Polish Cooperation Program. And we are glad to see that the entrepreneurial seeds that we have watered have sprouted and still keep growing.

Guido Beltrani, Director of the Polish office of the Swiss Contribution Office holds degrees in physics and economics. Worked as a consultant in the fields of environment and economic development. Since 2005 he has worked for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, managing assistance programs in Kosovo and Ukraine, and currently the Swiss-Polish Cooperation Program.

Mr. Beltrani will take part in the 3rd European Congress of Local Government as one of the speakers in the debate Forging Weakness into Strength. Untapped Potential of Less Developed Regions.

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