Photography: Sergei Gapon for UNDP in Belarus

Meet Sergei Sedura - the owner of a fruit import and export company from Minsk, Belarus.

"This is our family business. We started it together with my wife back in 2000s, when we opened a small company to import fresh produce from the neighbouring countries. At the time, it was a very profitable business," said Sergei. Our company got bigger over time and our eldest son and daughter came to work for us. Now I am very happy that we are working together. As history shows, the family business is the most reliable - it is based on complete trust within the team.”

Business hasn't always gone smoothly for Sergei. One year, due to weather anomalies and sudden frosts, the company lost more than 50 per cent of its seasonal produce from its main suppliers. Doing business became even more difficult with the COVID-19 outbreak. The pandemic caused a significant drop in demand and, for the first time in the company's history, revenues from the business have gone deep into deficit. Serguei admits that he was very serious about closing the business down.

According to UNDP study on the impact of the pandemic on small and medium-sized enterprises in Belarus, 80% of small and medium-sized enterprises were negatively impacted by COVID-19. Trade and food sectors are among those most affected by the crisis. The pandemic kept profit margins thin and caused staff reductions increasing the risk of business interruption and closure.

The results of the study formed the basis for practical recommendations designed to improve COVID-19 response and post-pandemic economic recovery for private sector .In the beginning of 2021, UNDP launched “Business 19” initiative developed to support small and medium-sized businesses during the pandemic. The programme offered entrepreneurs free trainings and private consultations with experts who help find practical solutions on how to get their companies out of the crisis.

Sergei understood clearly that there is a need to change the way his company is doing business and became motivated to join “Business-19” programme.

"I had no clear picture of what specific steps needed to be taken to keep the business afloat," said Sergei. “I started looking for answers and found the announcement of UNDP’s “Business 19” training programme. I sent in my CV and hoped that I would be accepted. I was very happy when I got a positive reply. There was hope.”

The “Business 19” online sessions were attended by a small group of entrepreneurs. During the whole month, business owners developed projects to adapt their businesses to the new environment. With a mentor’s help each participant designed an individual recovery plan with concrete measures that will bring their businesses out of the crisis and improve their resilience and sustainability in the future.

Sergei said that the training helped him to better understanding what next steps he needs to do and what tools can make his business more profitable. Sergei was confident that he had found a solution.

Sergey shared the new knowledge with his colleagues, who together quickly designed new business development plan. First, they optimised costs. They can’t do business as usual anymore. The company's wage fund was temporarily reduced, however, the whole team stayed and continued working.

Sergei's company expanded its network of suppliers and started working more with local produce. Sergei plans to further improve supply strategy to minimize risks from disruptions in supply chain in the future. Sergei also started using new financial instruments to improve payment efficiency. Among other innovations is factoring, which allows deferred payment option.

The knowledge Sergei gained at the training helped him not only to find ways to solve the challenges, but also to see new opportunities for developing his business, even in crisis.

"In the near future we are planning to develop a new area for us - freight transport. We hope it will all work out. Additionally, we will work on brand awareness and promotion, develop our visibility in social networks. Any business needs it now," shared Sergei his business plans. “In order to implement these, we will expand our team. We will hire at least 5-6 more people to achieve the goals we set.”

Working with local and national partners, including the Ministry of Economy of Belarus, to create better conditions for small business development is a priority of the UNDP Belarus Country Programme, the State programme Small and Medium Enterprises (2021-2025), and the UN Country Team in Belarus Social and Economic Response Action Plan. UNDP guidelines help entrepreneurs to develop their own set of measures to minimize the short- and long-term effects of crisis situations, including pandemics. They were developed based on the analysis of the data received from entrepreneurs in 82 districts of Belarus, as well as on the study of best local and international practices.

Helping small businesses to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic in Belarus.

The story of Sergei - the owner of private fruit import and export company who managed to keep his business afloat in the times of crisis. UNDP in Belarus dedicates knowledge to support small business owners already hurt from the pandemic on their path towards recovery.
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