Biodegradable napkins from Ninotsminda - How a 30-year-old woman manages a family business
How the EU and CENN help entrepreneurs
The story below tells you about Naira Oganesyan – a young woman heading a family business with the EU and CENN support in an Armenian village of southern Georgia, bringing up two children, employing local women, and trying to reduce environmental pollution in the small community.
From teacher to entrepreneur
In the Samtkhe-Javakheti region of Georgia, in the village of Eshtia, Ninotsminda Municipality, a paper cutting machine is functioning noisily on the first floor of a two-floor house. Women wearing blue uniforms are adjusting the edges of kitchen napkins and pack them carefully.
There is much to do, as the women have only a few days to finish a new order for a shop in the area. The FAMILY napkin producer received an order for a new batch of napkins and hygienic papers.
A young couple founded the family enterprise.
“One evening my husband and his brother were having dinner and talking about the business. I was listening to them, thinking that this business would work well. At the time I had no idea what it would entail,” Naira Oganesyan remembers with laughter.
Naira is 30 years old. The evening she is talking about was four years ago,when Naira worked as a teacher in the village kindergarten and her husband, Narek, worked as a specialist for the local government administration.
At the time, the American University of Armenia, located in Javakheti, was launching the Turpanjian Rural Development Program.,aimed at promoting rural development in the border regions of Armenia and Georgia through education and funding.
As Narek was busy, Naira headed to attend the training courses. Afterwards the couple filled in the funding application and were awarded funding. With 3,5 million Armenian Dram (about 7,000 USD at that time) Naira and Narek opened their napkin business in Eshtia, bought a machine and started producing napkins.
“There was no such business in Samtskhe-Javakheti. So we thought that it would be a good business. We wanted to cover not only the region but to sell our product outside it, as this product is used daily by everyone. We followed a very standard approach: we bought the raw materials, prepared and sold the product,’’ Naira says.
Family members and relatives were involved in the family business — thus, the business is called FAMILY.
How did the EU and CENN change the young entrepreneurs’ lives?
Two years later, the EU – CENN joint project was initiated in Ninotsminda. Narek attended an information meeting held by the organization.
“He was very enthusiastic when he returned from the meeting. He told me that a new program was being launched focused on fostering social and green entrepreneurship and the environment. We thought that we could do something very useful. Our business concept was turned upside down,” Naira says.
The EU4Youth project Social Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Development (SEED) Programme for Green Growth in Borderline Communities (SEED) was launched in December 2019 by the CENN with its partner organizations Green Lane NGO (Armenia) and KRDF (Georgia), with the funding of the EU.
The project objective is to develop the entrepreneurial potential of young people living in the border regions of Georgia and Armenia, to improve their skills in the fields of the social entrepreneurship and green innovations, and to promote employment. This project represents a part of the large initiative of the EU supporting youth and the EU4Youth program as well.
Naira and Narek decided to participate in the project and filled out the application. They had an idea of producing biodegradable napkins in Ninotsminda. As part of the Green Mission, FAMILY was to use 99% cotton raw materials to produce the napkins, while they would use second-hand polyethylene for packaging..
“Polyethylene remains in the soil for a long time and affects it too much. Second-hand polyethylene reduces the effect on the environment significantly. We started thinking in this respect – we wanted to launch biodegradable production,’’ Naira says.
Their application was approved and Naira prepared to pass the acceleration phase:
“It was when my second child was very small. I headed to the training courses with him. I studied so many interesting things and I understood that I would have a lot of responsibility in this business.”
As part of the social innovation funding contest of Caucasus, FAMILY received 30,000 GEL from the EU. With this sum the business was able to expand, renovate and re-equip – the paper-cutting and packaging equipment and machines were upgraded. The business purchased special uniforms for the employees, with the cotton raw materials and packaging materials to produce the napkins.
Currently, FAMILY is the only napkin manufacturer in the region which uses fully biodegradable materials. Their product, including kitchen napkins, hygienic medical napkin, and hygienic paper towels, are sold not only inside but outside the region.
“We produce about three tons of paper on a monthly basis. We are always working on orders,’’ Naira says.
Naira and Narek do not perceive this activity as a business only.
“When I communicate with the village residents, I tell everyone how dangerous the polyethylene packages are and how they pollute the soil. I try to make people start thinking about it. My attitude absolutely changed,” Naira tells me.
FAMILY has also made a deal with the village school and kindergarten – it receives waste paper from them and provides them with its product in exchange.
“We exchange one kg of waste paper for one box of napkins or hygienic towel. It depends on the need itself. We plan to start such collaboration with other schools as well.’’
The social mission of FAMILY – how does the young entrepreneur help other women living in the community?
After CENN’s help, other changes also occurred in Naira’s and Narek’s family business.
“After the CENN training courses it occurred to me to employ the women living in our village without higher education and work experience. Narek approved of this idea,’’ Naira says.
Five women from Eshtia work in FAMILY currently. They receive pay equivalent to the amount of work they do.
“For example, they process a 100kg paper roll for 15 GEL. They finish three or four such rolls a day. It depends on the order,’’ Naira says.
42-year-old Marina Tepikyan has never worked anywhere. Her family’s main income is from Marina’s husband working seasonally in Russia. For the last two years Marina has been working at the napkin business.
“This is my first job. I feel happy when I come here. I can forget household activities and problems for a while. We work and have fun here. We are like a family,’’ Marina says.
“I do not depend on my husband anymore,” Haikanush says, laughing.
Haikanush is also from Eshtia. She is 42, and for it is also her first job. “Naturally, I like being here. This is why I come here. Only this made it worth leaving home.’’
Naira says that many people want to work with them. The couple has also the idea of expanding their business, and so they are await more women from Eshtia to work with.
How the EU and CENN help entrepreneurs