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Top Russian Businesswomen & US Pros Trade Tips

Top Russian Businesswomen Trade Tips with U.S. Pros

In Russia there are few programs designed to support businesswomen, despite the fact that women-owned businesses are growing faster than those owned by men, according to Elena Fedyashina.

Fedyashina, the director of the Committee of 20, an organization of Russian women business leaders, was in Washington with nine other successful Russian businesswomen to learn about how women in the United States expand their companies.

The 10 women are participating in a weeklong program that includes visits to officials in Washington and business experts in Baltimore and New York, and a meeting with the Maryland secretary for economic development.

Sponsored by the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), the program is called a "voluntary visitors project." The women paid their own way to the United States and ECA covered the women's expenses during their visit. Their meetings with U.S. counterparts are designed to help them develop their own businesses further and to grow personally as business leaders when they return to Russia.

The visit is part of the commemoration of 200 years of U.S. Russian diplomatic relations.

The Russian group includes investment bankers, stock market analysts, a medical doctor, journalists and trade unionists.

Fedyashina said the Committee of 20 always has been composed of women who are major decision makers of large companies but increasingly is attracting members who are just starting businesses. Despite this growing entrepreneurial spirit in Russia, she said, it is difficult for women to gain access to capital there, and sometimes Russian women do not even trust other women as managers.

Michael Considine, a Eurasia expert for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a business group with membership that is 60 percent small and medium-sized businesses, advised the group to work with Russian media to develop articles about businesswomen. Profiles of top U.S. businesswomen are a regular feature of American business magazines and give positive publicity to their employers.

U.S. small businesses (those with 500 or fewer employees) generate more than half of all private gross domestic product (GDP), according to the Small Business Administration. Considine said these small U.S. firms "drive GDP growth in the United States."

Michelle O'Neill, a deputy under secretary at the Commerce Department, told the Russian women that women are responsible for more than one-third of entrepreneurial activity in the United States. (See related article.)

The women spoke to officials about finding American investor groups to support growing Russian businesses and about developing training programs for managers.

Russian businesswoman Diana Medman, director of AO Bioprocess and of Sputnik Systems ARKOS, told USINFO she started a microfinance network in 1998 and has enjoyed helping women in areas outside of Moscow to bring their talents to the market. She said that an immigrant woman from Latvia used a loan from the network to begin sewing children's coats, and in three years, her garments were featured in an exhibition of national achievements -- a significant honor in Russia.

Medman -- who said, "I have been a feminist since age 3, when I began arguing with my father" -- published the first Russian feminist magazine, Transfiguration, and is interested in learning about women's business advocacy groups that she will meet with in New York during her visit.

Aygyul Mirzayanova -- owner of Marka, a public relations agency in Kazan, Tatarstan -- said that, unlike some of her peers, she felt forced to start a business. After she criticized a city official, Mirzayanova was dismissed from a job as an anchor at a television station where she had worked for 13 years. She said no other station would give her a job, so she fell back on her media experience to start a business.

Marka is barely two years old and is suffering growing pains, she said. "Before, I was paid a salary; now, my employees depend on me."

Mirzayanova said she has to explain to Russian clients what "public relations" means. But Mirzayanova said she has been a "sponge" as she listens to American business experts and her Russian colleagues.

Cameron Cushman of the U.S. Commerce Department listened to the women's questions and told them the department will hold a daylong forum with Russian entrepreneurs in early 2008, at which he hopes they will be able to develop concrete plans to help women business owners in Russia.


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