Sandra has worked for almost 20 years in digital communications – first as a freelance consultant, then in the communication departments for many European Union institutions and others organizations across Europe. She is passionate about knowledge management, adult education, and IT as a tool for democracy, transparency, and participation. Since 2013 she has been based in Moldova where she works as an independent communications consultant and consults for several educational projects.
1. What are the benefits of doing business in Moldova?
Well, the most striking element here is that Moldova’s capital, Chisinau, is quite small – especially when it comes to a specific business or industry. The number of professionals involved is often very limited, even more so if one is active in a domain that is innovative or based in technology. This means that it does not take very long to establish the right networks and business relations, and also to assess your own strengths and weaknesses when compared to what is already present on the market. It also helps that local people are very friendly and open to foreigners. Moldovans are eager to hear new ideas and support them if possible. The same can be said of the international community in Chisinau – it is small enough to welcome new entrants with enthusiasm and encouragement.
2. What are the largest obstacles of doing business in Moldova?
It certainly depends on where you come from and with whom you are comparing Moldova. Many would probably mention a lingering Soviet-style mentality. Many public administrations are not customer-oriented, and are very bureaucratic and inefficient. I find that young people, however, are extremely eager to leave this behind and expats are not the only ones complaining. Change is coming soon. The eGovernment Center, for example, is already pushing an impressive digital transformation in government offices and other authorities. The main obstacle to doing business is the low income of citizens – not many people have disposable income to spend on whatever service or product you may want to offer. There is also a tendency to try to do things behind the backs of tax authorities, which is often difficult to deal with if you are an honest citizen.
3. How can a foreigner establish sound business relationships in Moldova?
Be outgoing and meet (or contact electronically) as many people as you can, establishing personal relationships. Take advantage of the existing expat community to start exploring the market and their existing networks. Be prepared to give up the privacy of your Facebook account! Here Facebook is used by everyone as a business-networking tool as much as a way to be in contact with ‘true’ friends. My strongest piece of advice, however, would be to learn some Romanian and show interest for the local culture, history, and traditions, because then you can connect with your local business contacts at a totally different level. They will appreciate enormously the effort and you will get a much better understanding of topics within the Moldovan context.
4. What are some of the best-kept secrets about Moldova and its workforce?
I don’t know if it’s a secret, but they are great with languages and very keen to learning. They are also paid extremely low salaries. Statistics show that the best-paid jobs are in IT and communications with an average monthly salary of less than 450 euros.
5. What advice would you give a new entrant into Moldova?
Do it! Moldova is going through such an interesting phase right now. The opportunities are rich and I am sure we will see a fair amount of ‘leapfrogging’ – with Moldova skipping several phases of development and being able to reach the rest of Europe quickly, at least in some sectors. Remember, do it with respect – there is a very delicate balance of powers and cultures, which require a certain dose of intelligence and the will to dig deeper.