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Ekaterina Gvelesiani – An entrepreneur in the pursuit of the greater good

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Ekaterina Gvelesiani, a successful entrepreneur based in Mestia, Georgia, is the founder of an organization called 'Partnership for the Sustainable Development of the Region.' This organization, in collaboration with local communities, aims to transform critical issues from mere discussions into actionable plans.

When looking at the global statistics, we see that 92 out of every 100 startups do not succeed. However, Ekaterina has defied the odds in all three of her entrepreneurial ventures, a remarkable achievement. Ekaterina attributes her success to her dreamy and selfless nature, willingness to take risks, principled character, inner freedom, and unwavering perseverance, complemented by hard work and a solid educational foundation.

Notably, Ekaterina is the first Georgian to graduate from Ecole Hotelier de Lausanne, the world's oldest top-ranking university specializing in hospitality education, located in Switzerland. She holds an MBA in Sustainable Tourism Development and Hotel Management. In 2016, Ekaterina started construction of the eco-friendly Hotel Paliani in Mestia, Georgia, which, despite numerous obstacles, finally opened its doors in 2022. Today, it is more than just a uniquely designed hotel; it serves as a hub for gatherings, inspiration, and the exchange of innovative ideas.

According to Ekaterina, "The panoramic views of Mestia from the Paliani Hotel broaden one's horizons, and your vision extends beyond the hotel's profitability. I aspire for Mestia to be recognized for its rich cultural heritage. Mestia should be at the forefront, hosting numerous events and championships, while preserving its captivating local traditions, rituals, stories, and the essence of its people. It should experience growth and development, all while retaining its authenticity. Losing its uniqueness would be a bitter loss, and the pain would be insurmountable."

With these thoughts in mind, Ekaterina, in collaboration with her team, swiftly introduced the "Paliani Tour" idea, making it more convenient for local residents to explore destinations around the world.

"Travel is not only enjoyable, but also enriching," she tells us. "It broadens our horizons, deepens our knowledge, and introduces us to new people, allowing us to experience different cultures, and enabling us to apply those experiences to our reality. We need more than theoretical discussions about Western values: Why shouldn't every resident of Svaneti have the opportunity to witness the impeccable infrastructure of winter resorts in Switzerland, the efficiency of waste management in Germany, or Denmark's success in environmental sustainability, with their own eyes? Learning from the best is how we can grow and establish a prominent presence on the global tourism map."

Over the past two years, Ekaterina has dedicated most of her time to Mestia due to her work, in which she encountered various challenges while managing the hotel. These challenges included a shortage of qualified local staff, disorganized supply chains, infrastructural issues, a lack of public transportation, and poor communication between the local government and the civil sector—difficulties she had not fully anticipated when starting her business.

A systematic problem-solving approach is a hallmark of successful entrepreneurs. It was these issues and challenges in the region that motivated Ekaterina to establish the organization Partnership for the Sustainable Development of the Region in collaboration with local youth. With the support of donor organizations, this cooperation has carried out several projects promoting the active participation of the local population in municipal decision-making processes, and fostering a business environment conducive to development.

"I firmly believe that the governance of a municipality should rest in the hands of the local population, particularly when it pertains to their environment. Our country's success is heavily reliant on social engagement and a high level of civic responsibility – these qualities set us apart from successful nations. For some reason, Georgians often underestimate the impact a single individual can make. Nevertheless, through relentless effort, achieving results is possible, and it brings a profound sense of satisfaction," Ekaterina says.

What does 'Partnership for Sustainable Development of the Region' aim to achieve?

"What sets a social entrepreneur apart from a traditional entrepreneur is the ultimate goal. In the case of a traditional entrepreneur, the goal is profit. In my case, I gauge success by the extent to which my work can address the current social, cultural, economic, and ecological challenges facing the local community," she explains.

Within the scope of ongoing projects, Partnership for the Sustainable Development of the Region conducts numerous meetings with members of the local community across Svaneti. Together with these community members, specific issues are identified and potential solutions are discussed. Ekaterina and her team work to connect locals with professionals who can assist in addressing these challenges.

At this stage, Partnership for the Sustainable Development of the Region is addressing various challenges in the region, including the uneven distribution of resources, unequal village development, issues related to over-tourism, environmental and ecological concerns, preservation of cultural heritage, social and economic challenges, and a lack of social engagement.

"While working, I have encountered several difficulties, but I wouldn't expect otherwise – 'advice' or 'requests' to steer clear of certain issues, not to meddle. Or I get warned I might get into trouble by 'playing with fire.' Considering my entrepreneurial background and my stubborn character, a characteristic shared by most entrepreneurs, it's evident how much I weigh such advice," Ekaterina says.

Members of the organization believe that, by taking small steps with great aspirations and unwavering dedication, they can promote sustainability in the region.

"The successful operation of my startups and community organization is primarily attributed to the dedicated team that serves as the backbone of the organization, and I will always shield them no matter what," she adds.

Entrepreneurs must possess a global vision. Expanding operations, constant self-improvement, innate leadership skills, and a commitment to creating a better world necessitate a scalable approach that Ekaterina has already mastered and continues to pursue in her endeavors.

For more please visit: www.paliani.ge

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