Romania is the largest of the Balkan nations with a population of 19.5 million. Since ascending into the EU in 2007, Romania has been on a rapid pathway to catch up to other EU member countries. Romania has made significant progress over the last 15 years. Romania has had some of the highest levels of economic growth in the EU, averaging 3% since 2010. GDP grew 4.4 % in 2018 and held strong at 4.1% in 2019. Progress has also been made in reducing poverty, and since 2011, when more than 32% of the population was living on less than $5.50 USD, the poverty rate has fallen to just 15.6% of the population in 2017. Romania is still working through institutional transitions from being a formerly Communist country. There has been significant political and legislative volatility over the past 20 years, limiting the government’s ability to implement critical economic infrastructure. However, Romania has managed risks relatively well for investors and there is still confidence in the market.
Entrepreneurship has also grown in recent years. The self-employment rate was 16.4%, higher than the EU average of 13.7%. There are 480,791 SMEs in Romania and they account for more than half of the value-add in non-financial sectors in the economy. From 2013 to 2017, SME value-add rose by 28%. SMEs also provide two-thirds of employment outside of the finance sector. The main SME sectors in Romania are wholesale and retail trade and manufacturing. In recent years there have been more SMEs active in Romania’s information and communication sector, with SMEs in the sector generating 41.9% of value-added and 22.3% of SME employment.
While there is interest in expanding the role of SMEs in the economy, Romania is still struggling with gender disparities. Women’s entrepreneurship rates are lower than men, about 38% of entrepreneurs in Romania are women. The majority of women entrepreneurs work in agriculture (68%). Women’s rates of entrepreneurship have struggled to rise, particularly because women’s educational attainment is much lower than men. This forces women into businesses that require limited skill and education and lead to women entrepreneurs being concentrated in low value-add, labor-intensive activities.
CEED has been active in Romania for over a decade providing programs that include support and capacity building for entrepreneurs, with programming that consistently target and uplift women entrepreneurs. In 2019, the center had 90 active members and 49% of CEED companies were women-led. There were 553 additional local entrepreneurs and enterprises who contributed to CEED programming in 2019.