Author Archives: remi

The State of Coworking in Tbilisi, Georgia (February 2016)

Introduction

As part of a series of workshops about the sharing economy, a presentation of lessons learnt about CospoT and a discussion about coworking took place at the Generator 9.8 on February 2nd, 2016.

The meeting focused primarily on coworking initiatives open to all, including freelancers and remote workers. By contrast, incubators also promote coworking but usually focus their means on selected start ups.

The present article summarizes the presentation and the discussion for any reader interested in the topic of coworking in Georgia and the Caucasus.

 

Part I. Lessons learnt from CospoT – Coworking Space of Tbilisi (09/2014 – 09/2015)

I’m writing this as the founder of CospoT. The coworking space of CospoT (www.cospot.ge) opened doors at the beginning of September 2014 in the Karvasla building on Tsotne Dadiani street near the train station, and closed at the end of September 2015.

201503_Map_Verso_600

Lesson #1: Regular members bring the most coworking value to your space.

I’ve been lucky to meet and work side by side with great coworkers at CospoT, people that helped me, that I helped and with whom I’ve had many interesting discussions. This happened with regular members of CospoT. One-day visitors often came because they needed a desk and good working conditions for a short period of time: the coworking space for them was more a shared office solution than a place to interact with new people. Meaningful exchanges with short term visitors were rare.

This was my experience as a coworker at CospoT. As a manager of the place, I was more concerned with paying the bills. When the space didn’t get the following I expected, when fewer people than planned came to the space, I realized that coworking belongs to this kind of industry where you you can end up waiting for others to finish doing whatever they are doing… far less glamorous than one may imagine.

Lesson #2: Is Alex Hillman right when he hammers “Create the Community First”?

If you’re thinking about creating or running a coworking space, Alex Hillman is a name you should know. He co-founded Indy Hall (www.indyhall.org), one of the earliest and most successful coworking spaces in the United States. Alex runs a blog and a podcast, he gives talks, contributes to forums and even answers you if you write to him. He’s not shy about sharing his experience of coworking and his views about the development of the coworking industry. Some of his observations include: “You can’t create the culture, you can only create the system”, “It’s the members of the community who create the majority of the value to each other” and most notably “Create the community for your space before you actually open it”.

This last precept makes sense. It’s so easy to understand that it now ranks as a best practice of the industry. In practice though, examples of spaces which open without a community to sustain them from day 1 are many.

A positive example – one that goes Alex’s way – is CollabMiami (www.collabmiami.com): George Cuevas organizes coworking meetups in various locations throughout Miami. He created the community first and still hasn’t opened a space of his own. That’s a vibrant community that doesn’t pay rent! But there are negative examples too, and I’d like to propose that of Utopian Lab that Vachagan opened in Erevan in the autumn of 2015. It was his second try. It was a place first, and then only did the bulk of his member base coalesce around him.

Had I been trying to assemble a community first in Tbilisi, my view is that I would still be trying today. Opening was an irreplaceable experience (and a welcome one for someone who wanted to go “back to work”). But doing so, I learnt with CospoT that you shoudn’t expect people to join your coworking space just because it’s open.

Do we really know what makes the success of a coworking space in Georgia? I will argue that Alex Hillman has a rather North American (or Western) approach to coworking. Getting it right in Georgia might be a somewhat different game (read on!).

Lesson #3: Coworking is Hard to Explain

The result of a search for “Coworking in Tbilisi” on Google Trends (www.google.com/trends) is empty. Not enough Internet users look for those terms because most of them don’t know about coworking. Alex described coworking as “experiential”: you have to be there and see it happening to understand and believe it.

People liked the idea of coworking when we explained it to them and they liked the events which we organized at CospoT but they didn’t come back to work there. They obviously didn’t see the value. I don’t blame them: we didn’t have enough members for the community to be interesting every day. And because we didn’t have enough members, we couldn’t attract enough new members to reach critical mass.

We’re back to the question of creating a community for the coworking space. Like you need to confine enough fissile atoms in a small space to trigger a nuclear chain-reaction, you need to “confine” enough people in your new coworking space for long enough for the sustained coworking reaction to occur.

How long is long enough? Check this view that coworking is about building “just right” communities and achieving a “non overbearing sense of belonging to those who want to be part of the community” (http://time.com/money/3586004/coworking-why-it-works/). It’s tricky.

So as it happened, CospoT was alone on its market and that wasn’t cool. I didn’t expect us to want competition so much. Competition helps grow a new market in a way that a start up with limited means cannot do.

Lesson #4: Is isolation the problem that coworking spaces solve in Tbilisi?

Coworking spaces everywhere solve the problem of isolation of freelancers and remote workers. But is this a relevant issue in Tbilisi?

It’s notoriously easy to get to know new people in Georgia. This happens in the street, at any (free) event, at cafés, restaurants, friends’ places… Locals are by default connected through their families or university peers. Expats quickly go around their communities. If you’re a remote worker who has had a long day in front of the computer, going out after work is so easy and convenient it’s pretty much effortless.

The numbers aren’t big (statistical significance?) but CospoT seemed to do better with newcomers in Tbilisi, i.e. people who didn’t have strong networks and connections in the city prior to joining. When CospoT was part of their routine from the start, these members stuck with us. Established residents on the other hand seemed not to want to change their habits of working at public libraries, the Mediatek or cafés to participate to the creation of a new community, one that cuts across traditional networks and brings people together in new ways.

The isolation of freelancers and remote workers may not be as acute in Tbilisi as it is in other countries, and thus the intrinsic need for coworking places might not be as strong in Tbilisi as it is elsewhere.

Lesson #5: Location is really important

CospoT wasn’t located right in the center. The office itself was fitting for work, but two metro stops away in a neighborhood people perceive as a shopping district didn’t make the trick, this notwithstanding the presence of other companies in the business center whose employees like that they are next to a major hub of public transport. Had we had a sustainable community making a collective decision to settle there, this wouldn’t have been an issue.

IMG_0107_960Opening an office in a business center has its advantages but also its drawbacks: you may have limited control over the conditions in your space (access hours, HVAC systems). I was surprised to note that the reliability of the Internet (CospoT used 2 providers), if a plus, didn’t appear to be a decisive factor for most members. Workers in Tbilisi often use the 3G data stream from their smartphone or simply wait for the Internet to come back where they are. Some used CospoT as a backup place, whenever Internet would run out at their usual place of work.

Lastly, there must be a market for flexible and reasonably priced office furniture in Tbilisi. An Ikea type of outlet in Georgia would have saved us much time at the beginning.

Lesson #6: How to be profitable with a coworking space in Tbilisi.

The cost of renting space in the center of Tbilisi is high when compared to the disposable income of a majority. Georgia is a lower middle-income country. Who will pay for the service you offer? At CospoT, I thought I would grab more of the foreign expat’s community than I did. I also learnt that fixing prices for a new service in a new country is a difficult exercise.

Here are possible solutions to break even soon after you open your coworking space:

  • Combine your coworking space with other services (e.g. the social bar at the Generator 9.8) ;
  • Have a large and successful community and following right from the start ;
  • Unfair competitive advantage. In Georgia, where trust is a family thing, get your uncle to give you the keys to that huge empty space he does nothing with right on Rustaveli avenue. He doesn’t care so much and won’t pressure you for much of a rent.
  • Get someone to invest to grow the market for as long as it takes for the market to grow, like a large private or public organization.

Note that some coworking spaces in other countries make a substantial part of their turnover from members who never cowork. Those are members who want to attend events at the space but also want to support and be part of the cool community you’ve initiated.

 

Part II. Coworking Updates

Here are noteworthy elements from the discussion about coworking which took place at the Generator 9.8 on the evening of February 2nd, 2016. The proposed topic was “How to create a market for coworking in Georgia and the Caucasus?” with, as a sub-question: “What opportunities for cooperation or coordination between coworking spaces?”.

Current Coworking Initiatives in Tbilisi

The participants listed current initiatives promoting coworking in Tbilisi:

  • Generator 9.8 (www.generator98.ge and facebook page)
  • Institute of Italian culture (www.istitutoculturaitaliana.org, to open shortly for coworking)
  • ALC Work Space (www.alctbilisi.org/co-work.html ; it closed as a coworking space only two weeks after opening because the whole space was rented as a private office)
  • Vere Loft (ref. the article of Feb 1st, 2016 in “Georgia Today” [1])
  • Creative Café (www.cdc.org.ge and facebook page)
  • Technopark and FabLab of GITA (incubator, www.gita.gov.ge) [2]
  • Game Lab (www.gamelab.iliauni.edu.ge) and FabLab (www.fablab.iliauni.edu.ge) at Ilia State University
  • VegaLab incubator (www.vegalab.ge)
  • Startup Nest, incubator of the University of Georgia (www.startupnest.ge)
  • Geolab at Georgian American University (www.geolab.edu.ge)
  • IBSU Idea Lab incubator of the International Black Sea University [3]
  • Sakpatenti IT incubator (?) [4]

Libraries, and cafes compete with coworking initiatives in Tbilisi because they provide comfortable premises at a low cost, and most don’t mind that you sit there forever during the lower seasons when business for restaurants and cafés is low. There are also anticafés in Tbilisi (e.g.: anticafe “Corner”, www.anticafetbilisi.wordpress.com and facebook page).

Working and Coworking: what difference?

Humans have collaborated and supported each others for thousand of years. Coworking spaces aren’t inventing anything radically new. One of the things that can be said is that the coworkers of a single company (a.k.a. “employees”) are recruited by it to fulfill a same end goal. The professional goals of members of coworking spaces remain independent to a greater degree. This shapes how employees and coworkers interact together in their respective environments.

Potential for Collaboration between Coworking Spaces and Universities

Running a coworking space is “cool”, and because everyone wants their own, managers and owners of coworking spaces might be reluctant to cooperate.

Data Gogia describes how a university (or universities) and coworking spaces could agree to create a network of spaces across the city. Members would have the benefit to access the different spaces the coworking network with a single pass. Universities would benefit in terms of image and voluntary contributions of the coworkers (giving talks, sharing experience with students, etc.). The cost for universities would be low because they often have spare space available for use. Partnering coworking spaces would offer more attractive deals and build more visibility.

Profitability of Coworking Spaces in Georgia

It emerges from the discussion that the immediate future of coworking spaces in Tbilisi probably hinges on making it cheap for the coworker. Sponsorship or grants could help spaces offer cheap passes and thus contribute to developing a market for coworking in Georgia. The “Gangplank” model is cited as an example (www.gangplankhq.com and www.whatisgangplank.com, “We do not charge a monetary fee, but rather ask that you give back through time, talent, and relationships.”). The principle of time banks is also mentioned (see https://vimeo.com/63034955).

 

Conclusion

Many thanks both to the Generator 9.8 for hosting the event of February 2nd and to the participants for attending.

CospoT has definitely been an enriching experience for me and hopefully for my collaborator Nino whose support has been invaluable. If it didn’t come out as a commercial success, it has at least had value as a demonstrator for some of the coworking initiatives that have emerged since September 2015 in Tbilisi.

 

Bonus

Don’t miss that piece by Alex Hillman about the cost of opening and running a coworking space: http://dangerouslyawesome.com/2012/01/how-much-does-it-cost-to-start-a-coworking-space/

Sources and References

[1] http://georgiatoday.ge/news/2837/Vere-Loft-%E2%80%93-Offering-Space-to-Create
[2] http://architecturalforum.net/first-technology-park-will-open-in-the-late-2015/
[3] https://www.ibsu.edu.ge/en/media-ibsu/news-en/939-business-incubator-ibsu-idea-lab-demo-day#
[4] https://www.facebook.com/IT-%E1%83%98%E1%83%9C%E1%83%99%E1%83%A3%E1%83%91%E1%83%90%E1%83%A2%E1%83%9D%E1%83%A0%E1%83%98-%E1%83%A1%E1%83%90%E1%83%A5%E1%83%9E%E1%83%90%E1%83%A2%E1%83%94%E1%83%9C%E1%83%A2%E1%83%98-IT-INCUBATOR-SAKPATENTI-673883005982111/?ref=ts ; http://ip4all.com/sakpatenti-introduced-it-incubator/

What Bank to Choose for a Small Business in Georgia?

This blog post is destined primarily to foreigners when they shop for a bank for their small business in Georgia. It lists resources to help you make your own research and decision.

The largest commercial banks in Georgia by total assets reported on 31/03/2015 are(1):

  1. JSC Bank of Georgia, http://www.bankofgeorgia.ge/ (7 786 million GEL)
  2. JSC TBC Bank, http://www.tbcbank.ge/ (5583 million GEL)
  3. JSC Liberty Bank, http://www.libertybank.ge/ (1 530 million GEL)
  4. JSC Bank Republic, https://www.br.ge/ (1 297 million GEL)
  5. JSC ProCredit Bank, http://www.procreditbank.ge/ (1 134 million GEL)
  6. JSC VTB Bank Georgia, http://www.vtb.ge/ (1 124 million GEL)
  7. JSC Cartu Bank, http://www.cartubank.ge/ (920 million GEL)
  8. JSC Basisbank, http://www.basisbank.ge/ (674 million GEL)
  9. JSC KOR Standard Bank, http://www.ksb.ge (641 million GEL)
  10. JSC Privatbank Georgia (583 million GEL). Privatbank Georgia, subsidiary of the Ukrainian bank PrivatBank, was since acquired by JSC Bank of Georgia(2).

State of the banking sector in Georgia

Georgian banks are doing OK despite some issues affecting the country’s economy as a whole (high cost of credit, high rate of dollarization of the economy, etc.). That’s in essence the conclusions of a detailed report(3) of the Policy Institute of the International School of Economics (ISET) about the Financial Soundness Indicators (FSI) for Georgia.

The overall landscape may change, and while unlikely to affect your business directly, the “Law on the National Bank of Georgia” of July 2015 which strips the National Bank of Georgia of some of its banking supervision functions sparked a ongoing debate(4).

For reference, the website of the National bank of Georgia is https://www.nbg.gov.ge and the page for consumers is https://www.nbg.gov.ge/cp(5).

640px-National Bank of Georgia
The headquarters of the National Bank of Georgia(6).

Languages

All of the main banks’ websites are in English and Georgian. VTB Bank Georgia also maintains a version of its website in Russian. Customer service representatives will help you in Georgian or English. In practice, Russian-speaking customers will be served in that language at most banks, but this is worth checking.

Fees, Multi-Currency Accounts, Online Banking…

Browse the banks’ websites and visit them to confirm your understanding of their respective fee structures. Direct access to the fees for each bank (when such pages are available, or corporate customers’ homepages in other cases):

The legal currency of Georgia is the lari (GEL) and all payments in Georgia are made in GEL (typically at the day’s rate of the National Bank of Georgia if the amount is quoted in another currency). Opening a multi-currency account is easy: the most common currencies are GEL, USD, EUR and sometimes GBP.

Online banking is available for most banks. The websites of the 9 banks listed above also include “branches and ATMs locators”.

For foreigners: currency conversion, international bank transfers

Currency exchange rates at street booths offer better rates than those at commercial banks. For larger sums or currency exchange through online banking, you might want to stick with your bank and thus check their conditions and commissions for this service. The excellent Lari Explorer of Jumpstart compares the historical rates currency exchange of the 4 largest commercial banks(7).

International bank transfers can cost dearly. Check the rates as some stand out. For example, TBC has a competitive cap on the fees for transfers made by individuals to other banks, including abroad (about 15 EUR). Other banks may lure customers with attractive packages (for students for example), only for these to discover high hidden fees. Check online and check again with a sales representative at a branch.

 

 

Notes and Sources:

(1): Rating of Georgian Commercial Banks, May 11, 2015, http://cbw.ge/banking/rating-of-commercial-banks/. Please note that JSC Bank of Georgia is a commercial bank. It should not be confused with the National Bank of Georgia.

(2): http://expressbank.ge/ge/bank-of-georgia-and-jsc-privatbank-join-statement (Georgian)

(3): http://www.iset-pi.ge/images/Projects_of_MPRC/Financial_Soundness_Report.pdf. Pages 1-3 for the Executive Summary and page 57 for the Conclusion.

(4): http://dfwatch.net/constitutional-court-suspends-new-bank-supervision-agency-38591 (October13, 2015) and http://factcheck.ge/en/article/the-parliament-of-georgia-took-the-recommendations-of-international-organisations-in-account-whilst-adopting-the-law-on-the-national-bank-of-georgia-2/ among many others.

(5) List of commercial banks operating in Georgia: https://www.nbg.gov.ge/index.php?m=403&lng=eng. Consumers’ page: http://nbg.gov.ge/cp/index.php. Statistics of the National Bank of Georgia: https://www.nbg.gov.ge/index.php?m=304&lng=eng.

(6): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bank_of_Georgia_headquarters

(7): http://feradi.info/en/visualizations/lari-explorer?category=economy_business&view=interactive

Public transport maps and schedules for buses and minibuses in Tbilisi

I recently participated to a small workshop organized by a government agency to brainstorm useful services for tourists, visitors and foreign residents in Georgia. Most of the participants to that workshop had spend 6 months or more in Georgia but, together with a friends, we were surprised to see that not all of them knew about the official online websites for bus and minibus services in the capital.

Autobuses – http://transit.ttc.com.ge (previously http://transiten.ttc.com.ge)

The website of the “Tbilisi Transport Company” has a useful Journey Planner, route schemes and timetables (under the menu Timetables in the left column) and real-time data. The Bus in Realtime option gives you the location of buses along each line of the network, and the Stop Board Info shows you the expected waiting times at any of the bus stops (particularly useful to know when to leave your building and minimize your waiting time at the stop).

The journey planner information and real time data are shown on maps. Data entry uses addresses or the stop number (every bus stop has a unique identifier). Zoom and scroll to find the number of your departure and arrival stops on the map, then input those numbers in the journey planner to plan your trip.

Tbilisi_public transport network_bus stop and stop board

Pictured: bus stop in Shindisi village on the outskirts of Tbilisi. Notice the electronic LED board with waiting times. The other sign tells you to send an SMS to 93344 with the stop number (here 2885) in order to receive an SMS with the expected waiting time until the next bus.

Minibuses – http://tm.ge

This website is the public face of the Tbilisi Microbuses Limited Liability Company (შპს “თბილისის მიკროავტობუსის”). It has an excellent interactive map to figure out your way around town with marshrutkas (маршрутки) – the Russian name for minibuses. On the main page, click on “Eng” for English, choose the menu and sub-menu Routes > Search for Routes, click on “Eng” again and then click on your departure and arrival point on the map to find out the best minibuses between the two.

Unfortunately, those two websites aren’t integrated yet but with a bit of practice, the many hubs from which users transfer from minibuses to the metro or to autobuses become quite obvious (Baratashvili street, Didube station, etc.).

You have to pay the fare when you getting onto the bus but pay the driver of the minibus only when you get off the vehicle. Both buses and minibuses accept the “Metromoney” (მეტრომანი) prepaid card of the subway network. Typical fares are 50 tetri for a bus ride (0.50 GEL) and 65 to 80 tetri for a minibus ride. You won’t have to pay again if you transfer between two buses, from a bus to a metro or vice versa within an hour and a half.

 

Reference: more information about the public transport system in Tbilisi (Georgian), http://www.momxmarebeli.ge/?menu=73&rec=152

Soon in Tbilisi: the GENERATOR 9.8

Summer is when the pulse of the city slows down. Residents of Tbilisi travel to the many countrysides of Georgia to escape the heat of the city. Yet this summer, an unusual buzz took possession of Atoneli street, near the entrance of the Dry bridge. Volunteers are actively scraping, painting, sawing and assembling what’s to become a new hub of cultural, social and educational activities and events in Tbilisi.

Generator_9-8_logo1_sGenerator 9.8 is on the way. It will include a coworking space and a social bar.

Project & Team

Generator 9.8 is an initiative of the “International Centre for Peace and Integration (ICPI)(1), a Georgian non-profit organization involved in numerous EU programs, including the European Voluntary Service (EVS) and Erasmus+. It will include a coworking space and a social bar.

A lot of reflection and planning has gone into this initiative since the founders first talked about it in 2013. Natali Kenkadze, Ani Kokhtashvili, Ana Philauri and Khatuna Chaladze are busier than ever but determined to make their vision happen.

Inspired by the emerging movement of collaborative consumption(2) (Natali has conducted many trainings on this topic across Europe), they have settled for a not-for-profit social enterprise driven by the energies of volunteers.

Generator_9-8_first-meeting-with-volunteers
First meeting with volunteers.

ICPI have convinced the investors of the Startup Terrace of GITA(3), of Startup Marani(4) and just a few weeks ago, of the Ministry of Sports and Youth to support the project and provide startup funds and methodological support. Additionally, ICPI is meeting both small and large companies to co-fund the Generator or to trade some support against publicity for the company. To ensure the project’s’ sustainability, ICPI has also created a club of “business angels” to raise donations on a regular basis towards paying the rent and the bills.

Location & space

The premises are a 120 square meters’ cafe on Atoneli street, at the bottom of Leonidze park and just 400 meters off Rustaveli avenue. Large trees on the sidewalk provide welcome shadow to the group of about 10 volunteers who currently conduct renovation work.

Generator_9-8_photo1  Generator_9-8_photo2
Renovation work in progress.

Inside, the ground floor comprises a kitchen, the cafe area with the bar and two toilets. Above, two mezzanines will be equipped to host the coworkers. The space is projected to host up to 30 coworkers or a maximum of 100 people during events. A ramp will be provided for wheelchair access to the ground floor from the street.

A day at Generator 9.8

Start your day with a hot drink and surround yourself with the studious atmosphere of the Generator. Until 7pm every day, members come to Generator 9.8 to get work done. Of course, you’re more than welcome to engage in a conversation with your neighbors and learn more about them and what they are working on. This is the essence of coworking where, through contacts made in the same work place, people expand their network and horizons!

The following services will be available: Internet, printer, scanner, xerox machine and mobile telephone as well as notarial, accounting and lawyer’s services. The staff will encourage sharing and the exchange of information (infodesk, access to a library and other resources). A wardrobe service will be made available and coworkers will have the possibility to use the fridge if they bring their lunch with them. They will also have the possibility to order Italian specialties from the kitchen.

At 7pm starts the “aperitivo”, a happy hour to transition to a more festive and relaxed atmosphere. Break the ice and engage in full-fledged conversations with other members! Drink orders during that hour will be accompanied by free snacks.

The evening program starts at 8pm, with a different cultural, social or educational activity every night. These will include an Italian language club, a film club, conferences, workshops and concerts.

Memberships

Memberships will be reasonably priced in an effort to attract a wide array of young people and professionals. The projected membership plans consist in monthly passes to use the space 1 day per week, 2 days per week, 3 days per week or every day. The membership plans will include tea and coffee.

The primary target of Generator 9.8 are startups, NGOs(5) and freelancers but anyone who shares the values and objectives of the project will be welcome (students, informal groups, young people, youth initiatives…).

Rendez-vous at the end of August for the opening!

Generator_9-8_logo2_s

 

Facebook: Generator 9.8 / გენერატორი 9.8
Address: Atoneli street 29, Tbilisi, Georgia
Contact Tel.: (+995) 557 229998

 

Footnotes:

(1) About ICPI

logo_ICP I

International Centre for Peace and Integration – ICPI is a Georgian non-governmental non-profit youth organization founded in February, 2011 by young people with 9-10 years of working experience in the NGO sector. The main mission of ICPI is to support socially active youngsters, promote integration and contribute to peace-building processes, to give a hand to create a more active, educated and modern society. The organization aims to support young people’s personal, educational and spiritual development, to promote the idea of active citizenship and the importance of volunteering, to deepen intercultural relations and build partnerships between Georgia and other European countries.

The organization cooperates with different NGOs in different countries of the world and is actively involved in the ERASMUS+ Programme of the European Commission, organizing training courses, youth exchanges on various topics. ICPI is an EVS (European Voluntary Service) hosting and sending organization.

 

(2) Collaborative consumption: when technology enables people to share the use of objects which each of them would previously own. “Access” replaces “ownership”. Reference: http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2059521_2059717_2059710,00.html

(3) Georgia’s Innovation and Technology Agency (GITA), http://gita.gov.ge/

(4) Startup Marani, http://startupmarani.ge/

(5) NGO: Non-governmental Organization

Translation Services in Tbilisi (2/2)

<Русская версия>

After a presentation of best practices of buying translation services in part 1, we take a look at translation services in Tbilisi.

Providers and prices in Tbilisi

The main players on the Georgian market are translation agencies and freelancers. Some notaries(1) also work hand in hand with a translator for notarized translations of administrative documents and contracts. Translation agencies also provide notarization services but freelancers usually don’t.

Competition prevails and typical prices of 10 to 15 GEL per page of non-technical text are common in translation agencies (one page is about 1,800 signs). Freelancers’ fees vary anywhere between 5 GEL and 15 USD for similar work. Prices will increase with the complexity and urgency of the translation job. They apply to translations between Georgia and English, Georgian and Russian and English and Russian. Turkish has gained popularity in recent years and translations to or from Turkish are increasingly in demand.

Most of the work is done through email and telephone. The basic process consists in sending the documents to get a quote (price and delay), with which you’ll decide to go ahead or not. How quickly and precisely your questions are given an answer varies widely. You may be asked to pay after receiving a sample translation from your text and before receiving the full translation.

Quality of translations

The review of best practices of part 1 distinguished translations “for information” from translations “for publication”. The most common output you can expect in Tbilisi are translations “for information”. They convey only the contents of the source text. This may be sufficient for meeting notes but not for the local version of your company’s website.

Translations into Georgian are particularly troublesome: by not caring about the result which they usually can’t read, buyers of translations have driven not only prices, but also quality down.

Mark Mullen, board member of Radarami(2), an organization dedicated to bringing the most important and topical international non-fiction books to Georgian readers, underlines the complexity of Georgian, adding that few people can write it really well.

At Radarami, we pay attention to three things: the accuracy of the translation, the sentence construction and the richness of the language. The translation shouldn’t feel like a word for word paraphrase of the source, and if it borrows many foreign terms, many Radarami readers in remote areas of Georgia won’t understand it.

About checking whether a translation is good, Mark adds:

The mistake people make is thinking that only one person can translate well. That’s never the case: you always need at least one editor. Two is better: one for accuracy who speaks English and one for everything else who doesn’t but who is a Georgian language expert.

And to assess a translator’s skills, Mark gives them a short text, plenty of time and the request to translate it “so that the reader can’t tell it was a translation”. A professional Georgian linguist who doesn’t speak English then grades the quality of the language. If this approach isn’t realistic for those pressed by time, it at least shows that solutions do exist.

In any case, be suspicious of individual translators who say they can provide high quality translations among English, Russian and Georgian and don’t take the result for granted if you’re looking for a translation for publication.

Translation

How to find translators in Tbilisi

  • Ask your network and friends for a recommendation.
  • Check the translators’ offices near the Public Service Hall(3) (for translations of administrative documents).
  • Check organizations that use certified translators (notaries when they work in the languages you know, embassies, chambers of commerce).
  • Online search, with the help of a Georgian friend because many of the directories you’ll find are… in Georgian only (!)
  • Finally, you can pay top dollar to have an organization in a country you know better to figure it out. For example, a company called Tomedes(4) provides translations in more than 140 languages, including Georgian.

 

Sources:
(1) http://www.notary.ge
(2) http://eng.radarami.org
(3) http://psh.gov.ge
(4) https://www.tomedes.com/language-translation-service.php

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Translation Services in Tbilisi (1/2)

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Translation Getting it right buying translation-cover

A Look at Best Practices

This article is the first of two on the topic of translation services in Georgia. Whether for the translation of an official document like a passport, that of a website or a contract, knowing where to source good quality translation services in Tbilisi can be tricky if you don’t have a recommendation.

In this first part, we’ll be looking at a pearl: the “Getting it Right Guide: A buyer’s guide to sourcing and using translation services” published by 15 professional associations of translators(1). The guide is now available in 11 languages(2), among which American English as well as English (and those do differ on details reflective of the respective cultures of the United Kingdom and the United States).

This guide will take you way beyond the usual translation blunders posted on social media. We particularly liked the distinction “for publication” and “for information”, the former adding more attention to style and culture-bound clichés than the latter. Even typography conventions vary from language to language. The added cost and proofreading steps of a translation “for publication” may well be worth it if you’re about to publish your company’s website in another language to enter a new market.

The guide reviews the whole process of getting a document translated. Have you really trimmed it so that only relevant sections are translated? Can you use pictures instead of text? Can you provide a glossary of essential terms in the context of your company or line of business?

Considering the publishers, it’s not surprising that “Getting it right” warns you against the risks of using language students or translating software to get it done. Overestimating one’s bilingualism (not a guarantee of written fluency or skill in translation) is also a common pitfall, but rather to proscribe these means, the guide explains the risks you expose yourself to.

“Welcome an inquisitive translator” is yet another piece of advice that translators themselves would sometimes better keep in mind, and if your translator doesn’t ask, tell him: a speech isn’t a website and a sales brochure isn’t a catalog entry. You want a “foreign-language version with maximum impact for that particular audience and medium”(3).

The guide concludes that getting involved is the surest way to make sure you make the most out of your time and money.

 

Notes:
(1) Institute of Translation & Interpreting, www.iti.org.uk
American Translators Association, www.atanet.org
Asociación Española de Traductores, Correctores e Intérpretes, www.asetrad.org
Associazione Italiana Traduttori e Interpreti, www.aiti.org
Assoziierte Dolmetscher und Übersetzer in Norddeutschland e.V., www.adue-nord.de
Bundesverband der Dolmetscher und Übersetzer e.V., www.bdue.de
Bandalag þýðenda og túlka, www.thot.is
Japan Translation Federation (JTF), 日本翻訳連盟, www.jtf.jp
Japan Association of Translators (JAT), 日本翻訳者協会, www.jat.org
Союз переводчиков России, www.translators-union.ru
Syndicat national des traducteurs professionels, www.sft.fr
Sintra Sindicato Nacional Dos Tradutores, www.sintra.org.br
Abrates Associação Brasileira de Tradutores, abrates.net.br
Panhellenic Association of Professional Translators, Πανελλήνια Ένωση Επαγγελματιών Μεταφραστών Πτυχιούχων Ιονίου Πανεπιστημίου, http://www.peempip.gr

(2) The guide is available at http://www.iti.org.uk/about-industry/advice-buyers/getting-it-right in 11 languages at the time of writing: French, American English, Brazilian Portuguese, English, German, Greek, Icelandic, Italian, Japanese, Russian and Spanish.

(3) Page 14 of the American-English guide published in 2012.

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Last hours in Batumi: of tradition and wages in Georgia.

Batumi, 150 thousand inhabitants, is a major coastal city of Georgia on the eastern shores of the Black Sea. Every summer, its large waterfront dubbed the “Boulevard” attracts throngs of visitors from the wider region, among them Turks, Russians, Ukrainians and nationals of the countries surrounding the Persian Gulf.

At about 10pm last week-end, while sitting on a bench in the spotlights of a few medium-size cargo ships, I had one of those rares flashes of lucidity, in this case a good idea to improve business. The burst of enthusiasm that followed and the distraction of a long display of fireworks across the bay of the harbor made me forget my sleeveless jacket on a low wall. With it, I had lost my Georgian residence permit, a credit card, a public transport card for the city of Tbilisi, my RFID card to access CospoT and a 5 lari banknote. The jacket was a gift from my colleagues in Bahrain and I was already regretting it almost as much as the residence permit.

20150605_125345_where_400   The WHERE sign in Batumi.

After an hour spent running to ask the restaurant, the hostel and the waterside restaurants “if anyone had seen a black jacket,” I ended up in a first police station. There, I was made to point at the exact location of the loss on a map. A few phone calls later, a police officer drove me to a police station in another jurisdiction.

I had three hours left before the departure of my train to Tbilisi. I learned the Russian word for “filing a report” and, in the second police station, met L., a young policewoman on duty.

The tourist season had barely begun and there weren’t any translators on-site. L. gave calls every ten minutes while keeping an eye on the clock. She requested an English translator and finally got the promise of a Russian one (since I write and read Russian). She kindly brought me water in a mug decorated with the image of Stalin, the kind of mug you find cool to buy when on vacation but hard to get rid of when having to figure out who to offer it to.

Here is the most interesting part of our discussion:

– “Do you live in an apartment in Tbilisi?”, she asked.

– “Yes.”

– “Ah! My dream.”

Read: the dream of a young public servant in Georgia is to earn enough money to rent her own apartment. The rents are so expensive (or the wages so low) in Georgian cities that many young people still live with their parents, who themselves most probably live in the apartment that their parents were left with when the Soviet Union collapsed. Over 90% of Georgians are homeowners.

I hit on the topic again when we talked about France where – I explained – unemployment is high. Georgia also has many unemployed(1) but the situation differs in that, in France, the rules make it difficult to hire and dismiss employees. In Georgia, those rules are more relaxed and, if it appears easier to find a job, this one will most often be poorly paid (and more so even in times of crisis(2)).

Young people therefore live at their parents’ home. They are never really independent, always on a leash, and the system sustains itself. With exceptions, unaffordable rents thus are a powerful tradition-keeping force, a force towards the conservation of society (regardless of whether this is a good thing or not).

The epilogue of the evening is also revealing. At about half past midnight, three Turks entered the police station and, before our eyes, produced the jacket they had found nearby: my jacket with the residence permit and all the documents and everything. L. congratulated me (in the Russian manner where you are congratulated for your birthday, as if you did anything special for it), gave some calls, and handed me a piece of paper with a phone number and the word “Police” on it: “Come back to the police station on your next visit to Batumi, as a guest. ”

Sources:
(1) Unemployment in 2015 according to GeoStat: 12.4%  (http://geostat.ge/index.php?action=page&p_id=146&lang=eng). In practice, unemployment is widely perceived to be much higher.
(2) The national currency of Georgia – the lari (GEL) – fell 30% against the US dollar between November 2014 and May 2015. The historical foreign exchange rates of the National Bank of Georgia are available on the website of the National Bank (https://www.nbg.gov.ge)

Why so many night flights out of Tbilisi airport?

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Newcomers note it and regulars resent it: why do so many flights in and out of Tbilisi airport operate at night?

Is it true – first of all – that so many flights take off and land at night? The answer is: only partly so. A study of the weekly schedule of the Georgian Civil Aviation Authority (GAAC)(1) reveals that 52% of all international flights out of Tbilisi every week at the end of March took off between 3am and 9am whereas 44% of flights took off between 9am and midnight. The difference between day and night flights is not as pronounced as some may think.

What’s remarkable though is that only about 10% of international flights which took off between 3am and 9am did not fly to geographical Europe (including Istanbul). The distribution of destinations was more even during the day: between 9am and 9pm, international flights taking off from Tbilisi airport in March were as likely to fly to other European cities (incl. Istanbul) as they were to destinations South and East of Georgia. This resentment against night flights out of Tbilisi airport is most likely a bias of Westerners or travelers heading West. The question we’re left with is then: “Why do so many flights to Europe leave at night?

In the following graphs, the thickness of the lines reflects the flights’ frequencies. Night time flights connect Georgia to the rest of Europe more than daytime ones do. Source: (1).

GCAA flights Ial TBS 2015-05-20_night

GCAA flights Ial TBS 2015-05-20_day

Why do so many flights to Europe leave at night? The short answer is “curfews and connecting flights”. Taking off at night in Tbilisi lands you in Europe not only at a time during which landings are allowed, but also at a time convenient to catch connecting flights to onward destinations (short-haul to the rest of Europe or long-haul to North America).

Interestingly, night curfews in place in European airports are critized by other, mostly developing countries. In a working paper of the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO, http://www.icao.int/), 53 African states condemn night curfews(2):

The issue of night curfews imposed at some airports particularly in Europe, has brought
about increased operational problems and financial burden for African airports which are kept open for operations at odd hours, since North bound aircraft are forced to depart Africa usually from midnight in order to arrive Europe after dawn by 6:00 a.m.

And conclude that:

Removing the night curfews of some international airports of Europe will significantly
reduce the night congestion of a lot of African airports.

India essentially does the same(3):

Unilateral night curfews are an increasing phenomena all over the world and as noise
awareness grows, night curfews, if imposed by countries like India or South Africa,
would limit the flight timing options between the countries. The present night curfew
in Europe has effectively transferred the problem of night-time noise burden from the
communities around their airports to communities around airports of Mumbai, Delhi,
Johannesburg, etc.

But a paper presented later on (in 2013) by the Secretariat of the ICAO lacks any specific or constraining recommendations(4): don’t expect the situation to change anytime soon.

 

Sources:
(1) Flight schedule for Tbilisi airport for the period Oct. 26th, 2014 to March 28th, 2015 at http://gcaa.ge/eng/tbilisiout.php. Only flights still scheduled in March 2015 were considered.

(2) “AIRPORT CONSTRAINTS: SLOT ALLOCATION & NIGHT CURFEW”. Presented by fifty-three African States, September 2008, paragraphs §1.3 and §2.8,  http://www.icao.int/Meetings/ceans/Documents/Ceans_Wp_061_en.pdf

(3) “REVIEW OF NIGHT CURFEW RESTRICTIONS”. Presented by India, September 2010, paragraph §3.2.2). http://www.icao.int/Meetings/AMC/Assembly37/Working%20Papers%20by%20Number/wp270_en.pdf

(4) “NIGHT FLIGHT RESTRICTIONS” at the 6th meeting of the Worldwide Air Transport Conference (ATCONF). Presented by the Secretariat, 18 to 22 March 2013,  http://www.icao.int/Meetings/atconf6/Documents/WorkingPapers/ATConf6-wp008-rev_en.pdf

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The Georgian Currency since October 2nd, 1995

The Georgian currency is called the lari. Its ISO 4217 code is “GEL“. One lari is divided in one hundred tetri. The National Bank of Georgia (NBG) publishes a few useful pages to answer your questions about the lari(1).

Georgia has a floating exchange rate regime. The official exchange rate of the lari against major currencies is published every business day on the NBG’s website no later than 17:00 and is effective on the next day(2). The lari started circulating on October 2nd, 1995 at a rate of 1.30 GEL per USD.

The following chart is provided by the NBG on its page for currency exchange rates(3). To be consistent with the data provided in tabular form, the title should read “GEL per USD”.

19951002 to 20150502 NBG USD GEL exchange rate

The lari hit a low at 2.451 GEL to the USD on February 23rd, 1999, during years of budget hardship (in 1999, the government collected only around 70 percent of the projected national budget(4)).

As of early May 2015, the lari has lost about 30% of its value against the US dollar since November 2014. The official exchange rate hovers slightly over 2.33 GEL to the USD. This depreciation is in everyone’s mind but the actual reasons behind it remain an object of debate.

Jumpstart Georgia published an easy-to-use Lari Explorer to follow the trends of the lari against major currencies since January 1st, 2001(5). The interactive tool includes a depreciation calculator, the official exchange rate of the GEL against major currencies (USD, EUR, GBP, RUB) and the buying and selling rates of 4 major commercial banks and their comparison to the official rate of the NBG (Bank of Georgia, TBC Bank, Bank Republic and Liberty Bank).

The lari hasn’t reached its brief historical low of February 1999 but if the recent trend continues, some readers might want to stock up on 500 GEL banknotes, currently sold for 303 GEL a piece on the online shop of the National Bank of Georgia. Those banknotes where issued in 1995 but never released. A bargain except that each of them comes sealed in organic glass and weighs nearly half a kilogram.(6)

 

Sources:

(1) The lari on the website of the National Bank of Georgia: https://www.nbg.gov.ge/index.php?m=111

(2) Exchange rate regime: https://www.nbg.gov.ge/index.php?m=542

(3) “Official exchange rate of LARI against foreign currencies” at https://www.nbg.gov.ge/index.php?m=582&lng=eng

(4) The Political Economy of Georgia’s Rose Revolution, by Vladimer Papava, retrieved on 2015-05-02 from http://georgica.tsu.edu.ge/files/02-Economy/Political%20Economy/Papava-2006b.pdf

(5) The Lari Explorer from Jumpstart Georgia (jumpstart.ge) at http://feradi.info/en/visualizations/lari-explorer. Interactive version: http://feradi.info/en/visualizations/lari-explorer?view=interactive

(6) Numismatic products available from the shop of the Money Museum of the national bank of Georgia: https://www.moneymuseum.nbg.gov.ge/main.php and “1995 Year 500 LARI Banknote with organic glass” at https://www.moneymuseum.nbg.gov.ge/index.php?m=268&cat_id=30&pid=162

The pulse of the Georgian economy: the Khachapuri Index

The Economist created the Big Mac index in 1986 to compare purchasing power parity (PPP) between countries. The basic principle is simple and consists in comparing the prices of Big Mac hamburgers bought at MacDonald’s fast food restaurants in different countries.

The ambition of the Khachapuri index is different because there aren’t as many countries between which to compare Khachapuri prices. As a matter of fact, few who haven’t been to the Caucasus are likely to know about this traditional Georgian dish, not mentioning that it comes in various sorts and appearances.

Khachapuri is a cheese pie at least as widespread in Georgia as pizza is elsewhere. Check this article entitled “Georgia’s Cheese Bread Might Be Better Than Pizza” (1).

Adjarian Khachapuri Batumi  

Photo: The best Adjarian Khachapuri in Georgia!

The Policy Institute of the International School of Economics at Tbilisi State University (ISET) defines the Khachapuri index as the average cost of cooking one standard Imeretian Khachapuri. The evolution of this cost is indicative of inflation and economic trends in the country. The basket of goods for calculating the index comprises only the ingredients necessary for its preparation (flour, cheese, yeast, eggs, and butter) and its energy costs (gas and electricity).

The homepage of the index is http://www.iset-pi.ge/index.php/khachapuri-index. The average cost of cooking one standard Imeretian Khachapuri in November 2014 was 3.34 GEL. In March 2015, this cost dropped to 3.15 GEL, driven down by the expected seasonal decline in cheese prices: increase of the supply of fresh milk and lower demand during the fasting period preceding Easter. Year on Year, the overall average cost of preparing an Imeruli Khachapuri fell 3.1%. Prices fell for locally produces goods (egg and cheese, cheese is the most expensive ingredient) but increased for imported ones (yeast, butter, flour) following an upward trend of the US dollar against the lari (GEL).(2)

 

Sources:
(1) http://munchies.vice.com/articles/georgias-cheese-bread-might-be-better-than-pizza
(2) At the time of writing, the new website of the Policy Institute of ISET is under construction. We report on the updated version of the index published on April 6th, not available at the time of writing on the website of the institute but cached by search engines:
– http://www.iset­-pi.ge/index.php?article_id=415, retrieved on April 27th, 2015 from http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:IePk4kvvkN0J:www.iset-pi.ge/index.php%3Farticle_id%3D415+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=ge
– http://www.iset-pi.ge/index.php?article_id=1369&clang=0, retrieved on April 27th, 2015 from http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:GlH4uhW98F8J:www.iset-pi.ge/index.php%3Farticle_id%3D1369%26clang%3D0+&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=ge