Natia Ninikelashvili, 35, Telavi/Tbilisi

„I’ve always had this feeling that I was “nobody’s child”. I was born in Telavi in 1981, without a father. When I was born, my father had another family and he had left my mother during her pregnancy. Imagine how difficult it must have been for my mother to give birth to a child out of wedlock at that time. It was quite a feat back then. Because of this decision, she was confronted by her family and her relatives, but she persisted.

Mother gave birth to me in Tbilisi and she was sheltered by her cousin. I was actually taken from hospital into that family. Her mother and her brothers did not forgive her for a long time, but her father supported her. She was newly discharged from the hospital when grandpa Ivane arrived in Tbilisi, hugged her and took her back to Telavi together with me.

We did not have a mother-and-daughter relationship in a traditional sense. We were more like friends and still are – when I was young, I learned thigs from her, once I grew up, she claims to be learning stuff from me. She keeps telling me her life would be pointless without me. Do you know what I feel about her? It seems to me she chose to give birth to me without my father, and she did her best for me, as if to prove to others that you can raise a child alone. She did her best and I’ve done my best to do what I wanted and develop into a mature adult.

By the time my father passed away, I had never heard his voice. I ran into him in the city sometimes, I knew he was my father, but he never recognized me, never reached out to me. However, I do not fret over not having a father because I never knew what having a father was like and did not have an emotional bond with him. I guess if he had left us after living with us for a while, I would have had more sad memories of him. When my biological father died, I realized that it was actually good not having father because if I had had one, I would have been devastated by his death. Having only one parent, I had one death less to worry about. My uncle, my father’s brother, loves me very much because I look like my father a lot. I remember the taste of the cake he brought to me in February, on my fifth birthday – it had blue cream and the taste of a strawberry… I did not have any relationship with my father’s children…. Later, when I grew up, I wrote to my half-sister in the social network and we have been friends ever since. Oh, what a coincidence, it is Ia calling me right now!

Our life, my relationship with my mother tought me one important thing – that I should turn presence and absence of people and things in my life into an opportunity. I think if I had not been brought up without a father, I would not be who I am; I would not be where I am; I would not be able to enroll in a university in Tbilisi and I would not have what I have now. When I decided to study in Tbilisi, my mother had no idea how I was going to afford living as a student; she just knew that I was to study in Tbilisi, and not in Telavi. The story of my enrollment is something else: I was taking entrance exams for the department of International Economic Relations in the current Technical University in 1998. I got a top mark (which was 10) in Math, and 9 in English, but they gave me 2 in Georgian. Had they given me 6 in Georgian, I would qualify for scholarship. However, all the limited number of free (scholarship-covered) places available for students were sold out. Of course, I appealed my mark. In the end, they gave me six only on the condition that I was to pay a 600 USD bribe. There were two of us offered such a deal. The parents of the other applicant paid the amount but I could not affort it so I was suggested to enroll in the media department. Ironically, they offered media department even thought hey had supposedly evaluated my knowledge of Georgian at two out of ten. The situation was ridiculous. I turned down the offer so they enrolled me in the energy department and promised to transfer me to the economic department if I completed the first term as a top student. They lied to me. I was a top student for three terms and I demanded the then Rector Ramaz Khurodze to let me change departments. His resolution on my application read “Accept, if needed”. “If needed” actually meant they would meet my demand if I paid money. It was my first battle with the system. In the heat of the moment, I wrote a letter to the then president Shevardnadze. In the letter, I gave an honest recount of how I had been played. In three weeks’s time, a letter arrived from the president’s administration at my address, and a copy was sent to the chancellery of the university. The letter read: “Meet the claiman’t demand”. The letter was redirected to Professor Aleko Tsintsadze who gave me full support. It was him who first dubbed me “nobody’s child” and admired me for going as far as the president in search of justice. Khurodze was furios, but after passing tests in 14 subjects successfully, they had to transfer me and I finally could graduate from the department of my initial choice.

Having worked for 15 years in various banks and having accumulated some knowledge, I decided to start my own business. I wanted agricultural products to be easily accessible to the busy people living in the city, and the foreigners residing in Georgia, so I decided to set up an online sale service I partnered with Nino Mghebrishvili and I think the reason our idea worked was that we did not tell about it to anyone until we’d created the website, registered the company and even bought branded wrapping bags. Not even our husbands knew. We were sure that there would be someone who’d try to make us change our mind. Nobody has trust anything that is initiated by women.

We opened up in 2015. Initially, we offered products from only two villages. Then we expanded, added new partners and the number of customers grew. We target the segment that gives priority to quality and wants to save time. They can order products from our website and have them delivered packaged and fresh. My husband and I have equal shares in the business, and 50% is owned by my friends and, currently, my partners. Some people find our products too expensive but they have to consider that we buy them from farmers living in the villages and the price includes home delivery and the guarantee of the product quality.

It is unfortunate that there is no start up business development strategy in Georgia. Large banks claim to support start up businesses, but this is just lip service. A while ago, we wanted to take 10,000 GEL loan as our turnover increases by New Year, but we were rejected by all the banks. There are international practices of large businesses assuming a certain risk and financing startups. Yes, they may incur a certain loss but they also realize that by doing so they are giving a bigger chance to the country’s economy and the labor market. The State has to take care of start up business financing so that more people have development opportunities.”