Putting People First: A Businessman’s Approach to Economic Development

More often than we would like to admit, the focus of business endeavors is purely profit oriented.

More often than we would like to admit, the focus of business endeavors is purely profit oriented.

Only in recent years have companies, including some of the globe’s largest, become more aware of the need to consider their surroundings, and when possible, give back to local communities. Branding this “corporate social responsibility” or CSR, those that want to be portrayed in a positive light ensure that their organization either has a charitable arm, or one concerned with issues like sustainability and environmentalism.

Not only organizations, but individual businessmen as well often play a similar role in supporting the causes of their choice. These, however, receive much less credit as they don’t carry the weight of large international conglomerates, the likes of Google and Apple. More often than not, it’s the more local stories that get passed over. Often however these are the ones that are most inspirational.

At the relatively young age of 37, Ilan Shor has already built a reputation as a successful businessman in multiple sectors. The Israeli-born Moldovan entrepreneur successfully took over his father’s chain of duty-free shops, Dufremol, and established the brand as the largest seller of international travel goods in Moldova, contributing to the modernization of Chisinau International Airport, and improving its standing as a transit hub between Europe and Central Asia in the process, branching out to Central Asia some ten years ago.

In 2014, Shor became chairman of the board of the Savings Bank of Moldova, or Banca de Economii S.A., a state-owned joint-stock commercial bank, which has been one of the largest national employers in Moldova and served as a socially responsible institution aiming to develop Moldovan society and the country’s financial-banking sector. Pursuing business interests and working for the public’s benefit have run in parallel with each other from then onwards in Shor’s career.

Over the past decade, he ventured into the real estate sector, developing commercial and residential properties across Moldova with the Shor Group. The Shor Group’s investments contributed to the development of infrastructure and the modernization of urban landscapes in Moldova, and also boosted the country’s economy by increasing employment in the construction sector.

Social Entrepreneurship

The Shor family originally comes from Moldova, and although he spent time in Israel, his parents relocated the family back when he was still young. His father Miron’s conduct in business and private life alike has undoubtedly played a formative role in Shor’s development as an entrepreneur. This did not only materialize in his business-conscious upbringing and later work in Dufremol, but also through the family’s various philanthropic endeavors, which eventually put people in the center of focus in Ilan’s business career too.

The family’s social impact was amplified by Ilan, who became an investor in a range of community-oriented charitable projects, addressing social issues and benefitting the vulnerable strata of Moldovan society. Joining forces with construction firms in the Shor Group, Ilan’s philanthropic projects included the construction of kindergartens, schools, libraries, and cultural venues in Moldova, with a special focus on the municipality of Orhei.

Business and Politics for the People

Orhei became a city of interest when Shor saw an opportunity to effect change through the integrated business approach mentioned above. He ran for the mayor’s office in 2015 and won 62% of the vote. His wide-spanning experience in real estate, development, and banking boded well with the rejuvenation project Shor envisioned for Orhei and its surrounding areas.

Between the years of 2015 and 2019, Shor introduced a number of initiatives aimed at increasing the quality of life for the city’s inhabitants. He initiated the refurbishment of 90% of the area’s road network, having deployed a new system that allowed for running road repair and management services at an efficiency rate 30% greater than before, leaving excess resources in the municipality’s budget that could be re-invested in the people. Under Shor’s leadership, Orhei built and repaired some 150 kms of roads. Orhei had witnessed the construction of multiple social housing units, providing a home for numerous low-income families since 2018, who will benefit from owning their own dwellings thanks to a discounted monthly payment scheme installed for the duration of 35 years. Shor also improved the municipality’s safety and connectivity by installing new lighting systems, pedestrian crossings and bus stops, and championed a green city program that saw the building of new recreational spaces in Orhei.

Calling on his skills from the financial sector, Shor rolled out a series of public welfare programs, increasing the monthly allowance for at-risk citizens, receiving between 750 and 1500 lei (or between 40 and 80 EUR) from the municipal reserve fund. City Hall also financed ‘social pharmacies’, which provide access to medicine at discounted prices. Shor made new pools of financial aid accessible for families with young children and actively encouraged starting families in the area with a fund allocating increasing amounts of support to families welcoming their first and second child, or twins. Shor also introduced a pension supplement for Orhei’s elderly citizens, reaching 1000 lei (around 50 EUR). Budgetary reforms allowed for the provision of financial relief to over 10,000 households in Orhei, which received a 50% rebate on water bills.

Ilan Shor’s socially-oriented business approach tied financial mechanisms together with construction and other development initiatives, aiming to create economic progress from the bottom up. His foray into politics established direct contact with the beneficiaries of his projects, but a similar model of private-public sector partnership—even if not created under unified leaderships—could prove beneficial for Moldova’s overall economic development.

Moldova, which hopes to join the European Union by 2030, still has significant improvements to make not only in foundational sectors such as the country’s transportation and energy infrastructure, but also in its production capacities and independent business sectors, which by direct affiliation, also rely heavily on an educated and highly skilled labor force. Shor’s business career as a social entrepreneur can serve as an example for how progress in the private sector can be functionally and effectively translated to both the local and national levels.