The Bold 50: Etseri, Svaneti


Well, this certainly was a bolt from the blue, quite unexpected. I got an email from my boss’ boss, George Sharashidze, in November. He had chosen me as one of 50 bold entrepreneurs for the inaugural such group in one of his periodicals, the Georgian version of Entrepreneur magazine. Me?

He invited me to the awards ceremony, which was to be held in Tbilisi on December 27, 2018. I really hemmed and hawed over going or not. It’s a big honor, but we’re 450 km or so away; winter roads in Svaneti can be a nightmare. Also, the electricity had been coming and going in our village, needing generator interventions to keep the various fridges and freezers running while we heated with our big wood-burning Svan stove. And our water pipes, which have not yet given us a winter without freezing at some point, needed some babysitting during this early phase. I felt bad about leaving my wife, even for a single night and day, coping alone with these challenges. She left the decision up to me, but there was still the situation to consider.

In the end, I gritted my teeth and bowed out, with regret but also feeling that I was making a small sacrifice to do the right thing. And then when I was in Tbilisi, a week or so later, the Entrepreneur office where my award awaited me was empty due to the holidays; all I could do was borrow a key off the guards and present it to myself, alone. Fine!

The deal includes interviews with all 50 bold entrepreneurs in the magazine. Below is my original English text which was translated and edited for said magazine, minus the questions, which feel free to guess. Many thanks to George for this consideration!

– I like being my own boss as much as possible! This doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m a rebel, but the freedom is still useful.

– An entrepreneur is self-starting, taking on the risks and stresses of a new endeavor, whereas a businessperson might either start or join any business. In short, every entrepreneur is a businessperson, but not every businessperson is an entrepreneur.

– We try to promote the return of a full life to Svaneti, which for a long time after the collapse of the USSR was a lawless, cut-off, dangerous, hopeless place, emptying of its own population. But BEFORE that, so they tell me, it was bustling with tourism, well supported by Tbilisi, safe and successful! How can we get BACK to that, where money can be both made AND spent right here?

– Well, I started the Svaneti Renaissance Facebook group on a whim, as a long-term fanatic of this place, simply to try to gather all past, present and future information on the province in one online place. Similarly, I began writing weekly articles for GEORGIA TODAY by introducing myself by email from Mestia in early 2011, without even a single meeting or even a phone call; and it was more than six months before I visited Tbilisi and met my colleagues and bosses there! My wife and I only moved to Etseri after its… “little problem” had been dealt with by a 10-helicopter raid, and President Saakashvili’s very energetic renovation of the entire province of Upper Svaneti had begun. No-one then was interested in buying a house in such villages (this isn’t Mestia or Ushguli, both major tourist hotspots), so the house price was ridiculously cheap. But starting a guest house and then the main village shop here were risky ventures, and we had no idea if we could succeed. We did have some other income to draw on, especially from teaching English in the local school and from my wife’s book translating, as well as me writing for GEORGIA TODAY and Where Magazine. But it took us two years’ living here before the last window was put into our formerly windowless house! We’ve used every form of advertising we can to promote the guest house: travel books, newspapers, online, signage, word of mouth, etc. The shop needed little advertising as news of it got out very fast. My wife is really the family’s businessperson: all the shop’s profits she put back into expanding it to what it is today. She, too, is full of energy; and wise with money, unlike me: most of our business success comes from us being together, in ways I could never imagine doing alone.

– To see and be a part of Svaneti flourishing again! To give local people the option of using their skills, talents and dreams right here: learning and using English, being involved in tourism, helping us with renovation or repairs or furniture making etc., and seeing this as a place where they can really live, not a place to escape from.

– In the guest house, getting clients, and running the whole thing ourselves, with occasional but not regular help from outside. In the shop, tightly controlling the credit system, which has caused many a small shop to close!

– Our success comes from putting profits back into business growth. We also try to be generous and help needy people. By the way, the name of our village (ეცერი, NOT ეწერი) is a Hebrew word found in the Old Testament: ezer, meaning help… We have both been helped by our neighbors and try to help them too.

– Risk will always be there. Luck is part of starting up too: not every gifted person in any field becomes successful… Also, I wouldn’t call it “karma”, but generosity has its own rewards, although these rewards should not be the motivation for being generous!

Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with nearly 2000 members, at

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri:

By Tony Hanmer

10 January 2019 16:43