For Cristina Frolov, president of the Constantin Mimi Foundation in Moldova, believes that women in leadership positions can inspire others to follow them.
The Constantin Mimi Foundation was set up in 2016 to support a rural community in Moldova in its social, cultural, and entrepreneurial development.
It has since then contributed to programmes promoting tourism, education, human capital, and supporting refugees from Ukraine—amongst much else. An important part of its work is also dedicated to developing female leaders, something that its current president, Cristina Frolov, is immensely proud of.
“Our rural development projects help our village by highlighting investment opportunities in tourism development,” she says. “This will help change the quality of life of the people leaving in the villages around Castle Mimi and help keep young people and women in the village, offering them opportunities to open new, small businesses.”
Castle Mimi is a winery in the Moldovan village of Bulboaca that has been producing fine wines since the late 19th century. Long recognised as one of the most spectacular wineries in the world, it was placed in the global spotlight in June 2023 when Moldova’s president, Maia Sandu, made use of the castle to host the second summit of European Political Community.
Much of the winery’s success can be attributed directly to Frolov, who in a previous role was its CEO from 2014-20.
“The events we hosted at the castle during the time I was CEO were nominated as the best wine events in Europe by Iter Vitis Cultura Routes of the Council of Europe,” she says.
Frolov says that she was lucky to be part of a family where she received support and knowledge, but that her path to success was not always easy.
“I certainly got a lot of support from my family, but they cannot work for me and learn for me, I had to do it myself,” she says. “It was with hard work, continuous learning and efforts to demonstrate that I can be trusted, that my expert opinion is good enough that I succeeded.”
Frolov adds that she learned to work hand in hand with male experts in order to achieve the highest results.
“In the real world I would often be taken for granted, or my looks would play a far more important role than my expertise. I would be invited to a meetings with such comments as: we want you to be there as we need nice ladies to make the meeting more pleasant. I learned to stay true to my goals and as such I managed to lead the biggest and most important touristic project in Moldova, Castle Mimi.”
‘It’s important to have role models’
From Castle Mimi, Frolov moved on to lead Wine of Moldova, the country’s national wine association. “It was a big challenge, at the beginning I doubted I could make it, but at the end of the day I got a great deal of support from male colleagues from the industry”.
Frolov believes that Sandu, who has been Moldova’s president since 2020, has provided Moldovan women with the faith that, “Yes, it is possible, we can dream higher and bigger”.
“Today we understand how important it is to have such examples, many more women in leading positions and carrying out projects to lead our country and villages to a whole new level,” she says.
Only around a third of all Moldovas companies are founded by women, and boosting that number is something that the country still needs to work on.
“Women have fewer opportunities to get credit, and the interest rates for them might be higher,” says Frolov.
“Women do not have time to go to networking events or some of them cannot even get a higher education, as they are expected to get married and have kids and all their personal, professional aspirations have to be put on hold for indefinite time.
“For me personally if I need to go to some courses or a networking event that can open many opportunities for my activities, it is a big challenge that I need to overcome, and find someone to stay with my kids. Arrange their dinner, arrange everything at home and only then shall I be ‘allowed’ to go to that particular event.”
Advice for aspiring female leaders
When it comes to advice that Frolov would offer young aspiring female business leaders in Moldova who are just starting their career journey, she says it is important to ask for help from family and partners.
“People are willing to help, sometimes they do not understand how desperate we are. We also need to invest in education and continuous learning. Literacy will save the world and will help our brains be much better in the architecture of our choices,” she says.
She is of a similar sentiment when it comes to the support that the state can provide female entrepreneurs.
Social services, kindergartens for small toddlers and babies, social assistance for young single mothers, special day care for children and elders, to combine these generations and create a warm and welcoming space, are some of the ideas Frolov suggests.
She adds that there should also be, “special programmes to incentivise women to get into higher education and entrepreneurship in areas where women can earn decent salaries by partially doing remote work; programmes to subsidise remote work for mothers and fathers; incentivising the creation of associations related to women’s empowerment and capability building; and promoting campaigns where women-founded companies are promoted and supported.”
And there should also be more promotion of best practice in tourism development, a sector in which 70 per cent of employees are women.