EBRD looks back on support to Kazakh women entrepreneurs

By Anna  Wilson

Women are a vital part of Kazakhstani economic life. They are a visible presence in offices and marketplaces, and compared to international averages, they have a high level of workforce participation.

But that level of participation remains significantly lower than men’s.

Unlocking the potential of women entrepreneurs is vital for economic growth and job creation. In Kazakhstan, as in the rest of the region, supporting women is an important part of the EBRD’s work with small and medium-sized businesses.

One tool is the EBRD’s Small Business Support team, which connects companies to business advice that can transform their businesses. Since starting work in Kazakhstan in 1998, the team has helped almost 1,000 enterprises, over a fifth of them owned or led by women.

One of these companies is Asyl Arman, the largest domestic distributor of dietary supplements to sell under its own brand in Kazakhstan. Owned 100% by women, more than half of its employees and almost three quarters of its management are also women.

An international expert from the United States worked with Asyl Arman for a year and a half. This shared experience proved very beneficial.

“We knew that to keep growing we needed to look at expanding our exports,” explained Mrs Alma Arkhabayeva, Asyl Arman’s President. “But there are challenges to this. Before starting, the EBRD helped us improve our internal communications and procedures. Now we are more efficient, management is easier.”

The EBRD also has a unique programme supporting women and young entrepreneurs in the Burlinskiy district of Western Kazakhstan.

The Burlinskiy district lies in the far north west of Kazakhstan, a region remote from the large commercial centres of the south and east.

Funded by BG Kazakhstan, the programme has recently completed its first phase, with 80 start-ups and entrepreneurs receiving training in business skills. Four start-ups also received micro financing to launch their own businesses, and received subsidised consultancy services. A second phase will provide additional support over the next year to the businesses started under the programme.

Said Charlotte Ruhe, Director of the EBRD’s Small Business Support team: “It is our experience that with the right support, women-led businesses can match and even exceed their male counterparts. We offer a comprehensive range of support to give them the know-how to succeed and grow.”

The women and youth-focused programme also recently won a EUROBAK Corporate Social Responsibility Award, for contributions to the local community.