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EBRD supports diverse economy in Azerbaijan

By Volker Ahlemeyer

ETC Fund helps bottled water producer Gadabay Mineral Sulari expand
Azerbaijan’s economy has boomed in recent years. The country, known as “the Land of Fire,” owes much of this success to its wealth in oil, but this windfall will not last forever. So now is the time for businesses to invest in other sectors and the potential for growth is enormous, especially outside the vibrant capital, Baku.
Ilham Aliyev, a former doctor, has taken advantage of these opportunities. He created a successful business out of his passion for a different resource, water.
“Most of our planet is covered by water and also our human body is made of it,” he said. “This is the reason why it’s important for us to have access to a sustainable and high-quality source of water.”
His grandfather was a geologist and one of many thousands who helped build Azerbaijan’s water pipes in the 1930s. “He worked in Gadabay and soon realised how valuable this readily available drinking water supply would be. He told me about this land when I was a child, so I purchased it later.”

Video: Building a more diverse economy in Azerbaijan

The EBRD helps a bottled water producer in the Lower Caucasus Mountains expand its business – with help from the Early Transition Countries Fund.

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The business started small: Ilham and a few friends used to drive water containers from Gadabay to Baku to sell it. The mineral water from the Caucasus Mountains proved to be a highly popular and, with increasing demand, Gadabay Mineral Sulari began to grow.
To help Ilham expand his business, the EBRD provided him with a loan of €4.6 million. He invested in a new, more efficient bottling line as well as 20 trucks to deliver the water to customers. To prepare for this, the EBRD’s Early Transition Countries Fund provided the company with a grant to study and analyse its potential market.
Gadabay Mineral Sulari produces about 30 million litres of bottled water each year but this amount is expected to double or even triple thanks to the second factory that is about to open.
Mr Aliyev believes that it is important to show respect and be thankful for the water; that is why the water is blessed by an imam’s voice recording while entering the factory.
The company is also a source of employment in the region: in total, 180 people work with Gadabay Mineral Sulari in a region that, apart from its natural springs, is mainly famous in Azerbaijan for agricultural products, especially potatoes.
The two brands of bottled water produced - “Gadabay” and “Slavyanka”- can be found in many supermarkets across Azerbaijan. Furthermore, its delivery service provides businesses and private households with an additional option to obtain their water bottles at their convenience.
“The potential for businesses to thrive is huge in Azerbaijan’s region and many opportunities have been overlooked for a long time,” said Neil McKain, head of the EBRD’s Baku office. “Building a strong SME sector is key to supporting sustainable growth and help build a diverse economy in the long run.”
Mr Aliyev’s business is only one of many examples of how the EBRD and its donors support this goal in Azerbaijan. For the future, the country can count on many resources, not only natural ones such as oil and gas but, most importantly, on its entrepreneurial spirit as well.
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