Entrepreneur Alina Osmonbaeva is steering the green movement in her home country, the Kyrgyz Republic. Alina’s company, Izumrud Tazalyk Servis (‘Emerald Cleanliness Service’), has benefitted from EBRD and Swiss support through the Small Business Impact Fund, and is setting the pace for others to follow: leading by example in the collection and separation of solid waste for recycling.
Alina initially approached the EBRD’s Advice for Small Businesses programme for assistance with marketing, but the scope of the project soon widened from equipping her with modern marketing tools to helping her set clear development goals in order to build a new management structure, which included mobility and promotion opportunities within the company and a plan for business growth. Indeed, turnover has increased 200% since project completion and thanks to advice on submitting proposals and applications, Alina has won a number of grants to expand her business.
Inception and obstacles
Alina ‘stumbled’ into the business in 2014, when her father – a manager at a local cardboard processing plant – suggested she collect discarded boxes and waste paper from the community and hand it over to the plant for processing. This was the germ of an idea which grew into a business: beginning in earnest from that first collection and expanding from cardboard to include glass, plastics, aluminium and cellophane.
When Alina started out, it was commonplace for solid waste products to be bundled together and sent straight to landfill. Recycling was a niche concept and initially things were tough for the fledgling entrepreneur, with myriad challenges.
Without a pressing machine, Alina had to send the cardboard as she found it, which increased expenses significantly through the extra space taken up. Administrators at her father’s plant recognised this and gifted her a pressing machine, which is still in use today. Alina continues to feel a debt of gratitude, as it improved operational efficiencies to such an extent that the business became more sustainable and easier to manage overnight.
As a young female entrepreneur in a male dominated market, Alina encountered many gender-specific hurdles along the way. In the end, she attributes her success to her critics. Their scepticism motivated her to prove them wrong, and every closed door or personal slight sparked a more determined resolve.
She also faced societal issues, such as encouraging people to use her collection points; separate their waste at home beforehand; or even throw rubbish into a bin in the first instance. In Alina’s view, this comes down to learned behaviour and bad habits. To remedy it will require a shift in attitudes, with an emphasis on personal responsibility.
As part of the EBRD-led project, a new marketing approach took shape to help build momentum in this area. A fresh brand logo and Instagram page were launched, the latter including information about the benefits of recycling, with the aim of introducing more people in the country to the concept and addressing the current deficit in this respect.
Alina often brings students to her sites to show them how waste is collected and sorted: becoming an example for younger generations and helping to shape prevailing attitudes among them. Her continued inspiration for the business is driven by this interest in sparking conversations about the environment and ecology, which are drawn from her own experiences. When her daughter was a baby, she developed a persistent, pollution-related cough. In its own small way, Alina’s company combats air quality issues and reduces environmental pollution through the scope of its business activities, helping prevent similar occurrences within the wider population.
What motivates her the most, though, is being in a position to provide employment opportunities to the local community, where they may otherwise be scarce. Recently, Alina was the recipient of a letter of gratitude from the governor of the region, acknowledging the positive influence she and her business have had.
Towards a greener future
The company now has five waste collection points across the territory of Issyk-Kul, with plans to build a waste sorting plant next to the Karakol landfill facility. Alina is currently seeking new partners and investors, with a view to expanding operations to other areas.
Post-COP26, and with ‘green’ very much on the global agenda, it is clear that the company is in the right place, at the right time, and the case for business expansion is justified and timely in this context. The transition to a greener and more inclusive economy will be key for advancing sustainable development in the country, and Alina’s small part in that should serve as an inspiration to others.