Rural women learn to develop small businesses

Training women in the field of entrepreneurial know-how will help the economy grow, officials say.

By Bakyt Ibraimov

2013-09-16

OSH – Kyrgyzstan is working to empower its rural women economically so that they can support themselves and their families.

"To start their own small business, women need not only start-up capital but also entrepreneurial know-how," Avazkan Ormonova, head of Demilgeluu Ishker Ayaldar (DIA), an NGO that focuses on enterprising businesswomen, told Central Asia Online.

Since May, Plan Your Future workshops, sponsored by Eldom Consulting Co., Bai-Tushum Microfinance Bank and DIA, have been taking place throughout Osh Oblast, she said.

People who live in the country's more rural areas often lack the skills they need to avoid debt traps, she said.

"The [large] number of banks and lenders in Kyrgyzstan has enabled rural residents ... to take out loans, sometimes two or three at a time, without giving any thought to the sometimes grave consequences," she said. "That's why our organisations will be working closely with rural women for 27 months to educate them about finances and help them expand their economic opportunities."

Falling into debt

One rural woman, Mairam Kozukulova, shared her story of debt-caused hardship.

Kozukulova, a 28-year-old mother of three from Bash-Bulak village, was forced to borrow money to feed her family in 2011. "I took out a 200,000-KGS (about US $4,100) bank loan to buy sheep, but the lambs froze to death," she said. When it came time to repay the loan, she was not prepared and she temporarily lost her house.

She and her children ended up on the street before her relatives and her husband came to the rescue, she said. Her husband returned from working abroad and bought the house back from the bank.

"This was a good lesson not just for me but for all the other villagers," she said. "That's why we're all eager to acquire financial literacy."

Officials encourage the programme

Local officials, who want to eradicate poverty and improve rural dwellers' lives, completely favour such workshops, whether they focus on financial literacy in general or something more specific to running a business.

"Our women keep the fires at home burning ... but they aren't always successful because they lack financial or legal know-how," Kanybek Kimsanov, deputy chief in charge of social issues for the Kara-Suu District government in Osh Oblast, told Central Asia Online. "We whole-heartedly support the NGOs that teach them."

Too many ill-prepared borrowers perceive a loan as a permanent solution, Kimsanov said, adding that demonstrations have broken out in the countryside when borrowers felt trapped by loans they couldn't repay. Such unrest shows the need to educate the rural population financially, he said.

The financial-literacy workshops already are bearing fruit, he said.

"We've seen the first positive outcome. In villages like Jany-Arik, Mady, Otuz-Adyr, Kyzyl-Kyshtak, etc., hard-working women are developing small businesses by growing ... fruits and vegetables in greenhouses and opening up sewing and candy shops," Kimsanov said. "They strengthen the rural economy by providing locally needed goods and helping eradicate unemployment and poverty."

Other learning tools will be available, too

Besides the workshops for women, officials this fall are opening a unified information centre in Ishkavan village, Kara-Suu District, where residents will be able to receive economic and legal advice.

"Sometimes they don't know how to turn a profit from selling their corn, potatoes on cotton ... because they lack the economic skills," village head Osorbek Abdazimov said. "We welcome the coming information centre."

Financial education in the countryside is the key to producing successful entrepreneurs, Abdazimov said, explaining that such training is vital to how an entrepreneur manages his or her capital. The most important lesson is how to plan the economic future of oneself and one's family, he said.

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