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Tajikistan to name ‘best’ female entrepreneur
Organisers seek to highlight women’s role in economy
By Dilafruz Nabiyeva
DUSHANBE – Tajikistan is holding a contest to name the best female entrepreneur as part of an effort to inspire other women to become economically active and to improve their social status.
Businesswomen, who account for less than 15% of Tajik business owners, should be a role model, organisers say. The National Association of Businesswomen of Tajikistan (NABWT) and the Imon International micro-lender, both of which have operated for decades in Tajikistan, organised the contest.
“Our women have lots of ideas, but not all of them can implement them,” said Gulbakhor Makhamova, CEO of the NABWT. “Some lack experience; some lack the money. So we have decided to support this (contest), which can become a driver for change.”
“It’s important for women to have strong role models,” she said. “This contest will increase public awareness.”
The contest was launched in early March, and hundreds of entrants applied by the June 15 deadline. Organisers plan to announce the winner September 9, one day before Tajik Independence Day.
The judges will assess the contestants’ businesses and their written applications in naming a winner, organisers said. “It doesn’t matter whether it is a small or big business – the main thing is their approach to business and their ability to run and develop it,” Gulbakhor Makhkamova said of the judging process.
Winner to receive 100,000 TJS
Eager female entrepreneurs have embraced this opportunity to express themselves and to collect a 100,000 TJS (US $20,000) prize that the winner can invest in her business. The contest will select winners in six categories: services, manufacturing and restaurants; handicrafts; agriculture; business start-ups; beauty, fashion and design; and healthcare and education. However, only one of those six will pocket the grand prize.
The hopeful competitors include Madina Yergasheva, 32, owner of a popular Dushanbe beauty salon.
“It all started with two barber chairs in a small shack,” said Yergasheva, who opened her salon when she was 27. “I never planned to start a business, but my circumstances forced me to. My husband left me with two children, and it was very difficult to find a good job as a clinical psychologist.”
As she struggled, a friend suggested opening a hair salon.
“I collected start-up capital from my relatives and hired good hairdressers,” Yergasheva said. “All they needed were good working conditions, and they brought their own regular customers with them.”
Women start up businesses for different reasons
The sponsors made a concerted effort to attract a variety of applications.
“We’ve travelled throughout almost all the regions in Tajikistan and held ... discussions in all of them,” Makhamova said. “We announced the contest but also shared our experiences and discussed the problems women encounter running small and medium-sized businesses.”
Women come to business from different paths, she said.
“Some didn’t have a choice,” she explained. “They ... recall when plenty of factories were open. ... They dream of a return to all the good things from the past.”
“Then there are those who, on the contrary, feel excitement and uplift when talking about the opportunities that come from a running a business,” Makhamova said.
Marydean Purves, a French consultant for the contest who has worked with Tajik female artisans for 11 years, said the benefits of the contest can be far-reaching.
“Many women sew clothes at home, sometimes creating unique designs that belong in the top fashion shows,” she said. “Our main purpose is to reveal the talents of those artists.”
Organisers also want to show support for businesswomen, she said.
“Female entrepreneurs face challenges that men hardly ever encounter. Women are trusted less and face more questions, and as a whole, the attitude toward women in business is much worse than toward men,” Purves said. “Our task is to dispel the myth that women cannot run a business.”
Manzura Makhkamova, deputy chairwoman of the State Committee on Investments and State Property Management, said the contest will boost self-esteem.
“Today, Tajik women are a vulnerable stratum of the population, and many of them are in an unenviable situation, especially those whose husbands have gone abroad to work,” she said. “And I can say with confidence that today, most women who are in business were forced into it because of their difficult financial situation. They need support, and they should be encouraged.”