Support to women’s entrepreneurship is an investment in the beautiful future

14.09.2015

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Kyrgyzstan improves its global positions in gender equality, more actively engaging women in political and business environment. The evidence to that is the first National Forum of Women in Kyrgyzstan attended by more than 1,000 participants from across the republic and other countries, which took place in Bishkek in spring 2015.

According to its organizers, Roza Otunbaeva Initiative, the event was timed to coincide with two important dates: in 2015 the international community celebrates the 20th anniversary of Beijing Platform for Action for improving the situation of women and girls, and the 15th anniversary of the UN Council Resolution on women, peace and security.

Gulnara Shamshieva, General Manager of Bai-Tushum Bank told us about the economic activities of women in Kyrgyzstan, as well as about the improved access to finance for women entrepreneurs, possibilities and challenges, about Bai-Tushum Bank activities and projects aimed at the support and development of women’s entrepreneurship.

— Gulnara Jamankulovna, Bai-Tushum is a young bank, which has been issued the banking license of the National Bank of the Kyrgyz Republic in November 2012. But the history of the organization started much earlier, didn’t it? Please tell us about it.

Gulnara Shamshieva:

— Yes, indeed. Bai-Tushum has been operating in the financial market since 2000, having commenced its activities back in 1997 as an international project under Food for Progress monetization programme, implemented by American NGO ACDI/VOCA. This year (2015) Bai-Tushum celebrates its anniversary – 15 years of success in promoting support for entrepreneurs, jobs creation, financial engagement of people from remote regions and contribution to the social and economic development of Kyrgyzstan.

During these 15 years Bai-Tushum has gone a challenging, however exiting way. Our organization evolved and changed following all significant transitions that took place in Kyrgyzstan. In this period we became one of the largest financial institutions in the Kyrgyz Republic with the total assets of KGS 7.6 bn., servicing more than 60 thousand clients.

Three years of effective activities carried out since the issue of the banking license, demonstrated that a strong banking system actor appeared in the Kyrgyz market. Nowadays Bai-Tushum Bank is among the six largest banks of Kyrgyzstan in terms of its loan portfolio and among the nine largest banks in terms of assets and borrowings.

— The Bank services more than 60 thousand clients, including corporate clients, small and medium businesses, farmers etc. Why does the support to women entrepreneurs constitute a special area in Bank’s social mission implementation?

Gulnara Shamshieva:

— All over the world women with children are extremely vulnerable and unprotected in the face of unemployment, and I, as a woman, understand all the problems and aspirations of women with children.

It’s not a secret that many employers are not willing to give jobs to women, even more so to women with little children. In remote rural areas unemployment forces women to consider starting their own business more and more often. Commitments to family and children motivate women to succeed in their work. And although women’s entrepreneurship is not that popular in Kyrgyzstan, as compared with other developed countries, it is important that our women are willing to make business. And the Bank’s goal here is to support them in this difficult but crucial decision.

— Has the Bank already achieved any positive outcomes in this area?

Gulnara Shamshieva:

— Certainly. In the last 4 years the Bank financed women for more than KGS 5 bn. Moreover, during the implementation of the projects, specifically designed for women entrepreneurs and implemented by the Bank together with its partners across the country, more than 2,000 women engaged in textile and garment industry, agricultural processing, as well as in tourism business, completed training on business basics. Thus, through the loans used for production, agriculture and services, the Bank has financed the business ideas of 42% of women of the Bank’s loan portfolio, enabling them to unlock their entrepreneurial potential and launch their business.

— Please tell us in more detail, what programmes did the Bank implement recently?

Gulnara Shamshieva: I would like to specifically emphasize Women’s Leadership in Small and Medium Business programme that has been implemented since 2014 by Bai-Tushum banking group in conjunction with ACDI/VOCA, American international development organization, the outcomes of which were summarized on August 28. The programme was designed for women entrepreneurs for the purposes of developing their business and promoting the growth of enterprises through training and technical assistance. During project implementation, 1,200 women entrepreneurs engaged in textile and garment industry, agricultural processing and tourism from across the republic completed training on business basics. 100 participants were chosen as business plans contest winners and received grants to develop their business.

Moreover, the Bank supports women entrepreneurs under another project – Support to Women’s Entrepreneurship implemented in conjunction with the Asian Development Bank. The project supports women’s entrepreneurship through training and access to finance.

Special attention is paid to the southern region. Thus, this May we have finalized Start Your Business contest, held together with Jer Azygy Association of Agribusiness of Kyrgyzstan. The contest was aimed at the promotion of economic possibilities for the development of women entrepreneurs in Osh, Batken and Jalal-Abad. The Bank acted as a General Sponsor of the contest and provided the total prize pool of one million Kyrgyz Soms! During the contest applications were received from about 272 beginner women entrepreneurs at the age of 18 to 45. Based on the results of the first audition more than 35 women completed training on business planning, entrepreneurship and leadership. Following the two weeks of training and sessions, delivered by the representatives of local business associations and private business, the participants were invited to present their business plans to be reviewed by the selection board made up of local experts. Entrepreneurs’ applications included, for instance, such initiatives as opening a kindergarten, building a greenhouse, establishing a textile workshop. All these projects and activities are aimed at the promotion and introduction of efficient support mechanisms that ensure the growing number of women entrepreneurs.

Based on the decision made by the selection board, 14 people were announced contest finalists, the total grant pool constituted KGS 1 million. In addition, other participants will receive loans with low interest rates and soft Start-Up finance under Kiva Fund facility as a support of innovative business plans.

— You possess broad experience in financing small and medium business. Can you think of certain entrepreneurship areas that traditionally belong to women?

Gulnara Shamshieva:

— The many years of practice prove that in some spheres women are not only equal to men, but are able to run business more successfully. Such areas are beauty and health industry (hairdressing salons, fitness clubs, beauty centers), garment business and hand-made products, education for children and adults: private kindergartens and various courses, individual wholesale and retail trade, fast food enterprises, tourism services: hotels, guest houses, tourism-related services etc. Women in rural areas usually run small businesses: dress making and tailoring, drugstores, individual wholesale stores, souvenirs production and sale, home-based jobs.

— What challenges are faced by the women, who decide to start their business?

Gulnara Shamshieva:

— The expansion of employment opportunities for women, enhancement of their economic status are the mechanisms to ensure gender equality and are closely related to the improvement of people’s well-being, both in rural and urban areas. However the challenges faced by women entrepreneurs when they organize their business often preclude from fully unlocking the potential of women’s entrepreneurship due to a number of reasons, which include financial problems, low financial literacy, no experience and qualification,  no business plan, no benefits and other mechanisms to support women in taxation, lending, registration, limited soft loans due to difficulties with collateral; insufficient support from the state to ensure financial and technical assistance and products distribution.

Regardless of all challenges, there are a lot of successful examples among our women clients, when women start their business from the ground up, and over time achieve great success owning to their determination and hard work. Most of our clients are very responsible and efficient in running their business. Having borrowed one loan from the bank, they try to repay it as soon as possible, and only if an urgent necessity arises, they start additional credit line.

— In the future, what trends can be pointed out in the development of women’s entrepreneurship in Kyrgyzstan?

– I believe that in the nearest time the share of women engaged in economy, as well as in the management of medium and large companies will be increasing, and the employment of women in small and medium business will continue to grow. For this purpose the state support is also necessary, as the private initiative, like ours, is extremely insufficient.

As for the long-term perspectives, I want to believe that the number of women managers will increase in large companies, the women’s entrepreneurship will move to a higher level: the current small entrepreneurship will grow into medium entrepreneurship, while the current medium entrepreneurship will become large entrepreneurship. I am certain that over time our state will succeed in eliminating all the problems and promoting the increased role of women in business and political activities.