Kyrgyzstan’s unique challenges 

The future holds great promise for Kyrgyz female entrepreneurs. 

Women in Kyrgyzstan are demonstrating remarkable resilience, ambition, and determination as they embark on their entrepreneurial journeys. Their motivations vary from seeking financial independence and personal fulfilment to making a positive impact on society.  

However, running a business in Kyrgyzstan presents unique challenges for these enterprising women. A survey conducted by Emerging Europe under the She’s Next Empowered by Visa initiative sheds light on the specific problems and concerns faced by women in the country.  

Amidst the promising landscape for women entrepreneurs, the survey uncovers a complex tapestry of challenges. Worries about balancing family and work responsibilities, financial stability, and the burden of taxation weigh heavily on their minds.  

Nevertheless, despite these challenges, the future holds great promise for Kyrgyz female entrepreneurs. The survey and insights shared by entrepreneurs reveal a resounding sense of optimism and a strong belief in the potential for growth.  

Independence and autonomy 

With 58 per cent of respondents driven by the desire to increase their income, and 35 per cent expressing a strong inclination to work for themselves, it is evident that financial independence and autonomy play significant roles for female entrepreneurs in Kyrgyzstan.  

Moreover, Kyrgyz female entrepreneurship thrives on innovation and social responsibility. Approximately 13 per cent of women entrepreneurs are motivated by their exceptional ideas and solutions that can benefit others, showcasing their entrepreneurial vision.  

For 11 per cent of them, starting their own businesses represents the realisation of lifelong dreams, while 10 per cent are determined to prove themselves and defy societal expectations.  

In addition to personal motivations, women entrepreneurs in Kyrgyzstan exhibit a strong desire to make a positive impact and build successful careers. They aspire to help others (10 per cent) and create job opportunities while aiming for long-term professional growth (eight per cent) through their businesses. 

Further insights from in-depth interviews with entrepreneurs shed light on additional motivations. One business owner shared her aspirations, stating, “I wanted to do something by myself, I wanted to develop economic journalism. I wanted to make something special.”  

An NGO co-founder reflected on her motivation, emphasizing the importance of gender analysis and data-driven storytelling. She stated: “Our organisation is women-led. We do a lot of gender analysis and produce stories. For people in our region, it is difficult to understand what gender equality is until you give them the numbers.”  

Another interviewee found motivation in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, sharing, “The pandemic motivated me to start the business.” Lastly, one SME founder emphasized that, “The start of the business was associated with the need to earn a sustainable living.”  

Navigating the obstacles 

According to the survey, 40 per cent of respondents expressed concerns about neglecting their family and/or children. One business owner shared her own experience, stating, “As a mother, I find it challenging to balance family and work responsibilities.” 

Approximately 39 per cent of respondents expressed concern about their own financial situation deteriorating. The same business owner emphasized this point and mentioned her “plans to finance her business independently”. She intends to work as “an employee to earn income” and use it “to expand her business operations”.  

Furthermore, one business owner brought attention to the significant burden of taxation, with approximately 40 per cent of wages allocated to taxes. She also highlighted that, “market size is limited, and competition is high” resulting from the entry of new players.  

In fact, survey respondents identified unfavourable business conditions such as high taxes and labour costs (36 per cent) and intense competition (31 per cent) as the top challenges, alongside the need for obtaining investments/financing (37 per cent). This sentiment was echoed by an SME owner who said that, “financial challenges are the main obstacles faced by female entrepreneurs”.  

Among the other primary challenges identified were the search for workers and building cohesive teams (22 per cent), bureaucratic hurdles (20 per cent), limited access to financial resources (17 per cent), the impact of the current economic and political situation (11 per cent), and the perception of women entrepreneurs within the local culture (11 per cent).  

Moreover, a minimum of 10 per cent of respondents mentioned additional obstacles, including gender discrimination, the pursuit of new markets, difficulties in accessing business management tools, navigating the external environment during and after a pandemic, and establishing a robust online presence. 

Advancing against all odds 

Despite the challenges and concerns, the future appears promising for Kyrgyz women entrepreneurs. Our research indicates an ecosystem ready for expansion, with an overwhelming 68 per cent of respondents expressing expectations for business growth in the near future.   

Stability is also valued, as 25 per cent of respondents aim to maintain their current state. Worries about potential declines in operations and sales were expressed by a minority of only seven per cent.  

In-depth interviews with entrepreneurs shed light on their future strategies. For example, one business owner plans to expand into “the market of Kazakhstan, seeking new opportunities through buyer engagement”.  

An NGO co-founder envisions their organisation as a “highly agile entity working on projects and solutions to enhance people’s lives and contribute to social welfare at both national and regional levels”.  

Furthermore, an SME founder emphasized their global aspirations and strategic plans for market expansion, with “ongoing expansion efforts in the UAE and Saudi Arabia and future prospects in European and US markets”.  

The survey data not only highlights entrepreneurs’ skill preferences but also reveals areas where they perceive the need for development to navigate business challenges and seize opportunities.  

Respondents expressed prominent desires for additional financing (50 per cent) and skills enhancement in digital marketing and social media management (30 per cent). Additionally, 19 per cent expressed interest in developing skills related to international business.  

Entrepreneurs also expressed desires to improve skills in strategic management, electronic trade, human resources management, networking, public relations, and financial planning and management. 

Insights gained from the interviews with women entrepreneurs further enrich our understanding of their specific aspirations for skill development. One SME founder emphasized the importance of “developing concentration, perfectionism in numbers, and empathy”. An NGO co-founder acknowledged “the continuous need for improvement in leadership skills”.  

An SME owner specifically mentioned her desire “to enhance accounting skills”. Another business owner aims to strengthen “hard skills such as financial management and planning, coupled with a commitment to ongoing education”.  

All in all, female entrepreneurs in Kyrgyzstan face a promising future, with a majority anticipating business growth and aspiring to expansion. The identified skill preferences offer valuable insights into the areas where they seek development to navigate challenges and capitalize on various industry opportunities. 

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