By Ksenia Bondal
ALMATY -- Women entrepreneurs in Kazakhstan are gaining more international and domestic support as their numbers continue to grow.
For one, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is increasing support next year for female entrepreneurs in Kazakhstan through its Women in Business programme, which began in 2015.
For 2018, the EBRD will allocate $42 million (13.9 billion KZT) to local bank partners for loans to support small and medium businesses across the country. The international financial institution will help those banks to mitigate the risks associated with the loans, according to the EBRD press service.
The Ministry of the National Economy confirmed that it would allocate $8.7 million (2.9 billion KZT) to co-sponsor the project.
"The newly extended programme is also a sign of the effective partnership between the EBRD and the government of Kazakhstan, which is committed to the development of the SME [small and medium enterprises] sector in the country," EBRD Director for Kazakhstan Agris Preimanis said in the statement, as quoted by the Astana Times.
The programme has demonstrated the tremendous potential of female entrepreneurship in Kazakhstan over the past two years, said Preimanis.
Since the start of the programme, the EBRD has extended about 12,000 lines of credit totalling $37 million (12.3 billion KZT) through five banking partners, according to the EBRD press service.
One of the partners is KMF, previously known as KazMicroFinance and the largest private micro-lender in Kazakhstan.
KMF joined the EBRD programme in July 2016 and has received more than 3.2 billion KZT ($9.7 million), KMF management board chairman Shalkar Zhussupov told Caravanserai.
"In order to get a loan under this programme, a woman needs to occupy a managerial position or own a business," he said. "Borrowers have to reside outside the cities of Almaty and Astana."
In July, the KMF signed a second agreement to receive money under the programme, according to Zhussupov.
"In 2018, we plan to get $5 million (1.7 billion KZT) from the EBRD for this same programme," he said.
In addition to low-interest-rate business loans, the Women in Business programme provides technical assistance to organisations that work with female entrepreneurs, Zhussupov said.
The EBRD pays up to 70% of the expenses of consultants who help women develop their own businesses, he said, adding that it funds women's training in digital and information-communication technologies as well as in financial management.
The EBRD also has developed mentoring programmes to help beginning businesswomen confer with business leaders as part of an effort to help them develop leadership and management skills.
More than 700 female business owners have taken advantage of the non-financial services available within the programme, according to the EBRD.
Nauvatkul Koshikbayeva, resident of Shymkent, has owned a wholesale potato business for the past 20 years.
Even though Koshikbayeva owns her small business, it requires a constant cash flow. Sometimes, she said, she has to accept payment on an installment plan or even settle for partial payment.
To purchase potatoes wholesale from farmers, Koshikbayeva borrows money from KMF as part of the Women in Business programme.
Private lenders charge too much interest, she said.
"If you borrow money from [private lenders], then you need to pay 20% interest," Koshikbayeva told Caravanserai. "But I make monthly payments with 2.5% annual interest to the KMF. It's advantageous for me. Therefore, I think that the EBRD programme is very helpful."
Bayan Tashteyeva, a resident of South Kazakhstan Province, also started working 20 years ago selling shoes at an outdoor market. Now she owns a grocery store.
The Women in Business programme has helped her obtain low-interest loans to buy goods to stock her store, she said, crediting it with enabling her to meet all her children's needs.