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NUR-SULTAN – The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has invested more than $9.1 billion through 261 projects in the economy of Kazakhstan as of July. In 2015, the bank also launched the Women in Business programme, which empowered women entrepreneurs nationwide.
The EBRD will continue its cooperation with the Kazakh government and the private sector on investment projects, reforms and improvement of the investment environment, EBRD Vice President for Risk and Compliance and Chief Risk Officer Betsy Nelson said in an exclusive interview for this story.
“We agreed on the five-year strategy with the government, and we are going to work on it. We see there’s a need to develop the private sector and balance state-owned enterprises versus the private sector. It is important to ensure the business environment for attracting foreign investors. We focus on manufacturing, services, businesses agriculture, tourism and energy efficiency in many countries, and Kazakhstan is no exception. Another key area for us is the competitiveness of the small-business sector as well as the private sector. We help small business get the support it needs. It’s a key thing for the bank as a whole, and it’s a key theme in many of our countries,” Nelson said.
Overall, the EBRD and six partner financial institutions – Arnur Credit, Bank Kassa Nova, Bank Centre Credit, ForteBank, microfinance organisation MFO KMF and Shinhan Bank – provided 21,281 sub-loans worth 28.9 billion tenge (US$76 million) to women-led enterprises in Kazakhstan.
“The Women in Business programme is oriented at supporting women-owned or women-led businesses. It is a financing line that we give to the banks and then the banks under our guidance lend on to women businesses. It comes connected with a number of aspects, which gives them access to finance, which is one of the challenges of women’s businesses. We often have connections to trainers or advisers or consultants who can work with them to help them develop breakthroughs for their business if they want to grow them. For example, if somebody wants to export or add more value to the process that they have, we’ll get them a consultant who can work with them to achieve that. We help women network and have access to services,” she said.
The bank also started a mentoring programme with the Association of Businesswomen of Kazakhstan.
“Women have a lot more to do. They’ve got their families; they’ve got their homes and they’ve got their jobs. And they don’t really have time to network as much. They also don’t have time or ability to connect to other businesswomen because there aren’t a lot of women’s networks. So, the mentoring is starting to create this. And we’re seeing real enthusiasm with the mentors to try and take it to a larger scale. We know that we’ve given women the opportunity to train and to develop. I think we’ve got 500 women in the last couple of years that have been through some sort of training or enhancing skill,” she said.
Gender equality and equality of opportunities are one of the EBRD’s strategic priorities. The equal opportunities initiative promotes equal opportunities in the workforce related to recruitment, retention, promotion, wages and work-life balance and the presence of women on corporate boards.
“I think there are a lot of women out there that don’t want to be entrepreneurs. They don’t have a business idea on how to make their own business. One of the women I met in Nur-Sultan actually started a nursery because she needed a safe place to take her children when she went to work, and she now has a nursery business. By necessity she had an opportunity to create a business. Many women want to have a job or even a career and be able to move up in a more structured environment. We talk a lot about women entrepreneurs. But I think we have to recognise women as a whole getting into the workforce. And I think the government does have a role to play. I think some of it is they have a lot of state-owned companies, so they have a perfect opportunity to create a level playing field for women to enter the workforce and to be promoted,” she said.
Betsy Nelson. Photo credit: ebrd.com.
Nelson also emphasised the Kazakh government’s efforts to create a better environment for businesses. The establishment of the Astana International Financial Centre (AIFC) serves as a good example.
“Kazakhstan has built a world-class platform which hopefully will turn into a world-class business. The AIFC is a fascinating place. What they have achieved in setting this thing up at a super high standard is absolutely amazing in less than a year. The challenge now is to get businesses and people to come in and use it. They have 200 companies registered but they need a lot more. And they need to start having people use the exchange,” she said.