You can too! How the EU supports women entrepreneurs in Azerbaijan
1. I live in a rural area and want to turn my activity into a proper business to help my family, but I don’t know where to start. Who can advise me?

The European Union is very active in supporting the development of livelihoods and businesses in rural areas in Azerbaijan, particularly among women. Across the different regions, the EU supports a number of projects that provide know how, practical help, and even funding to help you start your business.

Women

Here are some examples:

Accelerating development of sustainable micro-entrepreneurship in rural regions of Azerbaijan: if you are in the regions of Ganja, Shamkir, Guba, Barda or Zagatala, this project can support you to start or develop a small rural businesses. It provides at least 500 people with basic training in financial education for personal and home budget, and another 150 in business management skills, as well as mentoring to support new businesses. The project is implemented by the Azerbaijan Micro-Finance Association (AMFA), which is also completing another EU-funded project on Empowering Women for Sustainable Development in Nakhchivan.

The association also implements two EU-funded COVID support projects aimed at women, Supporting women’s entrepreneurship during COVID-19 in Ismayilli region and Economic response to rural women impacted by COVID 19 in Nakhchivan AR.

Support to the Development of Small Family Businesses in the Shaki-Zaqatala Economic Zone through ABAD Regional Centre in Balakan implemented by UNDP in Azerbaijan: this project supports families to develop handicraft and food production businesses through training on how to develop a business, packaging and logistics, branding and sales, as well as helping to provide small-scale equipment and production facilities.

Promoting Community-based Agritourism as a Rural Regeneration Strategy (Guba, Gusar, Shabran, Siyazan and Khachmaz in the north and Salyan, Jalilabad and Lankaran in the south): if you live in any of the eight regions covered by the project, you can receive support for agritourism development. This can range from training to business consultancy, product development and financial support.

Women can also find support for their business ideas under the EU-funded project “From Kitchen to Business” Food Promotion and Women Empowerment Action implemented by the Women's Association for Rational Development (WARD).

Check out all the available business advice and support on the EU4Business website for Azerbaijan.

2. How can I get funding when I have no money of my own and no business experience?

Many of the rural development projects will not only give you training and advice but also provide you with the basic equipment that you need to start your business. The projects run by AMFA will also provide start-ups with seed capital to purchase equipment and raw materials needed to launch your business, while the agritourism project will provide funding support to 24 projects and support 80 business owners in preparing finance applications to banks or micro-credit institutions. Note that none of these projects offer stand-alone grants, but rather material support that complements the business training and development they provide.

EU funding is also available from the European Fund for South East Europe (EFSE), which works with its local partner AccessBank to provide finance (average loan size €4,000) to the smallest businesses (less than 10 employees) in sectors such as agriculture, industry, trade and services.

And in December 2019, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) opened a $6 million credit line to Bank Respublika to support local businesses in Azerbaijan. The local currency equivalent of up to $4 million will be lent on to micro, small and medium-sized businesses across the country, while the equivalent of up to $2 million will be provided under the Azerbaijan Agricultural Finance Facility (AZAFF) to agricultural businesses.

3. I already have a business, but I need help to take it to the next step: is there any EU support available for me?

If you already have a business and you are looking to develop, funding (and training) is available through a number of programmes under the EU4Business initiative, which supports private sector development across Azerbaijan.

Specifically, the EBRD’s Women in Business programme offers training and subsidised advisory services that are specifically tailored to women-led businesses.

The programme also offers a personalised online tool – the Business Lens – to assess your business and see what kind of support you can access.

Subsidised consultancy services are also available from the Advice for Small Businesses programme, in areas including strategy, marketing, operations, quality management, energy efficiency, financial management and more. Visit the EBRD website to find out how to apply.

If you have a business in the sectors of agro-processed food (processed fruits and vegetables, dried fruits, wine and hazelnuts) or light manufacturing (carpets, silk scarfs, handicrafts), you could also receive advisory and market access support under the Ready to Trade project.

4. Are there women like me, who started their own business with EU help?

There are more than you can imagine!

In 2019, 90 women entrepreneurs in Azerbaijan received loans to a total value of €575,000 under EU support programmes for SMEs, while almost 3,000 benefitted from consultancy services. Turnover among supported companies rose by €18.8 million, and 1,268 new jobs were created as a result of the support.

For example:

Zamina Agalarova took part in a training course under the Support to the Development of Small Family Businesses project. She learned how to draw up a business plan and how to develop a brand, as well as the rules for selling over the internet and packaging. It gave her the confidence to start her own carpet-weaving business.

Gulnara Hassanova, Director of ESSE LLC, a company distributing women’s accessories and home-care products, received sales training under the Advice for Small Businesses programme, resulting in a 25% increase in customers and 18% rise in turnover.

Afet Akhmadova built a successful gourmet service from the ground up with the support of the Ready to Trade project, which arranged for the company to participate in foreign exhibitions, hired programmers to help design a new website, and provided marketing specialists and financial analysts to help them put together business plans.

Aytekin Sadiqova received funding and training on how to run a business from an EU-funded project – Enabling civil society to play a greater role in advancing gender equality and women’s rights – which has set up women’s resource centres in the regions of Sabirabad, Neftchala and Bilasuvar. Today, she has 22 beehives, 10 of which she bought thanks to the project's support.

Click here for more success stories from five Azerbaijani women who have benefited from EU support across a range of areas.

5. I’m not sure I want to start a business, but I want to learn new skills: is there something for me from the EU?

You can also access direct support on skills through the Entrepreneurship for Youth project, implemented by Junior Achievement Azerbaijan in Baku, Gabala, Gakh, Ganja, Khachmaz, Masally, Mingachevir and Zagatala regions. The action will engage 3,000 students of pilot vocational and secondary schools in trainings on entrepreneurship and financial literacy.

If you are in one of the eight target regions, the agritourism project also supports young jobseekers in rural areas through support to VET, job fairs and an agritourism internship programme.

For young women under the age of 30, the EU offers exciting opportunities under its Erasmus + youth programmes. You can join the almost 3,000 young Azerbaijanis who have already learned new skills and developed valuable experience by participating in youth projects or volunteering for work abroad under the European Solidarity Corps.

And if you are in higher education, Erasmus + offers student exchanges and post-graduate programmes in Europe. Find out more about all the opportunities and how to apply.

6. Whom can I ask for help?

For information and contacts about projects and funding opportunities supported under the EU4Business initiative, visit the EU4Business portal for Azerbaijan. The website includes comprehensive details of loan and grant opportunities and business development services. It also includes a COVID-19 information support centre, outlining EU support measures to help small businesses in Azerbaijan to withstand the crisis.

Follow the Facebook page of the EU Delegation to Azerbaijan for details and links to actions and opportunities across the full range of EU-funded projects, as well as the new eu4azerbaijan.eu website, which includes a dedicated opportunities section. The Facebook page of UNDP in Azerbaijan also regularly highlights success stories and opportunities for women under its projects funded by the EU.