On the bustling streets of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, young Azeri women are taking charge of their futures. Filled with brilliant ideas and a hunger to make a difference, these young change makers are determined to build their confidence and hone their business skills.
Earlier this year, 200 young women applied to attend the “Empowering Young Women through Information & Knowledge: Leadership & Development” workshop hosted by Counterpart International and made possible by USAID and the generosity of the American people. Twenty-eight women were selected — business leaders, college professors, junior professionals, and aspiring entrepreneurs. A four-day training gave them first-hand guidance from leaders in the public and private sectors on topics such as social entrepreneurship, personal effectiveness, leadership, business management, civic advocacy and more. This impressive group came ready to share experiences, exchange knowledge and dive deep into leadership and business development training.
“I am so happy to be a part of this workshop. I want to learn how to build my career in business. I want to be an entrepreneur. Women can add a lot to the business world, we just have to try,” explained Bagchagul Imanova, as the workshop opened. And learn she did …
Speakers, panelists and trainers included gender experts, businesswomen, non-profit leaders and successful women entrepreneurs from Azerbaijan. Over the four days, they led the participants through hands-on trainings focused on the market for businesswomen in Azerbaijan, starting a business with a limited budget, balancing business leadership with traditional family structure, combining social work with a business model to strengthen your local community, and entrepreneurial thinking. Toward the end of the conference, participants were asked to put their new skills into practice by developing their first business model. The innovative ideas they came up with demonstrate exactly why their voices are so important for the future of Azerbaijan.
Women Entrepreneurs Identify New Markets
“Everyone knows that recycling is good for the environment and for our communities. But it’s a relatively new practice in Azerbaijan,” explained one young group leader, Eleonara Mammadzade. “So we came up with a business model that will raise awareness about how important it is to recycle, in a way that creates a new market and new businesses,” she continued.
Working with three other participants, Eleonara created The EcoPaper Project. Their idea is to build a business that creates notebooks, calendars, paper bags and other high-demand products from recycled paper. In their business plan, they outline how their first step would be to build relationships with both local recycling plants and factories. Then, they would use paid advertising on the internet, social media and in local newspapers to raise awareness about recycling. Third, the company would work in partnership with local companies to produce new products to sell in local and international markets. By doing this, they say, they hope to create an eco-friendly business in Azerbaijan that helps the environment and also creates new jobs in their community. Eleonara explained that she and her colleagues are eager to implement projects like this because they know they can effect positive change. And that is exactly why Counterpart and USAID are proud to support the Women’s Participation in Azerbaijan project.
The Rise of Women’s Leadership in Azerbaijan
Today, only 12 percent of Azeri women have decision-making power in government. And in the private sector, Azeri women are even more underrepresented. Empowering Young Women trainings provide the kind of access to strong role models, and skills development that can break the cycle of female exclusion. Here at Counterpart, we are excited to be helping to cultivate the next generation of Azerbaijani women leaders…
As Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary General once said, “gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.”
The Women’s Participation Program in Azerbaijan is implemented by Counterpart International and funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the generous support of American people.