You can too! How the EU supports women entrepreneurs in Azerbaijan

March 1, 2024

  • I want to start my own business, but I’m not sure my idea would work. Who can advise me?
  • I already have a business, but my biggest challenge as a businesswoman is to take it to the next step: is there any EU support available for me?
  • Are there women like me, who started their own business with EU help?
  • 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?
  • Whom can I ask for help?
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I want to start my own business, but I’m not sure my idea would work. Who can advise me?

The European Union is very active in supporting the development of new businesses in Azerbaijan, particularly among women and particularly in the regions, so don’t think that you need to be in Baku, to have a higher education or an established business in order to access EU support.

Here are some examples:

The EU-funded, Collaborate for Impact project aims to develop social entrepreneurship and social investment in the Eastern Partnership countries. In Azerbaijan it partners with the Education HUB to provide access to non-financial resourceseducation and mentoring programmes, as well as social innovation competition events to promote new social business models. Check out the Education HUB website and Facebook page for news and opportunities and visit the Collaborate for Impact website for success stories and podcasts from Azerbaijan.

Working with UNDP through the Developing innovation-driven and sustainable civil society in Azerbaijan project, the EU also offers business training on social entrepreneurship, helping you to develop practical skills in idea generation, business design and planning, sales and marketing, as well as measuring and reporting the social impact of your business. The project will also offer ideation and acceleration programmes, working towards the creation of a Social Enterprise Platform in Azerbaijan. Follow UNDP in Azerbaijan for latest news and opportunities.

In rural areas, the EU4Lakaran project supports small farmers and MSMEs, aiming to ensure new opportunities and support jobs, especially among women, delivering training on new technologies and support in producing safe, high-quality and marketable food supplies. Check the UNDP Azerbaijan Facebook page for news and opportunities.

One of the aims of the BRIDGE project strengthening civil society organisations is to help them address the recovery and livelihood needs of the most vulnerable communities affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Karabakh conflict, including by supporting skill development and career counselling among vulnerable groups and to stimulate gender-sensitive development through new income-generating activities and micro-businesses.

In addition, the EU4Youth programme is launching a series of projects aimed at enhancing youth employment and entrepreneurship in the Eastern Partnership region, including Azerbaijan, which will include mentoring, training programmes and apprenticeships. Follow the EU4Youth page for upcoming opportunities.

I already have a business, but my biggest challenge as a businesswoman is to take it to the next step: is there any EU support available for me?

If you are looking to develop your business, funding, advice and training are available through the EU4Business initiative, which supports private sector development across Azerbaijan.

For example, the European Fund for South East Europe (EFSE) works with local partners AccessBank and Bank Respublika to provide finance (average loan size €4,000) to the smallest businesses in sectors such as agriculture, industry, trade and services.

In addition, the EBRD’s Women in Business programme offers training and 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 start-up, the EBRD’s Star Venture programme targets promising start-ups, accelerators, and consultants to unleash their full potential, offering business diagnostics workshops, customised consulting and mentoring, and access to finance.

For the full range of current EBRD training, advisory and funding opportunities for women in business, make sure that you follow the EBRD Advice for Small Businesses in Azerbaijan on Facebook. You will find online courses tailored for women in business, workshops for SMEs, consultancy opportunities and start-up support.

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

There are more than you can imagine!

Of the almost 9,000 SMEs supported in Azerbaijan under the EU4Business initiative in 2022, 14% were women-owned. Support to SMEs led to total extra income generated of €19 million, 3,639 new jobs, 12% growth in turnover, and 10% increase in exports.

For example:

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 EU4Business 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.

Vusala Ahmadova took part in an EU4Business training on developing the skills and confidence of rural women to enable them to become entrepreneurs, helping her to develop her education academy in the city of Tovuz.

Aytekin Sadiqova received funding and training on how to run a business from an EU-funded project 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.

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?

The EU supports Azerbaijan in strengthening the quality of the Vocational Education and Training (VET) system by modernising institutions to deliver skills-based training matching the needs of the job market. Specifically, the EU-funded project, ‘VET for the future: development of VET providers’ excellence in Azerbaijan’, implemented by UNDP, opens up vocational training opportunities not only for young people who recently left high school but also for senior citizens wishing to obtain new qualifications and find work, as well as persons with disabilities. Among its activities, the project has established four career centres in Baku and Ganja, with plans to open another three, and developed free short-term inclusive courses in the professions of cook, confectioner, tailor, florist, stained glass artist, hairdresser, as well as social media marketing and programming.

In 2022-23, there were 23,340 places for 127 vocations in 66 vocational educational institutions in Azerbaijan. Find out more and apply on the government’s VET portal and search #SənDəPeşəyəGəl (‘JoinVET’), the hashtag for the social media information campaign about vocational training opportunities in Azerbaijan.

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

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.

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 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, as does the EBRD Advice for Small Businesses page on Facebook.

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