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“Never Give Up” Highlights Entrepreneurship Spirit in Naryn

In 2018, there were 2.5 million economically active people in Kyrgyzstan with 61% men in the labor force. Based on a report published by UN Women in 2021, approximately 38% of working women in the Republic quit their jobs for several reasons including childbirth and family responsibilities.

With an average wage of only US$ 230 per month in Kyrgyzstan, and the devastating impact of COVID-19 on the economy, and Real GDP contracting by 8.6%, almost 40,000 people lost their jobs. The pandemic exacerbated existing structural and gender inequalities in employment with around 52% of low-income families reporting deterioration in their financial situation.

A land-locked country such as Kyrgyzstan whose economy relies mainly on services, remittances, and natural resources, the University of Central Asia (UCA), with its mission to develop human capital in the region, launched the Naryn Centre for Entrepreneurship (NSE) in 2021.

Hailing from Naryn city, Zhanara Erkinbek Kyzy, graduated from Naryn State University in 2018 with a degree in English Language and Literature. After studying for four years, she expected to find a suitable job that would help feed her family. “I struggled a lot to find a job related to my field but remained unemployed and eventually had to become a part-time tour guide at a local art gallery.”

Zhanara UCA AKDN

Zhanara conducting an English class for high school students.

Zhanara decided not to give up on her hope of being successful, and feeding her family was a strong motivation. “If I could not find a livelihood then I had to build one for myself as giving up was not an option.” She took a loan of 20,000 KGS (US$ 240) to start an English Language Centre named “Speak Up”. She rented one room to establish her modest start-up enterprise, and later hired two employees as business began to grow.

“I started earning decent money but felt I lacked the knowledge of important business concepts. In 2021, when NCE was launched and there was a call to join the first cohort, I grabbed the opportunity without hesitation. With UCA’s credibility and training that was provided free of charge, I finally had the chance to further develop my skills.”

NCE was established with the objective of creating job opportunities in mountain communities. It provides Expert Entrepreneurship and Business Incubation programmes to teach students advanced business concepts, including leadership and management, along with providing them with a workspace, mentorship support, and networking opportunities.

“Witnessing my professional growth, my husband also enrolled himself in the second cohort at NCE and is working on a business model for establishing a clothing boutique in Naryn. We also plan to further expand the English Language Centre. NCE has provided us the knowledge to build our Unique Selling Points so that our businesses stand out among the competitors.”

In high spirit and an optimistic outlook for future, Zhanara shared, “Never give up and always look for opportunities to make your dreams come true. Life is too short to be afraid of embarking on new ventures.”

NCE has been established with a generous support from The United States Agency for International Development and the Aga Khan Foundation. A similar Centre has been also launched in Khorog, Tajikistan.