Development of Women's Entrepreneurship in Kazakhstan: Challenges and Opportunities

Photo by: wattanaracha/CP

Socio-cultural barriers often act against developing women's entrepreneurship in Kazakhstan. Similarly, the education, knowledge, and information gap limit the development of social entrepreneurship in Kazakhstan. Therefore, academia and practice are vital for structured and institutional approaches in developing and supporting women's entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship, and community entrepreneurship in Kazakhstan.

From the very first days of its independence, the Kazakhstani government paid close attention to small business and entrepreneurship development. First, the Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan "On Protection of and Support to Private Entrepreneurship" was accepted in 1992, then the "State Programme of Support and Development of Entrepreneurship in the Republic of Kazakhstan for 1992-1994” was approved and as a result in 1997 the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan issued a decree establishing Entrepreneurship Development Fund (DAMU). The primary purpose of the Fund was to encourage the emergence and economic growth of small business entities in Kazakhstan and use government funds spent for small business support more efficiently. Atameken – the national chamber of entrepreneurs of the Republic of Kazakhstan with its charter of “training, retraining, qualification upgrade, certification and attestation of personnel, the development of technical and vocational education works on several initiatives to strengthen entrepreneurship education in Kazakhstan. In 2007 Kazakhstan became the first country to sign a joint development agreement directly with the US Government, known as the Program for Economic Development. Furthermore, in January 2007, Kazakhstan became the first Central Asian country to be accepted to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitoring (GEM) Consortium. As a result, Kazakhstan participated in a global survey of the World Bank (Doing Business) and Global Entrepreneurship Monitoring (GEM) on par with other countries.

Need for Entrepreneurship Education

Entrepreneurship education is an anchor of economic development. Nevertheless, several state programs encourage business training and entrepreneurship education. Many female entrepreneurs in Kazakhstan state that they lack business training. Moreover, women living in rural areas need to be better informed about different educational opportunities, including courses and programs. The gap in economic education leads to the inability to make conscious decisions and poor awareness of how the organizations that support business development can help them. To preserve entrepreneurial potential and stable economic growth in developed and developing countries, the opportunity to receive special education aimed at entrepreneurial skills should be easily accessible.

Today, Kazakhstan supports women's entrepreneurship through government programs, intergovernmental agreements, and international development institutions. The European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Bank, and UN Women are among them. The principal instrument of women's entrepreneurship is the unified business support and development program, Business Roadmap 2025.

The program focuses on cooperation with international financial institutions, particularly with the EBRD on the Women in the Business project, as well as the Damu Entrepreneurship Fund programs. In addition, financial support tools are currently provided within the Business Roadmap 2025, which serves as a business support and development program. More than one-third of all support measures under the Business Roadmap 2025 project explicitly aim at supporting women's entrepreneurship. According to the Fund for Sustainable Development and Support of Women's Entrepreneurship: women represent 51.8% of the population; 39% of the total GDP of the country is formed by women; the female unemployment rate is 5.3%; women manage about 42% of SMEs; women entrepreneurs provide 30% of jobs in SMEs; women's economic activity is 66.6%.

State education programs for entrepreneurship

There are different government and commercial institutions in Kazakhstan to strengthen state support and boost the development of small businesses. Among them is the Ministry of National Economy of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the highest government authority responsible for government policy realization and developing small businesses and entrepreneurship. The Ministry is the central executive authority that reports to the Government and President of the Republic. Department of Entrepreneurship Development Policy is the structural unit within the Ministry of National Economy of the Republic of Kazakhstan, which is responsible for government support in the standard legal regulation of entrepreneurship development. In addition, the local departments are the governmental support units of entrepreneurship at the regional level. Other organizations that contribute to the development of entrepreneurship are the following: the Board of Entrepreneurs under the President, the National Innovation Fund, the Investment Fund, Bank of Kazakhstan. They help support and speed up the innovation and entrepreneurship development process.

Non-governmental organizations supporting women's entrepreneurship endeavours are the Association of Business Women of Kazakhstan, the Union of Women Entrepreneurs of Kazakhstan, the Association of Women of Kazakhstan “Moldir," the Feminist League, the Federation of Women "Status," the Women's Leadership Fund, the Republican Council of Women, the Women's Association development and adaptation, Business Association of Women Entrepreneurs "ASIA," etc.

Under the "Business Roadmap 2020" program, service support was provided to 118.7 thousand women entrepreneurs. They received specialized business services provided free of charge to support business processes, teach business fundamentals, and professional development. In addition, the implementation of the Business Advisor Program was launched by the “Damu” Foundation, in the framework of which two-day training courses for the population with entrepreneurial initiative and existing entrepreneurs were organized and conducted. At the end of 2021, about ten thousand women entrepreneurs' projects received support within the DAMU framework of subsidizing the interest rate; about seven thousand projects acquired support within the framework of guaranteeing loans. In 2022, women entrepreneurs received 84,000 consultations on information support and more than 17,000 on service support. There are also 17 Women's Entrepreneurship Development Centers around Kazakhstan. The goal is to stimulate women's economic activity. "More than 7 thousand women have received services since the Centres have operated. 30% belong to the category of socially vulnerable layers of the population.

Women lead more than half of Kazakhstan's small and medium-sized businesses related to accommodation and catering services, information and communication, financial and insurance activities, wholesale and retail trade, real estate transactions, science and education, social services (Table 1).

Source: Bureau of National Statistics / * = on average per year, thousand people

At the same time, some barriers and factors hinder the development of women's entrepreneurship. They include:

  • a lack of necessary experience in business;
  • a lack of time for engagement in business since a woman entrepreneur has to combine the managerial duties in the company with the responsibilities of raising children and taking care of the household;
  • the problem of obtaining funds to start her own business and ensure it operates;
  • the low status of women in society, politics, and culture and the limited opportunities associated with this;
  • the gender stereotypes existing in society, which prevent women from taking part in entrepreneurship on an equal basis with men;
  • the need for breaks when caring for children (maternity leave).
  • Kazakh society's ethnocultural specificities also affect the development of women's entrepreneurship.


State sponsored Entrepreneurship Education programs in Kazakhstan must be updated and made more efficient. Particular attention should be paid to developing youth women's entrepreneurship and orienting it toward creating new products in new niches of the post-industrial economy market.

Key Takeaways

  • State programs for the development of women's entrepreneurship education;
  • High rate of women's participation in business (providing jobs in SMEs, women's economic activity);
  • Increase in the number of young women interested in entrepreneurship, in starting and running their own business;
  • Involvement of women in social entrepreneurship, the inclusion of women from socially vulnerable groups in entrepreneurial activity;
  • Women entrepreneurs are primarily engaged in small business;
  • Because of stereotypes and cultural characteristics, women often lack moral, material, financial, and spiritual support in the family.

Dr. Nurlykhan Aljanova, Post-Doctoral Researcher at Nazarbayev University Research Centre for Entrepreneurship (NURCE)

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