In Azerbaijan, new women entrepreneurs off to a fresh start

Women entrepreneur at her newly opened fitness centre

When 31 year-old Gunel Samadova heard about the recently opened Women Resource Centre in Neftchala, she immediately signed up for the course. The centre offers, among other things, technical support to women to set up their own companies.


  • The project has led to the establishment of the Women Resource Center in Neftchala and 6 women-led companies.
  • 40 women learnt new interviewing skills and developed their skills to effectively search for jobs.
  • 20 officials from Azerbaijan’ s State Committee for Family, Women and Children Affairs learned how to assess and address women’s and men needs in state programs focused on advancing women’s participation in social and economic lives.
  • 16 young facilitators received training in organizing and leading peer discussions on topics related to gender roles and violence against women.

‘I have been dreaming about opening a fitness centre in Neftchala to promote healthy lifestyle among women and men’, Gunel says. ‘I knew this could be my once in a lifetime chance.’

In Neftchala, a rural district in Azerbaijan, women can access education and modern technologies without restriction. However, as in the rest of the country, women occupy mainly low-paid positions in education and healthcare sectors or perform unpaid care work. Only 0.8 percent of women in the region run their own business.

Gunel attended the training together with 40 other women. They learned how to develop business plans for enterprises, manage company finances, negotiate with suppliers, analyze the market, and offer competitive services.

The course participants were then encouraged to draft business plans for their ‘dream businesses’ and compete for in-kind support to set-up their own business.

“Our project is the only one of its kind in the region,” said Leyla Fathi, UNDP Project Officer, who is organizing the project with partners . “It focuses on increasing participation of rural women in the labour market, giving a rare but real chance to get formal employment and enjoy the benefits of social protection.”  The project is being implemented in partnership with Coca-Cola Foundation and Azerbaijan’ s State Committee for Family, Women and Children Affairs.

Gunel spent hours redrafting her proposal, but it was worth it. Her project was selected out of 9 business plans submitted to the selection committee. “This was the happiest moment of my life. For a moment, I felt like I am the most powerful woman in the country,” she laughed.

 “Our women no longer focus on what they don’t have but rather discuss the next chapter in their business and social lives”, remarked Gulgadam Mirzazade, chairperson of Neftchala Women Resource Center.  

Drawing on the experience of the Women Resource Center in Sabirabad, the project also looked to mobilize a network between women in the region, the local authorities, and the business sector.

“Such networks help to bring more women from rural areas into a formal employment and give a platform for their wider participation in the social life. This is especially important for  women from villages, whose rights and opportunities are often denied,” said Sadagat Gahramanova, Deputy Chairperson of State Committee for Family, Women and Children Affairs.

“Before, I couldn’t even support my family. Now, I am the owner of a small fitness center that helps our community stay healthy.” Gunel said.  “What more could I want?”