Big exports, bigger impact
29-year-old Arofat Orzikulova had been unemployed for several years when she finally found a good job at a growing textile company near her home town.
“My first duties at the Imron Textile Group – trimming and cutting off excess threads,” Orzkikulova remembers. “I moved to the packing line, and eventually… became the packing line manager. Now I lead a team of 12 people, and my team packs three to five thousand finished textile products a day.”
Across Uzbekistan, fledging small businesses are proving to be a solution for vulnerable citizens like Orzkikulova. The small-and-medium business sector is the fastest growing in Uzbekistan’s economy, and has attracted considerable domestic and international investment.
Islombek Qutfitdinov directs the Imron Textile Group in Namangan. When he started his business in 2010, he was the youngest entrepreneur in the country. Born in 1991, he shares a birth year with an independent Uzbekistan and is a “child of independence.” This means that he has more opportunities - to travel, to attend events, to meet a variety of partners.
“In recent years, the environment in Uzbekistan has been conducive for doing business,” he says. He wanted to start a business that he would be able to grow. In Uzbekistan, many raw materials and ingredients are imported. But cotton is grown in country, at an affordable price, and there are many qualified specialists in the sector.
“Every person needs to eat and dress,” explains his partner Nasrullo Inoyatov. “We wanted to develop a business that met one of those needs. We believe that the business has a future and won’t disappear tomorrow.”
Having operated for five years but looking for opportunities to expand, Qutfitdinov answered a call for business proposals by UNDP. They were looking for small businesses that had capacity and a plan to grow, as well as a dedication to local development.
With financial and technical help from UNDP’s Aid for Trade project, this company now produces a wide variety of products at a high standard, and has established an international brand.
“UNDP helped us to purchase modernized and energy-efficient sewing and design equipment,” explains Qutfitdinov. “We also hired dozens of new employees, trained them on sewing production techniques, business planning, marketing and product promotion.”
Since 2005, UNDP has worked nationwide, with a focus on targeted rural regions like Namangan. These operations have started at a grassroots level, taking business ideas like Qutfitdinov’s, and building them to the point where they can benefit the community at large.
In Imron Textile Group’s case, their social impact comes not just in the form of monthly wages, but lifelong careers. Since 2015, its production increased 73 percent and its staff went from three to over 50 employees. The company invests in its employees, through training programs, bonuses and team-building activities.
“Good working facilities can be built by many, but if we want to achieve our goals, we need to make our workers feel comfortable and have an encouraging environment,” says Inovtov.
“I came to work not knowing how to sew – I even remember when I used the sewing machine for the first time, I was scared of its high sewing speed,” Orzikulova recalled. “Now I think the machine cannot keep up with the speed of my hands.”
The Imron Textile Group has plans to further expand the size of its building, its mechanical infrastructure and its range of products – strengthening its toehold in the international textile market while also increasing domestic sales. Its exports have grown from US$38,000 to $400,000.
Aid for Trade, supported by the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has collaborated closely with national NGOs, the Chamber of Industry and Commerce, and government departments and ministries to create inclusive employment and economic development in Uzbekistan. Since 2014, it has supported more than 600 businesses and facilitated US$284 million in export contracts.