“I was making organic honey for my family."

"I had a hobby of sewing dresses with national motives embroidery."

“I enjoyed growing vegetables in a small greenhouse in my garden.”

"I heard of a program offering business skills training and a possibility to win a grant to start my own business.”

This is how stories of all winners of the Coca-Cola Stepping Stone competition for female entrepreneurs in Kazakhstan begin. Today, these women run their own small businesses and dream big.

Coca-Cola Stepping Stone, or Coca-Cola Belesteri in the Kazakh language, is Coke's social responsibility program that contributes to Coca-Cola’s global 5by20 initiative to support the economic empowerment of 5 million woman entrepreneurs by 2020. The local program, which launched in 2012 with support from The Coca-Cola Foundation, offers training on the basics of entrepreneurship. Upon completion of the program, women hoping to establish their own business are assisted in developing a plan and submitting an application to the namesake business idea competition. Every year, up to 10 business plans win $4,000 grants.

COCA-COLA BELESTERI IN FIGURES:

-       5 years

-       9,040 women received business skills training

-       Over 600 applications for grants to start own business were submitted

-       41 grants awarded during 2013-17

Coca-Cola Belesteri is implemented in partnership with the National Commission for Women’s Affairs in Kazakhstan, Coalition for Green Economy and Development G-Global, and Social Dynamics Public Fund. During the five years of the program’s existence, more than 9,000 women have been trained, and 41 business ideas have won grants, including 10 awarded on Aug. 2, 

The ceremony was held at the International Women’s Forum, which was part of the ongoing World EXPO exhibition in the capital city of Astana. Organized by the Coalition for Green Economy and Development “G-Global”, EXPOWomen Forum convened about 250 participants from more than 10 countries, including Kazakhstan, Finland, France, Italy, Japan, Russia, Turkey, UAE and the United States.

The theme of EXPO Astana is “Future Energy”, with conversations focused on “green” energy and technologies. More than half of the businesses established by Coca-Cola Belesteri winners focus on agricultural produce, and the women extensively use “green” technologies such as drip irrigation, solar power, phyto-diode lighting and more. This is where the program partner, G-Global, contributes its knowledge and expertise.

This year’s grant winners will start production of meat, poultry and dairy products, organize delivery of fresh organic vegetables from the village to a packager and then to customers in the city, and open an atelier for sewing children clothes with national ornaments. Another plans to start her own cleaning business.

“I am very pleased with the growing quantity and, most importantly, quality of the applications for the competition every year. This year, we have received 150 applications and short-listed 40. It was really difficult to choose 10 winners out of them, whereas during the first couple of years we had to work hard to 'grow' three to five winners. Our women have developed immense self-confidence through mentoring and supporting each other,” says Elena Ozhgo, director of the Social Dynamics Public Fund running the project.

All businesses established with the help of the 31 grants awarded in previous years are sustainably functioning and have generated more than 100 jobs. Three women have already grown their businesses to a level where they can secure financing from governmental micro-crediting programs.

Sholpanay Turdysheva (left), a mother of six from Karaganda region, is one of them. She used a grant from Coca-Cola Belesteri in 2016 to buy five greenhouses and turn growing of tomatoes, cucumbers and greens for family consumption into a small business. She later secured a bigger loan from a state fund and is now building green-houses.