U.S. gives women the POWER to grow businesses globally

Woman standing in field in front of horses (Courtesy of Rena Alimardanova)
Rena Alimardanova owns two agricultural businesses in Azerbaijan. She participated in the Providing Opportunities for Women's Economic Rise program to learn management and networking skills. (Courtesy of Rena Alimardanova)

For Rena Alimardanova, running both a winery and a rice farm in Azerbaijan while raising three children can be difficult.

While women entrepreneurs are not uncommon in Azerbaijan, a small country on the edges of Europe and Asia, Alimardanova says few others run agricultural businesses in the country — much less two agricultural businesses.

Through the U.S. Department of State’s Providing Opportunities for Women’s Economic Rise (POWER) initiative, women like Alimardanova learn management and networking skills to help them run their businesses.

Launched in March 2019, POWER works with U.S. missions abroad to give female business owners in numerous countries the training and support they need to grow their businesses, in part by connecting them to the U.S. private sector.

“In my personal case, the challenge was to juggle between business and family needs and priorities,” Alimardanova said in an email.

Woman speaking into microphone while standing in front of screen (U.S. Embassy Azerbaijan)
After leading successful training sessions in Azerbaijan’s capital in December, Tatyana Mikayilova hopes to expand the POWER program throughout the country. (U.S. Embassy Azerbaijan)

In its first year, POWER has completed successful initiatives in Mexico, Indonesia, Bahrain and Azerbaijan, with more programming planned in countries like Montenegro, Brazil and the Marshall Islands.

Alimardanova was one of 20 female entrepreneurs who participated in POWER’s 10-week business development training in Baku in late 2019. The training, called Scale Up Accelerator for Women Entrepreneurs, focused on management, networking and mentorship.

“Each session had the opportunity to share your experience, concerns, obstacles and achievements,” she said. Because “participants [came] from different areas of business, it was very helpful to learn their paths and share yours.”

Tatyana Mikayilova, who created the Baku training sessions, knows how difficult it is for women like Alimardanova to not only launch their business but also learn how to expand it successfully.

Mikayilova, who started her own communications company in 2009, said female business owners in Azerbaijan have little guidance on growing their businesses. “At some point, even if she is successful at a small business, when it comes to scaling — she’s stuck,” Mikayilova said.

Woman on stage posing for photo with other women (U.S. Embassy Azerbaijan)
Mikayilova leads a training session in Baku, Azerbaijan, to help female entrepreneurs grow their businesses. (U.S. Embassy Azerbaijan)

In addition to mentorship, the POWER initiative provides strategies to help women gain access to capital. Mikayilova hopes to expand the Scale Up program in Azerbaijan beyond Baku to empower female entrepreneurs throughout the country.

“I want to show the local communities that female business is doable, female business is possible,” she said — and that success “is possible without any stigmas or stereotypes.”