Sewing a Better Future for Women Entrepreneurs

Damegul Abikhanova now has plans to expand her business by adding services like makeup and photography. © KMF

For more than a decade, Damegul Abikhanova ran a small tailoring shop that specializes in traditional Kazakh clothes—first in rural Kazakhstan, then in the city of Almaty.

Business was good, but Abikhanova, a mother of four, saw the potential for more.

In 2011, she applied to KazMicroFinance (KMF) for a loan. The bank is an IFC partner and one of the few lenders in Kazakhstan focused on supporting female entrepreneurs. Almost half of all businesses in Kazakhstan are owned by women, but they often struggle to get loans and other forms of credit.

In Abikhanova’a case, KMF gave her the $1,300 she needed to ramp up production and introduce new materials into her designs. She credits KMF for both the loan and advice on how to use it. "KMF helped me grow my venture, but more importantly, it helped me learn how to invest in my business,” says Abikhanova.

In 2014, IFC gave KMF a $5 million loan and helped it improve its corporate governance practices, raising them to international standards. Our support helped the firm reach out to greater numbers of entrepreneurs, including women, in remote areas. Financing women is important for Kazakhstan’s all-round development. An increasing number of women are starting their own businesses, but many lack access to capital and advice. They often face the added challenge of running households and raising children.


Expanding and Creating Jobs

Microlenders like KMF play a vital role in developing countries by boosting small women-owned businesses, creating jobs, and promoting economic growth. They provide women with financing, advise them on how to run businesses, and help them achieve a healthy work-life balance. By partnering with these institutions, IFC helps support women-owned businesses in Kazakhstan and across the developing world.

Abikhanova, for one, can attest to the importance of financing. After her first loan, she received two other loans of $5,400 and $7,000. She used the money to buy 15 sewing machines and a vehicle to transport materials and finished costumes. She also hired several workers to increase production to meet the booming demand for her creations.

Now, Abikhanova counts among her customers famous Kazakh musicians and dancers. A remarkable achievement for a woman who, 15 years ago, struggled to make ends meet.

Full of confidence, she shares her vision for the future: "I have ambitious plans to expand the business by adding a full range of services for my clients, including makeup and photography. I am no longer scared of the future. I look forward to making dresses and giving the gift of beauty to more people."

To learn more about IFC’s work with Financial Institutions, visit

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Published in October 2016


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