A tailor from Balakan shows how running your own business doesn’t have to mean ‘going it alone’

A highly skilled tailor and craftswoman, an inspiring teacher and motivator, a businesswoman and entrepreneur — or perhaps more accurately a ‘social entrepreneur’… Mirvari Azizova is all of these things at once in addition to being the mother of two daughters and a change-maker in her local community.

Born in Balakan in 1968, Mirvari wanted to be a tailor from a young age and eventually opened her own business in a small shop in Balakan.

Mirvari Azizova, Balakan

Always highly active and socially engaged with her family, friends, and neighbourhood, Mirvari soon turned her tailoring shop into a community hub. Here she not only shared the secrets of her tailoring craft with neighbours and friends but also created a space for an informal women’s social club and discussion group.

Among the topics that repeatedly came up in these group discussions was how women in Balakan can best find sustainable ways to achieve greater independence and social empowerment.

For Mirvari, the answer to this question lies in large part in developing feasible micro-business strategies and sharing the benefits of financial success through generating employment and creating cooperative local business and craft networks.

When Mirvari heard about an EU-funded project being implemented by UNDP and ABAD to support small businesses in her region, she was one of the first to take up the opportunity of free training in business skills and other courses aimed at developing local capacities for entrepreneurship.

Among the special courses offered by this project to build local capacities for producing marketable local products, Mirvari opted to learn further skills in carpet-weaving as a business catering to the market for ‘carpet souvenirs’ from this region.

Combining her newly enhanced business and craft skills with her extensive practical business and community work experience, Mirvari successfully developed a business plan for expanding her tailoring enterprise to produce souvenirs on a larger scale with more employees.

As part of its support for small family businesses in the Sheki-Zaqatala Economic Zone through the ABAD Regional Centre in Balakan, the project approved a grant to provide Mirvari with the raw materials and the carpet-weaving machine she needed to expand her tailoring micro-business into a larger-scale enterprise.

Today, Mirvari employs twenty women who work from their homes and in her shops as part of an informal women’s cooperative making small carpets, knitted toys, socks and other souvenirs.

Mirvari helps coordinate the sales of the products through ABAD’s ‘ethno-boutiques’. The women then share the income generated from the sales.

“Together we helped each other get through this pandemic and together we can become the leading producers of souvenirs in the region,” she says. “You have to take all the opportunities you can and when you can’t see any available you have to make them happen for yourself and others.”

True to her word, Mirvari has made the most she can of the project and is now passing on these benefits and opportunities to others. As well as encouraging people in her community to take up the courses on offer, she has also become a trainer of trainers, giving up her time free of charge to teach other women the weaving techniques she learnt.

“Something important I’ve learnt,” she says of her experiences over the past year, “is that being a small business doesn’t have to mean ‘going it alone’. Sometimes the best results are through cooperation. If you support each other and build up each other’s confidence then you can always find a way forward.”

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The “Support to the Development of Small Family Businesses in the Sheki-Zaqatala Economic Zone through the ABAD Regional Centre in Balakan” project is funded by the EU and co-funded and implemented by UNDP and the ABAD State Agency for Public Services and Social Innovations. The project aims to support 44 rural families to start up and expand their own local businesses, providing them with training in business development and planning, branding and design, financial accounting and legal assistance services. The project also provides beneficiaries with the equipment they need to expand.