“Being a woman entrepreneur is hard,” said Aisha Mambetalieva, a 36-year-old mother of two, who lives in the small village of Kyzyl-Oi in the Kyrgyz Republic.

In 2018, Aisha decided to leave the Kyrgyz Republic’s Community Based Tourism Association, where she worked for 13 years as a guide and manager, to start her own tourism company. Her friends, family, and acquaintances accused her of having a midlife crisis. However, now Aisha is the owner of Kyrgyz Tourism, a company specializing in experiential tours that allow travelers to immerse themselves in the country’s nomadic lifestyle and culture.

From Kyzyl-Oi, a tiny gorge in the Suusamyr Valley, Kyrgyz Tourism is introducing local communities to new business opportunities and jobs. In the past, many people saw Kyzyl-Oi as just a transit point from south to north where drivers spent the night after a long haul.

Today, tourism has brought in new revenue to Kyzyl-Oi in the form of horse rentals, tours, lodging, and food services. From this small village, travelers can take a new nine-day horseback riding tour to Song Kol Lake, located at an altitude of 3,000 meters. The lake is a center of nomadic life. “It is a must-see site in Kyrgyzstan,” Aisha said.

Aisha faced many uncertainties starting her own business. Because of her two children, ages 11 and 7, Aisha could not take the risk of a high-priced bank loan to fund her business venture, despite her passion and will to succeed. Cash-strapped as a startup, she found help from the USAID Enterprise Competitiveness Project, funded by the United States Agency for International Development and implemented by ACDI/VOCA.

In June 2019, just as Kyrgyz Tourism was launching, Aisha received a grant from the USAID Enterprise Competitiveness Project through its “Challenge Fund for New Business Ideas.” “The grant came at the right time,” Aisha said.

With support from this grant, Kyrgyz Tourism is now able to provide professional training to local guides in horseback riding skills and traditional horse care. The training aims to deliver an authentic experience of Kyrgyz nomadic culture, while prioritizing traveler safety. At the same time, guests have the chance to learn traditional equestrian skills and see remote and untouched areas of the country.

Aisha’s company also acquired new high-quality saddles and horse fittings to ensure comfortable long-distance horseback riding thanks to USAID.

With a supportive husband, Aisha is improving not only her own family’s lives, but also the livelihoods of local villagers. She is also inspiring other women in her community to build better futures for themselves and their country.

Aisha is optimistic about her business and plans to launch a YouTube channel and website soon to reach even more clients. “I envision myself as a successful woman with a happy family and supportive colleagues,” she said. “It’s not about money; it’s about attitude, support, and believing in each other.”

 

Learn more about the USAID Enterprise Competitiveness Project.

Learn more about our work in the Kyrgyz Republic.

All photos: Yam G-Jun / USAID