Diversification of Individual Choices through Business: A case study from the Kyrgyz Republic

Shimoda, Yukimi (2016). 'Diversification of Individual Choices through Business: A case study from the Kyrgyz Republic' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

abstract This paper examines ways in which the development of individual capabilities through business activities relates to diversification of choices in participants’ lives in developing countries, particularly rural areas. Due to the lack of human resources and necessary infrastructure, rural areas tend to be excluded from investment by domestic and international corporations and are marginalised in both local and global markets. Development projects designed by international and bilateral donors and NGOs have been addressing local development issues through the empowerment of people, for instance, by providing training to improve knowledge and skills. Since the 1990s, the business activities of transnational corporations have gradually brought about socio-economic and -environmental change in societies especially in developing countries, which has resulted in greater awareness of links with social and development issues. Consideration of social responsibility among transnational corporations has been widely recognised as important and is increasingly being discussed in both business and international donor circles. Important guidelines and initiatives for corporate behaviours, such as the Global Compact, the Guideline for Multinational Enterprises, and the Business Call to Action, have been adopted and implemented by international donors and business related organisations, among others. Goal 8 of the Sustainable Development Goals calls on all parties to ‘promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all’. Based on these considerations, inclusive business models have been developed to include low-income people in various forms of value chains in order to pursue the long-term challenge of narrowing economic disparities and inequalities among people. Some inclusive business models contribute to creating employment for low-income community members, including women, who live in rural areas. Job creation for women tends to expand their work beyond their usual household work, bringing economic benefits to themselves and their families. The economic benefits of such inclusive business programs have been widely discussed in the existing literature on inclusive business. Taking a rather different approach, this paper attempts to reveal the non-economic dimensions that are gained through business activities, which have hitherto often been ignored. This study investigates a business model in which Kyrgyz producers and a Japanese transnational retail company, with the support of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, are engaging in the business of selling handicrafts. This business model is currently providing work and generating income among people in the area of Lake Issyk-Kul of Kyrgyzstan, a landlocked country. Through the handicraft business, local Kyrgyz producers, especially women, have gained opportunities for participation in non-household work, thereby earning money to partially contribute to their household economy. The participation of women in the business is simultaneously diversifying the women’s roles within their families and expanding their ability to make choices about their lives. In addition to their other roles as wives, mothers, and daughters-in-law, they have become collaborative breadwinners (though partially). The requirement of mass production to an international standard also enables them to quickly build knowledge and skills and to develop new processes of production in collaboration with others. However, this has also resulted in the creation of some gaps in skills and knowledge among the women. The data for this paper has been collected through ordinary qualitative methods—interviews and participant observation. Interviews were conducted with local producers, especially the women who have produced felt products, as well as family members, and project staff members. This paper focuses on the experiences of several women who have been involved in the felt business. Each of the women came from different family circumstances, and through participation in the work of producing felt products, they developed a new work-life balance—something that they had seldom experienced before. Some women were temporarily supported by family members—husbands, mothers-in-law, and children—in managing household work during the busy time of producing products. With money they gained through the business, they were able to contribute to their children’s’ university tuition fees, and some purchased necessary goods for the family (e.g. clothes, furniture, refrigerators, and washing machine). Participation in the business also contributed to improving communication with other participants, not only within their villages but also in other villages. On the other hand, there were also those who had to withdraw from activities due to child rearing and other reasons. Their experiences and perspectives reveal the ways in which participation in the felt business has transformed (or not transformed) certain socio-cultural aspects of their lives. Taking into account the historical transition of gender roles in Kyrgyzstan, this paper discusses relations between influences of the felt business on individual women’s capacities and the diversification of their choices and roles. Addressing some of the issues surrounding inclusive businesses, this paper concludes by suggesting the necessity of paying careful attention to work-life balance in working towards the sustainability of inclusive business models.

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