BAKU, Azerbaijan, October 4. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) aims to support exports of Azerbaijani agricultural products, said Michael Nehrbass, USAID mission director in Azerbaijan. Orientation in an exclusive interview.
“We are trying to focus on increasing exports and working with Azerbaijani partners to identify barriers and recommend policy changes. And all of this is done with the vision of fostering the growth and expansion of these businesses, which will create more jobs. We are really trying to make it easier for Azerbaijani agricultural companies to transport their agricultural products to wholesale and retail markets, so that these agribusinesses can access large markets in the city,” he said.
Regarding the regions of Azerbaijan, where USAID supports the agricultural sector, Nehrbass mentioned several, such as Lankaran, Samukh, Ganja, Zaqatala and Khachmaz.
According to the mission chief, USAID also promotes US-Azerbaijani business relations, which helps introduce new technologies to Azerbaijan.
The initiative, called USAID Private Sector Activity, uses a partnership and co-investment approach to help create a more resilient economy that also helps improve the business-enabling environment.
“So what does this look like for agribusiness, for example? We support the growth of agribusinesses by providing personalized technical assistance. To make it sustainable, we use local business development service providers. So these are organizations that are already here in Azerbaijan, speaking the language and knowing the country. Together we are working to improve the production and marketing of agro-industry,” he explained.
In addition to this, USAID also organizes regular working groups that bring together stakeholders and SMEs with representatives from the Ministry of Economy of Azerbaijan, the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency, and the Department state tax, Nehrbass said.
“We convene these working groups so stakeholders can identify barriers to small business, and the working groups have developed action plans to address these challenges,” he noted.
Under the Memorandum of Understanding with the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency, USAID aims to support the capacity, productivity and competitiveness of Azerbaijani SMEs, the mission chief added.
Speaking further, Nehrbass talked about the support USAID provides to Azerbaijani youth. Thus, USAID launched free English courses for young people in Azerbaijan.
According to the head of the mission, the training aims to improve the “employability” of young people in Azerbaijan.
“We do it in Ganja, Zaqatala and Sumgayit. The first 90 participants graduated this year and the goal is to train 700 people by 2024,” he said.
USAID is implementing a project through the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) called “Economic Empowerment for Entrepreneurship and Employment”, which has been running since 2015, for women’s employment support and young people, said Nehrbass.
“Some of this youth-focused activity began in 2019, when USAID established Professional Growth and Innovation Centers in Ganja, Zaqatala, and Sumgayit, with support from the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare of India. Azerbaijan,” he said.
To date, USAID has provided training in career planning, job skills development, and entrepreneurial thinking to nearly 600 youth, the mission chief noted.
“The project also trained 900 young people online, during the COVID-19 pandemic. And about 500 young people were trained in short technical workshops on technical skills, such as using Excel, managing social media, graphic design. In total, this project has trained nearly 2,000 young people since 2016,” he added.
USAID also aims to support women entrepreneurs in Azerbaijan. In this regard, USAID and the American Chamber of Commerce in Azerbaijan (AmCham) will present a national business program for women in Azerbaijan.
“USAID works regularly with AmCham to improve the business environment in Azerbaijan, especially for women entrepreneurs. We work together because AmCham helps us as an active member of a steering committee, which is dedicated to building a national business agenda for women,” he said.
According to the Head of Mission, USAID has been working with AmCham and other stakeholders for about a year and a half on the development of this business program, and the official presentation to roll out the program will take place on November 3, 2022.
Additionally, thanks to USAID support, 200 women in Azerbaijan have already started their own businesses.
“To date, we have already trained more than 1,000 women in Azerbaijan,” he said.
According to the head of the mission, USAID funds the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to train women to run their own businesses.
“So, together with UNDP and the State Committee for Family, Women and Children, we have established resource centers for women in such regions of Azerbaijan as Masalli, Zagatala, Khachmaz and Sumgayit, and we also support 6 other centers in other locations,” he said.
As Nehrbass explained, these centers play a multi-faceted role.
“The idea is basically for women to come together to receive business development training, network and learn from each other. And, in addition to providing business development support for women, these centers provide also crucial assistance to victims of domestic violence,” he said.
By improving the business environment for micro, small, and medium enterprises, USAID is helping to start businesses that will help diversify and strengthen the non-oil economy in Azerbaijan, especially women-owned businesses, added the head of mission.
USAID’s overall goal in Azerbaijan is to advance the building of prosperity for people and communities, Nehrbass emphasized.
“Over the past 30 years, our bilateral partnership is reflected in USAID’s commitment of more than $400 million to support Azerbaijan’s humanitarian and development needs. During my time here, I hope to strengthen our partnerships with the Azerbaijani government, donor communities, the private sector and civil society – all in projects that will help improve the lives of Azerbaijanis,” he said. .
According to the head of mission, the Azerbaijani government and the US government have common interests.
“For example, improving agriculture in Azerbaijan to help diversify the non-oil economy, strengthen health systems and improve the well-being of women and young people – these are our mutual interests,” Nehrbass said.
Additionally, as the Head of Mission pointed out, USAID pays special attention to the well-being of the internally displaced persons in Azerbaijan.
“USAID has a very strong track record of working in Azerbaijan to help displaced people. In the early 1990s, we provided support to over 800,000 displaced people in terms of housing, school repairs, primary health care, water and agriculture. At the moment, we have no activity for displaced people. The US government regularly discusses the issue with its Azerbaijani counterparts on how best to support the internally displaced. So this is something that is ongoing,” he added.
As Nehrbass pointed out, USAID’s overall priority is to create a better environment for private sector growth with a focus on the agriculture and tourism sectors, as well as to devote more resources to promoting gender equality and women’s economic empowerment. These are the priorities that the USAID Chief of Mission has determined in cooperation with Azerbaijan in the years to come.
“All of these initiatives are aimed at creating jobs and raising living standards. We will continue the implementation of our current projects by supporting women entrepreneurs, the agricultural sector, agro-tourism, private sector development, the fight against human trafficking, capacity development of civil society organizations, improving the transparency and responsiveness of public institutions, as well as promoting youth development. . And I would like to point out that in all these projects, we work closely with government agencies such as the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of economy and many others,” concluded the mission director.
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