On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September, Central Asian nations took the stage when the Presidents of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and the Kyrgyz Republic met for the first time as a group with US President Joe Biden at the Central Asia C5+1 meeting in New York. The gathering highlighted the growing importance of Central Asia as a geopolitical player and the need to shore up these economies as the war in Ukraine continues to have a negative impact in the region.
Against this backdrop, USAID awarded Palladium US$18M to expand the organisation’s work under the Central Asia Future Growth Initiative (FGI). The initiative began in 2019 and this new phase is designed to incentivise the private sector, increase local competitiveness, and create new jobs across several business areas, including textile and apparel, food and beverage, IT, and tourism.
The project's goal is to improve incomes for Central Asia's growing workforce and spur productive economic growth across the five countries. To get there, Palladium will provide technical assistance to local entrepreneurs to secure financing, network with other business leaders, and advance laws and regulations that support business growth.
“Central Asia is strategically located at the crossroads of Russia, Iran, and China and has substantial energy resources and vast economic potential,” says Maria (Masha) Martinkov, Palladium Managing Partner for Supply Chain Management.” The additional investment by USAID will foster growth in the digital and green economies and create new business opportunities for the Central Asian industries to expand their operations across the region and in international markets.
Supporting Employment at a Critical Crossroads
“When we first started, we were working with what we call ‘anchor firms,’ or larger more established businesses, leaders in their sectors,” says Filip Stoyanovich, the project’s Chief of Party. “Now the focus will be on small-and-medium sized enterprises and those run by women, youth, people with disabilities, and other marginalised entrepreneurs to link access to investment and opportunities so they can create sustainable, productive companies and job opportunities.”
“I’m especially excited to see future growth in Central Asia as a hub for informational technology and remote digital support,” he adds.
Palladium will administer a US$6M grant fund as part of this effort over the next three years. Grants help de-risk meaningful investments and upgrades by the businesses, which drives results for the business leaders in the program.
While the countries have not always operated as a region, this project fosters coordination and collaboration among different industry actors, improving the economic health of the whole region.
“Our Central Asia team has made a huge impact already under USAID’s Enterprises, Employment and Enabling Environment – E4 program that started in 2019,” says Martinkov. “Despite the global pandemic, the team collaborated locally to facilitate over US$94 million in investments, created and improved more than 21,000 jobs, and provided technical assistance in the development of 17 laws and regulations that now facilitate business growth.”
She adds that despite the difficulty working during this period, the additional investment in this new phase under FGI is a testament to the many achievements made to improve job opportunities and promises to foster more sustainable enterprises and exponential job growth. The project’s emphasis on regional interconnectivity and inter-regional trade will contribute significantly to the overall economic resilience of Central Asia, amplifying the region's importance as a buffer zone of stability.
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