Over the last decade, collaboration with the private sector in international development has accelerated to empower target populations and realise a sustainable society without inequality and poverty. Existing studies show that paid work could empower vulnerable people, such as women, by expanding their opportunities and the lifestyles to which they have access. However, interrelationships between economic (e.g. income) and non-economic (e.g. empowerment) benefits are not as straightforward as the literature on inclusive business suggests.
This paper explores the case of a development project in the Kyrgyz Republic supported by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in collaboration with a Japanese retail and manufacturing corporation. The felt business upon which they collaborated eventually involved hundreds of women (producers) in villages scattered around Lake Issyk-Kul. This study analyses interviews with local stakeholders, especially felt producers and their families, and reveals both the economic and non-economic effects of the business and their impacts on producers, families, and communities at large. Paid work allows producers to contribute to their household economy, which, in turn, enhances their self-respect. In contrast, the data also show that women’s decisions to participate in the business depended on their individual circumstances, such as the availability of family support and particularly the understanding of their husbands. The paper suggests that the application of business approaches to development has both potential benefits and limitations, since the creation and maintenance of choices and empowerment for women are affected by the intricate relationships between the economic and non-economic aspects of their lives.
Keywords: inclusive business, women, choice, empowerment, capability, Kyrgyzstan