Economic Inclusion

Economic Inclusion

Improving the economic well-being of women and men, particularly youth

Improving the economic well-being of women and men, particularly youth


The issue of economic exclusion is a stark one: The number of unemployed youth globally is estimated at 71 million, with many regions recording a youth unemployment rate twice as high as adults and leading to many 15 to 24-year olds to fall into the category of “working poor”.

Over 40 percent of women remain outside of the formal financial system.  Economic inclusion therefore targets support for and the creation of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), as well as the promotion of entrepreneurship and training in the skills that employers need.  It also includes efforts, such as savings groups, that bring women into the financial system.  And because SMEs generate 50 percent of employment worldwide, the Aga Khan Foundation also helps build the conditions for SMEs to thrive, including the provision of electricity, market system development and other necessary infrastructure.

CASE STUDY: Supporting women-led enterprise
Developing sustainable livelihoods in Central Asia

Challenge: Female participation in society is very low.

Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan contain particularly low-income regions, whose economies and societies have been greatly disrupted by civil unrest and instability. Female participation in society, particularly in rural regions, is very low. Several limiting factors, such as a lack of entrepreneurial skills and access to capital as well as gender discrimination, have resulted in widespread poverty, and a very large gender gap.

Restrictive gender norms can have a damaging effect on women’s independence and self-confidence, confining them to their homes, and restricting their decision-making power. Entrenched deep within rural societies, traditional gender roles currently prevent women from tapping into their potential in business enterprise.

Response: Fostering enterprise and connecting supply with demand

Partnering with the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development, AKF has established a Women-led Small Business Development Programme.

Spanning rural regions across Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, the programme aims to increase women’s earnings, household incomes and food security. It does this by supporting women to produce quality yarn and felt products for overseas exportation.

Overall 24 small businesses are being supported in the production and processing of cashmere, mohair and wool. Women are supported to develop business plans and apply for micro-loans to fund fiber purchase and processing operations. Women in these regions have always possessed the skills for yarn production, but limited access to markets has prevented them from selling their products overseas. To overcome this obstacle, the programme has established links with product designers, buyers, and markets to connect supply with demand. Overseas exposure is providing an opportunity to expand this market, and is allowing women to use their skills to generate an income for their families.

The programme aims to instil confidence within women, empowering them to take a more active role in decision-making processes at the household and community levels.

Key achievements

  • The average expected income for a part-time weaver is $150 per month. This is a significant improvement for rural households in these low-income regions that previously did not have this income stream. Earning an income has also given these women a far greater ability to meet their families’ needs.
  • The quality of yarn has increased significantly, with 95% of it being prepared for export (previously only 25% had been of export grade).
  • One group of 10 spinners can easily process 15kg of fiber per month, or 180kg per year, with a commercial value of approximately $23,400. This market is constantly expanding. US buyers imported 64kg of yarn from the groups in northern Tajikistan for $10,560 in May 2015 alone, with plans to increase even further.

The future

New market outlets are being explored in the US and Europe, which will expand the entire enterprise, and benefit thousands of women, men, and children across these three countries.


The programme aims to empower women to become successful designers and business owners. 


A young woman spinning yarn.


The programme aims to increase the quality of yarn and felt products and then connect this supply with demand.