GreenTal Workshop combines empathy, entrepreneurship to help the socially vulnerable

NUR-SULTAN – GreenTal Workshop, which opened in 2015 as a social project, employs individuals from socially vulnerable groups. Founder Emin Askerov works to popularise social entrepreneurship ideas in Kazakhstan and shares his experience with students in his social entrepreneurship school.

“I worked at Nazarbayev University. I had a good position, high salary and excellent working conditions. However, I did not enjoy my job. I wanted to develop as a person and contribute more to the community I live in. I am an empathetic person and I always dreamed about starting my own business. I thought that these two things were just incompatible,” he said.  

A social worker by profession, Askerov learned about social entrepreneurship in 2014 and realised the business suited his personality. Although he lacked knowledge or background in the field, he left his job the following year and opened GreenTal basketry workshop. The business lost 5.5 million tenge (US$14,315) the first year.

Askerov realised he needed to develop his business side and attended various trainings, took courses at Bishkek School of Social Entrepreneurship and participated in best practice exchange programmes in India, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, the U.K and the U.S.

“We closed down the basketry and opened a sewing shop, carpentry and welding shop. We also provide IT services. Now, we are developing venue decoration services,” he said.

GreenTal currently employs 37 individuals, 29 of whom belong to socially vulnerable groups, such as those who are disabled, orphans, from low-income families, discharged from prison or have mental health issues. The Astana Centre of Mental Health supports the projects by providing the premise for the workshop.

The workshop has two branches in the capital at a children’s home and Astana Addiction Centre. The Astana Akimat’s Employment Centre supports the project by compensating the salaries of those with mental health issues.

“GreenTal is a commercial project. We make a product and sell it on the market. My income from the business is still lower than the salary I earned as an employee, but I get much more satisfaction, because this project helps socially vulnerable people,” he added.

Askerov founded the school of social entrepreneurship in 2017 and visited 13 Kazakh cities with free seminars on the topic. Branches opened recently in Karaganda and Ust-Kamenogorsk.

“Our workshop can employ only 50 people. But if I train 50 people how to start and develop a social project, more people will get an employment opportunity. Chevron recently supported our education project. We received 60 applications and selected 40 of them. We are starting the training sessions soon. Our main purpose is to create a layer of civil society dedicated to the solution of our common social problems,” he said.

“I see a great potential for social entrepreneurship in Kazakhstan. I meet a lot of people in regions who are ready to engage in social projects. We have methodology and experience and we are ready to share it with the people who want to develop projects with a social impact,” he added.

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