Introducing: the Azerbaijan Impact Days

By Tom Dinneweth

There’s an old saying - the most sturdy houses are built one brick at a time. At the Azerbaijan Impact Days, our local partner Education HUB laid out some of the bricks they are using to build an impact investing ecosystem that can stand the test of time.

First things first - what sort of house are we building here? To provide some insight into this, the four day event in Baku starts with a dance performance. On stage we see the enchanting choreography of DanceAbility (you might remember them!), one of the organizations Education HUB has been working with. For several years, Nigar Sultanova and her crew have been offering dance classes geared towards people with disabilities. Dancing, they say, is not only an activity but a universal language. Helping those with disabilities express themselves through movement makes for a more inclusive society. Watching them perform, it’s hard to disagree. The DanceAbility performance serves as a great example of the kind of impact Education HUB wants to enable. This is what we are building towards.


The builders

DanceAbility provides one example, but there are more. The day after the opening ceremony, guests as well as the general public are invited to attend a exhibition showcase of about 40 social entrepreneurs. You can buy their products at their stands, but in reality the stakes are much higher. Representatives from the local government and different corporations roam the premises. The real goal is to show these people how their involvement can make a real impact on Azerbaijani society. Briefly put, the exhibition is an opportunity to do business.

For many present, it is their first taste of concepts like impact investing, impact fund work and venture philanthropy. Enabling these exchanges is vital, says Education HUB. These moments enable so-called corporate social procurement. In simpler terms, they onboard new impact people.


The construction site

The exhibition and the dance performance serve as food for thought during the Impact For Breakfast. It’s a tried and tested international formula, which brings together possible investors and people from the impact investing space to facilitate engagement, to mobilize funds and to, well, help make some tangible difference.

It’s important not to skip breakfast, especially in Azerbaijan. “Social entrepreneurship as a concept still needs more attention in our country”, states Gulnara Aslanbeyli, executive director of AmCham Azerbaijan. Her message is echoed by Gulnara Ismailova, program manager at Education HUB, who states that raising awareness around impact investing remains of vital importance in the country.

To provide some context: the impact investing ecosystem in Azerbaijan is still very much a work in progress. Numbers from EVPA suggest that many organisations in the field are still at an early stage of development, working with a small group of people, trying to keep their head above water. The EVPA-led Collaborate For Impact project, funded by the EU, aims to help drive this narrative forward.


Let’s build

Rounding off a busy week in Baku, Education HUB hosted the Social Entrepreneurship Forum. A group of 100 ecosystem players joined in a lively discussion on how to progress the ecosystem, how to make progress in establishing a legislative framework and how to provide more access to finance.

Support for the cause came from different players in the field.

Vugar Bayramov, MP in Azerbaijan, said that social entrepreneurship is always a topic on the agenda for them. Orkhan Mammadov, Chairman of the Board of the Small and Medium Business Development Agency, cited how social entrepreneurship is aided by the general increase in entrepreneurship in the country as of late.

Sakina Babayeva, Chairperson of Azerbaijan Women's Entrepreneurship Development Association (AQSIA), noted the important role of female entrepreneurs in the region. "The number of women entrepreneurs in our country is increasing day by day”, she noted. "This shows that women play a big role in strengthening sustainable social economy."


So concluded the Impact Days in Azerbaijan. The house might not yet be finished, but the bricks are all there. Through Collaborate For Impact, we at EVPA will keep building. And if you made it this far - do check out our episode of Impact People, which features the fine folks of DanceAbility.