Employed Women, Happy Child

Designing Human-Centered Solutions in the Kyrgyz Republic

After Aida’s* children grew up and left home, she was determined to make a difference for other children in her community. She decided to open a kindergarten in her home in the Kyrgyz Republic, but found it difficult to get started and make a profit.

“I struggled to receive a license since the center did not have a library area where children could access literature,” Aida said. “I have been running the center for the past ten years and still not made any profit.”

Four young children sit at two colorful desks as a teacher leans over to look at their work
Children at another AKF-supported kindergarten in Osh, Kyrgyz Republic

Elsewhere in the Kyrgyz Republic, Gulmira* wanted to enroll her child in an Early Childhood Development (ECD) center or kindergarten, but could not find any good options nearby. The state kindergarten had limited spots so Gulmira enrolled her child in a private ECD center. She wasn’t satisfied with the quality of the private center, though, especially for the cost.

“I do not notice any improvement in quality from private schools when compared with public schools.” Gulmira said. “In fact, public kindergartens often have better facilities, and better quality and quantity of food and toys.”

In the Kyrgyz Republic, unemployment and underemployment is high, especially among women. Women make up 51% of people who are registered as unemployed, but the overall figure is likely much higher when unregistered women are taken into account.

Female unemployment has an impact on the whole family. Research from the World Bank and UNICEF indicates that women who are employed or able to earn a living have a positive impact on the overall well-being of children and the entire family. Support for women’s economic opportunities is inextricably linked to the positive life trajectories of young children.

At the same time, only 21% of people in the Kyrgyz Republic have access to ECD services and pre-primary education services for children 2-6 years. The vast majority of ECD centers are in urban areas, leaving semi-urban and rural areas with little access to these services.

Tackling the challenge

The lack of high-quality ECD services in the Kyrgyz Republic, combined with the lack of support for women who want to start private ECD centers, poses a significant challenge. Tackling this challenge could solve two problems at once.

The Kyrgyz Republic needs to create 530,000 additional kindergarten places to meet Sustainable Development Goal 4.2 and ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care, and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary school. This would also generate 120,000 new jobs, the majority of which would go to women, who currently make up to 90% of ECD staff.

Local Impact, a new partnership between the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), is using a human-centered design process to help women in the Kyrgyz Republic generate an income while providing quality care for the country’s young children.

Designing a Solution

The Local Impact design team led an ideation and prototyping process building on recent research done by the University of Central Asia and Accelerate Prosperity Kyrgyzstan, and holding numerous interviews with stakeholders such as the Ministry of Education and Science, representatives of the Kyrgyz Republic Private ECD Association, and other community members.

Through this process, the team connected with women like Gulmira and Aida to answer the question, “How might we increase opportunities for women to become entrepreneurs or obtain employment in ECD sector while also ensuring families can provide adequate support to their youngest children?

A teacher stands outside with a hand pupper as rows of young chidlren sit on benches watching her

The human-centered design process puts women like Aida and Gulmira, along with other community stakeholders, at the center of designing a program to support private ECD centers.

The months-long process resulted in Baktyluu Bala or the “Happy Child” initiative. The key objectives of the Happy Child initiative are to:

  • Improve access to quality ECD services for children in semi-urban areas and creating opportunities for women entrepreneurs to successful run ECD centers.
  • Increase access to ECD services in semi-urban areas of the Kyrgyz Republic.
  • Support women to successfully run ECD centers.

The Local Impact design team is working closely with the Association of Private ECD Centers on the Happy Child initiative. To help meet the objectives, the team is developing an ECD Startup Kit for existing and future women entrepreneurs; building the ECD and business skills of women entrepreneurs; and facilitating community support to help women entrepreneurs continue developing their business.

The Aga Khan Foundation celebrates women, both budding entrepreneurs and mothers, as they seek the best opportunities for themselves, their children, and their families. By using a human-centered design approach, we are working to ensure that women are at the table to both identify the problem and develop the solution.

*Names have been changed