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  • Young students draw at an AKF-supported kindergarten in Osh, Kyrgyz Republic. (Photo taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.)
    AKDN / Christopher Wilton-Steer
Aga Khan Foundation
Employed women, happy child: Designing human-centred 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 licence since the centre did not have a library area where children could access literature,” Aida said. “I have been running the centre for the past 10 years and still not made any profit.”

Elsewhere in the Kyrgyz Republic, Gulmira* wanted to enrol her child in an Early Childhood Development (ECD) centre 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 centre. She wasn’t satisfied with the quality of the private centre, 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 rates are high, especially amongst women. Women make up 51 percent 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 percent of people in the Kyrgyz Republic have access to ECD services and pre-primary education services for children ages 2-6 years. The vast majority of ECD centres 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 centres, 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 percent 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-centred 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 the ECD sector while also ensuring that families can provide adequate support to their youngest children?”


The human-centred design process puts women like Aida and Gulmira, along with other community stakeholders, at the centre of designing a programme to support private ECD centres.
AKDN / Christopher Wilton-Steer

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 in semi-urban areas of the Kyrgyz Republic.
  • Create opportunities for women entrepreneurs to successfully run ECD centres.

The Local Impact design team is working closely with the Association of Private ECD Centres on the Happy Child initiative. To help meet the objectives, the team is developing an ECD Start-up 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-centred design approach, it is working to ensure that women are at the table to both identify the problem and develop the solution.

*Names have been changed.

 This text was adapted from an article published on the AKF USA website.