Manizha Mamadnabieva: Breaking the Mold in Central Asia

March 10, 2021

Manizha Mamadnabieva, IFC Country Officer in the Kyrgyz Republic, reflects on her life and career path, what inspires her, and how to change gender perceptions in a male-dominated environment.

What is your personal story?

Looking back at my childhood, the collapse of the USSR in 1991 had a big impact. It brought not only independence to my home country Tajikistan, but also a civil war. My parents moved to Russia to survive, while I, a 12-year-old girl, along with my younger siblings, moved to Pamir, a remote mountainous region, to live with our grandmother. Lack of electricity, the terrible cold both inside and outside, food rationing – and happiness when people received humanitarian food aid – these memories are still strong.

Did you ever return to Tajikistan?

After a 10-year stay in Russia, where our family had finally been reunited, I returned to Tajikistan in 2005. With a degree in finance with honors, an internship in the US, and several years of work experience in the Russian financial sector, I wanted to go back and help my country.

Tell us about your career at IFC

I joined the IFC Tajikistan office as an Associate Investment Officer in 2009 after completing my studies in the UK. For me, IFC is a place where my financial background, private sector experience, and interest in the development agenda all come together. I was promoted to Country Officer for Tajikistan in 2014 and in June 2019 an opportunity was presented to me - to lead the Kyrgyz Republic Country Office. It was the first time in the ECA region that a CO had moved from their country of origin and initial assignment. It was a challenge and a way to further hone my business development and relationship management skills.

What are the biggest challenges for women leaders in Central Asia?

Gender issues in the Central Asian region are “alive and well”. Most people don’t want to admit the challenges women face in trying to get ahead. From a young age, girls are groomed to marry and create a family. Women are traditionally expected to focus only on the home and children. The environment has proven to be challenging for professional development of women.

Manizha Mamadnabieva with her husband and three kids. Credit @ Manizha Mamadnabieva.

How do you deal with these gender stereotypes?

I got married at 32, which was late for Central Asian traditional standards. I have faced gender issues in both my personal and professional life. I remember well how my mostly male counterparts in my job at a microfinance company, when I had just returned to Tajikistan, would think I was a translator or an assistant.

I often ask myself: What can I do to maximize the chances of succeeding as a woman? One of my key priorities is changing the perception of women by my counterparts by proving to them that I can get things done. And little by little these perceptions also start changing in people around them. You become a role model.

How do you balance your life and work?

My family and my three sons age four, six, and eight are my inspiration to effectively balance work and life. I joke that I’m in a male-dominated environment even at home. Having a family to care for while performing at a high-visibility job has helped me advance my strategic planning, time-management, and organizational skills to be able to juggle the many responsibilities. I found out that efficiency increases with motivation – but having the support of my husband is key.

What energizes you about your work?

Making the big things small and the small things big is always my inspiration for work. At some point, I was in charge of our two IDA countries (Tajikistan and Kyrgyz Republic), where most people can’t afford a real business investment. For me, it is important to contribute to the development of people’s lives like we did with investments in a greenfield confectionary plant in Tajikistan, which resulted in the creation of about 100 jobs, or an investment in two microdeposit organizations in Tajikistan that allowed people in remote regions to have access to housing finance. A $6 million IFC loan to a leading bank of the Kyrgyz Republic results in support of women-led businesses during COVID-19. I do understand why I work for IFC: It does matter.

Published in March 2021