Problems always arise when a woman forces her way into a man’s world. Men will wonder “what is she doing here, why doesn’t she cook or sew?”
This is especially true in Tajikistan, which is a country with certain traditions and family rules.
So, when I launched Atlas Taxi, Good Taxi - the only taxi service in Dushanbe with a woman as its head, people told me: “You are mad.”
I graduated as an economist, had worked at the Ministry of Economy and Development and later as a senior sales manager, then worked on a World Bank project that provided assistance to low-income families.
Although I never stopped my professional development when I got married and had children, becoming a director and a business owner would have been impossible.
But seven years ago, my marriage broke up. I was alone with three children to care for. I wanted to prove to myself and my children that I was able to achieve whatever I wanted, even in a male-dominated sphere. I was father and mother all in one person. This was probably what prompted me to take the risk.
I previously worked for a couple of taxi companies so had experience in the transport industry. But my problem was not getting my company going. My problems started when I put a team of drivers together because it was hard for the male drivers to accept orders from a woman. When I gave them instructions they would protest loudly or simply keep silent or pretend they didn’t hear anything. It was hard for me to deal with. I feared that I would be unable to manage this situation or communicate my development plans to my team.
I was dealing with a lot of stress. I was fearful of competition because there were so many taxi services here in Dushanbe. I had taken a risk to launch a taxi company while there were already ten such companies out there.
I was helped by a course “Company and Idea” for women entrepreneurs, based on the International Labour Organization’s Start and Improve Your Business programme. The mentors taught us how to run a business correctly. So, after listening and talking to them I convinced myself that I was not ‘just a woman’, not ‘just a female manager’. I was a director. This approach helps to change the mindset of women who supervise men’s work in a man’s world. It obliges you to be fair, practice what you preach, be honest to colleagues and employees. Then you will be listened to without being labelled ‘hysterical’.
I started out with a team of five. Today we have 12 people at head office and more than 300 drivers. We have a mobile application for both customers and drivers. No such thing existed 5 years ago.
All my staff have an official employment contract and working hours in accordance with the labour code. They are entitled to annual, sick and unpaid leave.
The drivers are our partners. We hold monthly competitions to encourage them to provide better services.This helps them develop a positive attitude and an understanding that they are part of the team.
Why do I have “Good Taxi” in the company name? Ever since I was a child, I’ve always wanted to help children in need – especially children whose families do not have the resources to provide them with clothes, food or education. When I launched Atlas Taxi, Good Taxi, I decided my company would always stand by vulnerable families.
Through our mobile application, and our Facebook and Instagram pages, we invite our customers to participate in our charitable activities.
We provide food and help organize celebrations for children from low-income families on New Year’s Eve and on Children’s Day on 1 June. We’ve also helped families prepare their children for school by providing uniforms, stationery supplies and backpacks.
Once a month, residents can contact our call centre and ask us to collect clothes they want to donate. My drivers collect these clothes free of charge and bring them to our office. Over two years we have built up a fairly extensive list of low-income families who come here to select clothes for themselves or their children.
2020 was difficult for everyone because of the COVID-19 pandemic. We lost 90 per cent of our orders. Our workers had to take unpaid leave. No words can express how difficult it was. At one time I thought everything would collapse and I would be out of business.
Then we launched a delivery service to bring medicines, clothes and food to patients. The delivery service saved us to some extent. We also partnered with other taxi companies, so together we were able to survive.
Ten years ago, I could not have imagined the situation I am in now: having my own business, being a female boss or 'raisa' as they say here in Tajikistan. But I said to myself: do not fear your own ideas, and you will realize them.
I know many girls who can move mountains, but stereotypes and fear of what people and society will say, will sometimes stand in their way. But every girl, every woman should believe in herself.