Nazarbayev University Social Development Fund promotes youth social entrepreneurship

NUR-SULTAN – In 2020, the Nazarbayev University Social Development Fund underwent a transformation from working within the Nazarbayev University (NU) community to funding and supporting social entrepreneurship projects with the potential to have an impact beyond the university. Currently, the fund sponsors nine social projects related to education, ecology, healthy lifestyle and support for children with disabilities.

A work by a student from the Ornek project which is sponsored by the Social Development Fund.

According to the fund’s 2020 report, these projects were selected following the 2020 grant competition. Out of 150 applications received, nine winners were chosen. The fact that seven of the project leaders are still studying at NU and that one winner is an alumnus testifies to the great interest in social impact projects among young professionals.

The aim of this initiative is to make a tangible contribution to the sustainable development of Kazakh society. The path to such development includes various approaches addressing different issues.

For example, the Hello Aul (Village), one of the recently funded projects, aims to increase the level of English language use among rural youth. Hello Aul is run by Bakhnur Ziyabekov who himself benefited from American volunteers teaching English in his village.

The project operates as a two-month course using the helloaul.kz online platform and relying on volunteers to help students reach a conversational level in English. So far, 600 children have completed the program and another 1,000 will be included in the future.

A cover of the self-study English textbook developed by the Hello Aul project.

By extending learning opportunities to children in rural areas, Hello Aul aims to motivate its beneficiaries and improve their communication skills.

Another project that should also have a social impact in the field of education is Ornek (Design). Founded by Rebecca Armsan and Elmira Yusupova, the program contributes to the development of inclusive education in the country by organizing art classes for children with special needs.

“Pictures and images in our head can really convey our inner state and by drawing we release certain situations in life. This is especially important for children, because they do not always have the opportunity to express themselves and ‘express their emotions,’ Yusupova told The Astana Times.

Ornek seeks not only to create spaces and opportunities for these children to learn and practice different arts, but also to promote their creations on the local art scene through auctions and merchandising. The project positions itself as a mix of social and commercial aspects to empower and open the world of art to children with special needs.

Currently, Ornek has taken two rounds of art lessons with 10 children and is developing a selection of their works for later project needs.

An example of a different approach to sustainable development is the TopyraQ (Earth) project which promotes waste recycling and the use of organic fertilizers.

Inspired by the ideal of zero waste, Aizhamal Matiyeva wants to raise awareness of the problem of food waste and encourage the recycling of waste. The prevention of greenhouse gas emissions is also one of TopyraQ’s main motivations.

“I want to live on a planet where environmental awareness and sustainability reign. I know I look at the world through “green” glasses but I don’t want to take them off either! Maybe that’s my mission in this life? Matiyeva explained her personal motivation to carry out the project.

Vermicomposter prototype from the TopyraQ project.

The project provides for the creation of 150 vermicomposters, food waste processing devices, as well as the training of 300 people in their use. Currently, 10 vermicomposter prototypes are being tested in Nur-Sultan, Almaty and Shymkent.

These are just a few examples of how young Kazakh professionals are committed to creating pathways for inclusive and sustainable development.

“Today we see a new generation in our community of active, socially responsible and creative young people who are ready to contribute to the development of our country by implementing innovative projects for the benefit of society. That’s why, starting this year, the fund is committed to supporting the social projects of NU students, alumni and employees and to launching a new direction of impact investing through the development of the social entrepreneurship. It is this type of entrepreneurship that is gaining more and more influence around the world, as it contributes to the lasting solution of many societal problems,” concluded the Managing Director of the Fund Anar Uteshova.

The Social Development Fund plans to continue on this trajectory of developing social entrepreneurship. Supporting business approaches and providing a measurable impact on creating a high quality of life remain priorities.

Joel C. Hicks