In 1993, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev launched Bolashak (Future), an international scholarship programme which has become one of the most important breakthrough projects aimed at increasing Kazakhstan’s competitiveness as a nation. Throughout the 23 years, 12,040 scholarships have been awarded.
In 2001, some of the first graduates created the Bolashak Association, which today brings together more than 1,500 people, represents the interests of the group at different levels of public institutions and uses the potential of the “Bolashakers” as they came to be known to discuss and tackle serious public issues.
Zhumatai Salimov, a member of the Bolashak Association’s Council, answered a few questions about the entity’s main projects, accomplishments and challenges.
Before starting our talk about members of the association, tell me about yourself: when did you graduate from the programme and how did it contribute to you personally?
I graduated from the programme in 2008 when I finished a masters course in Washington D.C. with the specialty public administration. For eight years, I occupied a senior managerial position in public service and just recently I took a crucial decision to move to business. Currently, I am working in the oil service companies’ development sector. By completing this path, I can recommend all on the basis of my personal experience to direct your efforts to building a business and real sector.
Please share figures – how many bachelors, masters and other specialists are there in the country and how many others like you got their degrees through the programme?
If talking in the context of all Bolashak graduates, so out of more than 8,000 of them, 47 percent are masters; 29.5 percent bachelors; 19 percent completed different qualification traineeships; doctorate studies, 1.1 percent; clinical residency, 1 percent; postgraduate studies/internships 0.6 percent.
What areas are in the highest demand?
The most popular is the humanitarian sphere; 52.4 percent of graduates are in this area. As for the technical field, the number is 38.6 percent; medicine, 7.1 percent; artistic, 1.9 percent.
These numbers are impressive, because I believe no other country provides opportunities for citizens studying abroad at state expense at such a scope. To what extent are graduates of the programme demanded in today’s labour market?
They are in demand. It is especially notable today, when the state requires foreign companies to increase the local content. All large international companies have our employees; their language competences and qualifications are no worse than of many expats currently working in Kazakhstan.
Do graduates demonstrate enthusiasm to work as middle specialists?
You know, [irrelevant] ambitions and [too] high expectations are only there for three months. Then a person wants to eat. Showing off is not a long process. This is not the first year of the programme. Twelve thousand scholarships were awarded and 8,000 persons completed their education, not to mention those students who studied abroad on their own or obtained good local education. No doubt, knowledge is important, but it is essential to remember about experience, which is often valued above all.
The highest concentration of graduates is in Astana and Almaty. Do people from the regions want to return to their territories after completing their education?
Let me say that during the acceptance process, rural candidates have some benefits and advantages. Furthermore, the conditions are being created for them to return and help the development of their regions. Currently, representatives of all oblasts participate in the programme; we also have regional representations in Kokshetau, Uralsk and Petropavlovsk.
What does the association do to employ the graduates?
We have been implementing a career centre project which assists young specialists in employment and promotion. The centre’s database of candidates and employers exceeds 4,000. In 2015, more than 40 persons found employment through this instrument. The free of charge online platform hr.bolashak.kz for seeking vacancies is functioning. Moreover, a programme called Internship Bolashak was launched. It focuses on providing Bolashak graduates with paid internships in companies partnering with the programme.
What are other responsibilities of members of the association?
Our activities are concentrated in four directions. Those are charity, development of entrepreneurship among youth, transfer of knowledge and promotion of a healthy lifestyle.
Everything connected to charity falls within the responsibilities of the Bolashak Charity, within which mass actions like Crossfit Bolashak were organised, races and cycling events.
Another direction is Bolashak Business, an important task of which is to persuade graduates of the Bolashak and progressive youth that high-ranking positions are not the most important thing and they can also do well in business. Within this direction, over the last two years we have organised the Startup Bolashak contest and provided opportunities to young people to start their own businesses if they win the contest. The contest is implemented in the format of a reality show and broadcast on a national TV channel. We also had the Bolashak Business Cases initiative. Schedules in any business university are based on business cases. Commonly traditional business cases are used. By doing so, we practically did not have cases from Kazakhstan. Therefore, we decided to issue the first collection of Kazakh business cases called Bolashak Business Cases, where we addressed various problems related to business administration from the perspective of national enterprises.
Our new charity project is Bolashak Lunch lottery, where a winner will share a lunch with one of the most popular and demanded Kazakh musicians Kairat Nurtas.
You also pay special attention to educational programmes.
Sure, we pay attention to education matters, for the association accumulated sound intellectual resources and we consider it important to distribute knowledge further. Our team undertakes various trainings and couching sessions.
Along with all abovementioned initiatives, we have the initiative called “Our knowledge is for our country.” It is a series of lectures for universities and schools. When we recall our times at school, as a rule we realise that lectures of guest speakers were the most interesting, since they motivated many students through their personal example. That is why our guys visit certain regions and speak in front of audiences sharing their experience.
Most commonly they dispel myths about the Bolashak programme, according to which the scholarship is supposedly for special ones. All the procedures are transparent and a huge number of scholarships are provided. There are special incentives for youth from rural areas.
Describe the project of dubbing Hollywood films in the Kazakh language, which was positively evaluated by society.
Thanks for the praise. Indeed, we pay special attention to development of the Kazakh language. We have been implementing this project since 2011. Thanks to the efforts of our team, Kazakh is now one of thirty “official” languages of Hollywood. As of now, we have dubbed around 15 popular films.
We witness strictly organised work within the association. Is it possible for any willing person to join it?
If a person is an active citizen and he shares our aims and objectives, he can enter the ranks of our team. It does not matter if a person is a graduate of the Bolashak or not. For this purpose, it is enough to fill in the blank and submit an application. Non-Bolashakers are accepted at meetings of the association once a year.
Does the association plan to organise any event prior to 25th anniversary of independence?
On this occasion we have the project called “25 Good Deeds,” for purposes of which we launch a number of initiatives in eight directions. These events are taking place throughout the year in all regions of Kazakhstan, where special attention is paid to charity projects designed to provide targeted social aid, including instrumentation of cabinets of psychological and pedagogical correction, support of inclusion in educational institutions, travel grants, charity balls, etc.