ASTANA – Participants in the Kazakhstan Business Connections project met on Sept. 12 in Astana for the USAID Business Connections Project: Kazakhstan-U.S. Cooperation Experience conference, a feedback session on the programme’s strengths and weaknesses and its latest activities.
Begun in 2011, the Business Connections programme has been bringing Kazakhstan entrepreneurs and American businesses and advisers together in an effort to support Kazakhstan’s ongoing work to diversify its economy. The programme funds training sessions for business owners in Kazakhstan, organises business tours to the US, and provides recommendations and technical assistance to the Damu fund, Kazakhstan’s small and medium business support network. The five million dollar, three-year-programme is paid for by the government of Kazakhstan and USAID, the US’s civilian foreign aid agency. It is funded through the Kazakhstan-U.S. Programme for Economic Development, a collaboration between the government of Kazakhstan and USAID.
Over the programme’s first two years, nearly 100 Kazakh entrepreneurs have travelled to the US on business development tours hosted by the Citizens Network for Foreign Affairs (CNFA), an American non-profit development organisation. USAID and the government of Kazakhstan choose the focuses for the tours, which relate to Kazakhstan’s efforts to diversify its economy. Recent tours have focused on horticulture, milling and baking, and the livestock trade. Kazakh participants were exposed to most of the processes along the industries’ value chain and were also given the opportunity to interface with commercial entities in the industries.
The trips so far have resulted in nine deals concluded between Kazakh entrepreneurs and their US counterparts, the largest being a three-year, $10 million contract between an IT company in Karaganda and a supplier of mobile connection stations. The September 2012 livestock tour was also particularly successful. Livestock is a priority in Kazakhstan’s agricultural sector expansion. “On the livestock tour, [participants] interfaced with providers of bull semen and embryos, so they made some deals to move some embryos from here to there … there were several [entrepreneurs] excited about getting that underway,” said CNFA Senior Advisor Thomas Campbell.
The benefit is not all one-way. “In Kansas, our number-one industry is agriculture and our farmers, ranchers and agribusiness leaders know that developing strong relationships with international partners, like this delegation from Kazakhstan, is paramount to future successes for Kansas agriculture,” said Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Dale Rodman at the conclusion of the tour.
Enterpreneurs chosen for the programme are carefully selected individuals with a specific interest in specific categories of business, Campbell said. “Some are more experienced than others, but every one of them was serious about why they were here and they wanted to learn. They came not only to learn but to have access to technologies and go home and do it better. It was very worthwhile in that regard – they were here for a purpose and they did it.”