Nazarbayev University hosts Harvard University’s largest student-run conference in Asia

NUR-SULTAN – Nazarbayev University hosted Aug. 16-Aug. 20 the Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations Conference (HPAIR), gathering 500 students from the world’s top universities to address emerging challenges in the Asian region.

The HPAIR delegates for a group photo. Photo credit: Nazarbayev University Press Office.

Organised since 1991, HPAIR provides a platform to students to discuss political, social and economic issues facing the Asia Pacific Region.

HPAIR hosts two conferences every year – one at Harvard and one in a host city in Asia. The conference has been to 12 countries involving more than 10,000 students from across the world.

Nazarbayev University won a six-month intensive and highly competitive bidding process, winning the right to host the conference for the first time in Central Asia, enabling to tap the huge opportunities the region presents.

“For us, this year, as we were looking over 30 years on, where we should host our next conference, the topic of the fact that we had never been to Central Asia was very much at the top of our minds,” HPAIR Executive Director and Harvard senior student Charles Michael told The Astana Times in an interview for this story.

“This year, with the very strong bid put forward by Nazarbayev University as well as the readiness of this city to host a conference of this scale, we felt as though this was the year in which we would make our impact as having our first ever HPAIR Asia Conference in Kazakhstan, in Central Asia. That’s allowing us to serve the region of Asia, which we have not been able to tap into in the past and continue our mission of fostering international dialogue among the rising young leaders of all of Asia,” said Michael.

The HPAIR delegates for a group photo. Photo credit: Nazarbayev University Press Office.

An international spirit and the global network of young and ambitious leaders are among the distinct features the conference offers to its delegates.

“With the Asia conference, travelling from a different Asian university to another one each summer, we really have the unique opportunity to target different regions of Asia and that is one of the most significant aspects of this year’s conference. So HPAIR has the unique distinguishing factor of being able to switch our location every summer and for a lot of our attendees and speakers and sponsors, that is the asset they cannot find with any other international conference of our peers,” said Michael.

HPAIR is also an opportunity for Kazakhstan to raise its international profile.

“I think it is important for our students, but also beyond that, it is important we invite the world here. It is important to get Kazakhstan, Nur-Sultan city, Nazarbayev University known to the world and I think it is this type of events and conferences that are helping in spreading the word,” said Nazarbayev University President Shigeo Katsu.

The participants discussed global markets and economy, art, media and culture, social policy and social justice, energy and environmental sustainability, governance and geopolitics, science and technology.

“As you can imagine, during the short span of conference, it is impossible to discuss all of the content that is relevant to our world today. So, by having two different conferences over the years, we are able to target a wider range of speakers, and that’s offer a wider range of content to those who attend our conference,” said Michael.

The speakers included well-known figures in politics, business and academia, such as UNICEF Korea President Dr. Song Sang-hyon, former Indian Foreign Minister Nirupama Rao, former Head of Standard Chartered Bank’s Global Markets for the Middle East and North Africa Daniel Azzi, Nobel Peace Prize winner Rae Kwon Chung, among others.

The highlight of the programme was the Impact Challenge, a case competition, where leading companies, such as the Boston Consulting Group, Deloitte, the Astana International Financial Centre and the Eurasian Resources Group, tasked the delegates to formulate solutions to the problems facing the Central Asian region and the world.