NUR-SULTAN – The Asian Development Bank (ADB) operations should continue focusing on the promotion of knowledge, sustainable development and innovation, said Giovanni Capannelli, former ADB Country Director in Kazakhstan.
“The results we were able to achieve with the ADB team in Kazakhstan over the last four years have been truly amazing. We exponentially increased operations both with the public and private sector, helped the country making remarkable, steady progress with sustainable development goals (SDGs), and positioned the ADB as one of the most trustworthy international financial institutions in the country,” Capannelli told The Astana Times.
Capannelli has been working in Kazakhstan since 2014 and completed his mission in September 2020. Hailing from Italy, Capannelli brings vast experience in economic development and growth as well as policymaking.
“At the start, it was quite a shock, especially due to Nur-Sultan’s harsh weather, but I got quickly used to it and the long, cold winter. Kazakhstan is a large country, with many places in the far East and West, North and South which are so different from one another. I do not recall any dull moments, but only an increasing thirst to see more and more places in the country. This country boasts amazing nature and wonderful people. The passion for Kazakhstan is something that grows in you,” said Capannelli.
He said he felt at home in Kazakhstan and decided to stay permanently in the country once his term ended saying that this was due to “the hospitality of the people, the beauty of nature, and the opportunities Kazakhstan offers.”
“As an Italian married to a Japanese woman, I find myself at home here in Kazakhstan: it nicely reflects a mix of European and Asian cultures—and lifestyles. Besides the fact that our mixed-race children look Kazakh, location-wise, Almaty is basically halfway between Tokyo and Ancona, my hometown in Italy,” he said.
Capannelli also noted the importance of seeing the real results of ADB’s work in the country. He said that the most touching work-related memories of his work were when he traveled to the nation’s regions and witnessed the benefits farmers and female entrepreneurs received from ADB loans for small and medium-sized enterprises as part of the bank’s cooperation with the Damu business development fund.
“(My most touching memories were) when we discussed with President Tokayev and the then ADB President, Mr. Nakao, future areas of ADB’s contribution to the country’s development, when we signed a $1 billion budget support loan to help weather the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and when the National Economy Minister, Mr. Ruslan Dalenov, handled me a certificate of honour for services rendered to Kazakhstan,” he recalled.
Kazakhstan and the ADB
Kazakhstan became a member of the ADB in 1994, and the first ADB office opened in Almaty in 1998. The bank was the first multilateral development institution that moved to the new capital, then Astana, following the Kazakh government.
Last year, Kazakhstan and ADB celebrated 25 years of partnership investing more than $5.2 billion in projects across Kazakhstan.
The current work is directed by the ADB Country Partnership Strategy for 2017-2021 that covers three strategic pillars – economic diversification, promoting sustainable and inclusive growth, and achieving sustainable development.
“Forging close ties with private sector entities, civil society, think tanks and academic institutions will help facilitate the way ADB cooperates with Kazakhstan and its many stakeholders. Ultimately, it will help strengthen the country’s institutional capacity to improve the implementation of much needed structural reforms,” he said.
Capannelli said Kazakhstan could learn to better promote agriculture, tourism, regional cooperation and diversifying its economy with the help of ADB, which he believes is important in restarting economic growth after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over the past months, helping its member countries fight the COVID-19 pandemic has been a priority for the bank. Capannelli said that the bank has mobilized more than $50 billion of financial resources for this purpose.
“Notwithstanding its relatively small population in comparison to other Asian countries, Kazakhstan has received the highest per-capita financial support from ADB with respect to other member countries, including a $1 billion budget support loan and $5 million as technical assistance grants,” he said.
A $1 billion loan was meant to help to mitigate the spread of the disease and support government measures to contain the negative impact of the pandemic as well as to support the nation’s efforts with the health policy response, social protection and employment, as well as the government’s economic strategy meant to revive the post-pandemic economy.
To help the nation incorporate a sustainable development agenda, ADB hosted the first regional summit on SDGs in 2019 with the government, several United Nations’ agencies, and the World Bank, and to promote innovation, it also recently started ADB Ventures, a new program aimed at supporting startups and venture capital.
“These are all very good initiatives which helped channel ADB financial resources and expertise towards areas where Kazakhstan needs assistance from development partners,” he said.
ADB has also been active in supporting the nation’s small and medium size businesses and public private partnerships.
One of the ADB’s unique projects with Kazakhstan is a knowledge and experience exchange program (KEEP) that provides knowledge and expertise through technical reports, policy advisory services, and capacity-building programs financed halfway by the government.
“Given the success of this program, the fourth phase of KEEP is about to be started and other ADB members are now considering introducing similar programs in their countries as well,” said Capannelli.