Nazarbayev University Social Development Fund Fosters Youth Social Entrepreneurship

NUR-SULTAN – In 2020, the Nazarbayev University Social Development Fund underwent a transformation by expanding from its work 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 of a student of the Ornek project that is sponsored by the Social Development Fund.

According to the fund’s 2020 report, these projects were selected as a result of 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 one winner is an alumnus speaks to the high interest in socially impactful projects among young professionals. 

The goal of this initiative is to provide a tangible contribution to the sustainable development of Kazakh society. The path to such development includes diverse approaches tackling different issues. 

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

The project functions as a two-month-long course using the online platform helloaul.kz and relying on volunteers to help students achieve a conversational level of speaking English. So far, 600 children have gone through the program with 1,000 more to 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 from rural areas, Hello Aul intends to motivate its beneficiaries and improve their communicative skills. 

Another project that is also set to make a social impact in the sphere 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, as they do not always have the opportunity to speak out and express their emotions,” shared Yusupova with The Astana Times.

Ornek not only seeks to create spaces and opportunities for these children to learn and practice different arts but also to promote their creations in the local art scene via auctions and merchandising. The project positions itself as a mixture of social and commercial aspects to make itself self-sustainable and open up the art world to children with special needs.

Currently, Ornek has completed two rounds of art classes with 10 children and is developing a selection of their works for the further purposes of the project.

An example of a different approach to sustainable development is the project TopyraQ (Earth) that promotes waste recycling and the implementation of biological fertilizers. 

Inspired by the zero-waste ideal, Aizhamal Matiyeva wishes to raise awareness regarding food waste problem and encourage waste recycling among the public. Prevention of greenhouse gas emissions is one of the key motivations of TopyraQ as well. 

“I want to live on a planet where awareness and environmental sustainability reign. I know I look at the world through “green” glasses but I do not want to take them off either! Maybe this is my mission in this life?,” Matiyeva explained her personal motivation to do the project.

Vermicomposter prototype of the TopyraQ project.

The project plans for the creation of 150 vermicomposters, devices for processing food waste, as well as training 300 people to use them. At the present moment, 10 prototypes of vermicomposters are being tested in Nur-Sultan, Almaty and Shymkent.

These are just a few examples of the way Kazakh young professionals are engaged in creating avenues 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 the society. That is why, starting from this year, the fund has been committing to supporting social projects by the students, alumni and NU employees and launching a new direction of impact investing through the development of social entrepreneurship. It is this type of entrepreneurship that is gaining more and more influence all over the world, as it contributes to the sustainable solution to many societal problems,” concluded Managing Director of the Fund Anar Uteshova. 

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

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