Every Great Leader Needs a Polynesia

This year’s Astana Finance Days has been another success, with a diversity of views and cornucopia of themes.

Everything from Mining Geology, to Empowerment of Women and Monetising the Fourth Industrial Revolution (or whatever the post-pandemic economy will come to be called). Once again, it showed that Kazakhstan and the Astana International Financial Center (AIFC) have the gravity to attract talent and knowledge from around the world, and to amplify that brilliance for the development of Central Asia: There was much hope for a better future, plenty of talk of opportunity and even some mention of the benefit a well run financial centre can have for the men, women and children of Kazakhstan who funded the creation of the AIFC through their taxes, and who bankers and lawyers often forget. I congratulate all those who devised, implemented, participated in and attended the event.

On the sidelines of the conference was the extended meeting of the AIFC Management Council to discuss AIFC’s successes in 2020, and debate the further development of the financial centre. The meeting was chaired by Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and the outcomes included a focus by AIFC on: 

1.Implementation of the government’s privatisation program, thereby bringing investment to Kazakhstan, enhancing governance in state owned enterprises and eliminating financial leakage;

2. Assisting the government to raise capital via the Astana International Exchange (AIX).

3. Further developing the tech and ESG agenda in AIFC; and

4. Expanding AIFC’s offerings beyond Kazakhstan and into the Central Asian region.

May I say these are superb and tangible proposals, albeit not ones that are new: These have been the mandate for the AIFC since it’s inception. The challenge remains how to convert the vision of the First and Second Presidents into a reality. How to take concepts and make them tangible.

As the saying goes, vision without execution is hallucination

My feeling is that what is required is a Polynesia, the parrot.

For those who also enjoy Hugh Lofting’s writings, including the 1920 “The Story of Doctor Dolittle” you’ll recall that Dr John Dolittle was a magnificent doctor who was loved and admired by all he knew and looked after. One day, Dr Dolittle was persuaded by the ‘Cat’s–meat–Man’ (yes, there was a job for people to sell meat to feed cats) that he should also help animals. The Cat’s–meat–Man’s view was not entirely altruistic, as he was planning to sell bad meat to pet owners so they would be forced to visit the doctor, but that aside, and because of Dr Doolittle’s love for animals, he considered the idea further.

He knew he could help the entire animal kingdom, but his challenge was how. How should he transfer his considerable medical skills on humans to treat all creatures?

And that is where his animal friend parrot Polynesia came in. She taught him how to engage with all living things, and that “..animals don’t always speak with their mouths,…They talk with their ears, with their feet, with their tails—with everything. Sometimes they don’t WANT to make a noise.” 

Put another way, the brilliant Dr Dolittle needed his Polynesia to help him translate his passion, caring and vision into a reality for everyone.

And when I look at other financial centers that have had a meteoric success, each has their Dr John Dolittle, and each has one or more Polynesias. And in combination, with a clear vision, a commitment to serve the citizens they represent (and who pay their salaries) and a unified, singular global message, the magic happens.

During the Astana Finance Days I heard many visionary ideas, and much about the bright future. There was talk about how AIFC can be a launchpad for economic prosperity, green energy and value creation. I heard of the remarkable success of institutions such as the AIFC Courts and the Astana Financial Services Authority, and of their role in accelerating the AIFC beyond the stratosphere.

What was less prevalent, and perhaps on purpose, was talk of Rudyard Kipling’s Six Honest Serving Men, who taught him “all he knew; Their names are What and Why and When And How And Where and Who.”

I have absolute faith in the vision for the AIFC and Kazakhstan, and the brilliant men and women working to deliver on it. Together they will ensure that the plans from the Astana Finance Days, and from the AIFC Management Council, will be delivered. But whilst plans to go to infinity and beyond are being hatched, it will be Polynesia who is filling up the fuel tanks, checking the tyres and making sure everyone is on board.

Mark Beer OBE is co-Founder of Seven Pillars Law in Kazakhstan, as well as being a visiting fellow at Oxford University, a visiting professor at Shanghai University for Political Science and Law and a member of the World Economic Forum’s Expert Network. Mark also Chairs The Metis Institute, which advises Governments on the implementation of judicial and legal reform programmes and was, himself, a Polynesia for part of his career.

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