Kazakhstan's Young Leaders for Tomorrow
By Randy Bruins, Field Staff, Kazakhstan
With borders stretching from Russia to China to the Caspian Sea, Kazakhstan is the world’s 9th largest country. Its economy and global influence are growing, but large areas remain underdeveloped. REI is making an impact here through a new partnership with ENACTUS Kazakhstan, an organization that teaches social entrepreneurship to young people.
ENACTUS stands for ENtrepreneurial ACTion and US; it’s a network of organizations in 33 countries on six continents. Through ENACTUS, student teams develop entrepreneurial projects that create Prosperity while benefiting People and the Planet. Across all of Kazakhstan’s 17 regions, ENACTUS teams are active in 45 universities, 20 colleges and 74 high schools, involving well over 1,000 students. Each year, Kazakhstan’s teams present their projects before expert judging panels in a spirited, national competition.
In 2019, while my wife Connie and I were serving here in Almaty, Kazakhstan with another organization, we got to know ENACTUS Kazakhstan by volunteering at some of their training and competition events. We were struck by the passion of the students, the impact of their projects, and their eagerness for whatever coaching and encouragement Connie and I were able to offer. Seeing that this organization was developing young leaders who could think ethically, act collaboratively, and achieve surprising goals – we wanted to get more engaged. But we went back home during the years of the pandemic, and then in 2022 Connie passed away from breast cancer.
After Connie’s passing, when considering my next step in life, I thought of ENACTUS. And having learned of REI’s mission to “build people to build nations” and their decision to rebuild a presence in Central Asia, I realized that REI and ENACTUS Kazakhstan would be natural partners. In December 2022 I joined REI, and in January 2023 REI signed an agreement with ENACTUS Kazakhstan assigning me to their Almaty-based staff.
Since arriving back in Almaty in April, I have traveled to Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, four times; to four other large cities in Kazakhstan; and to training camps at two remote locations – instructing students and promoting ENACTUS programs. As an environmental scientist who served 36 years with a large governmental agency, I may seem an unlikely fit for a small business fostering outfit like ENACTUS. But the organization’s focus on People, Planet, and Prosperity affords me many opportunities to use my professional background. Projects involving waste recycling, agricultural improvement and water filtration are good examples. I also help students think about the positive role their projects can play as climate change becomes our new reality.
Just recently, I accompanied ENACTUS Kazakhstan’s 2023 National Champion team to the ENACTUS World Cup, held this year in the Netherlands. Our team did not win the competition, but we all celebrated the announcement that next year’s global event will be held in Kazakhstan! Over the coming year, our staff will be hard at work preparing to host around 2,000 international visitors to Astana.
And there is a wide scope for other input from REI. For example, over the past two years, my REI colleauges Ron and Jeanine Wiley have been training a diverse team of Kazakhstani academics to lead a popular workshop on conflict resolution called When Cultures Meet. In January, the Wileys and their team are planning to lead this workshop for around 100 ENACTUS students at our 2024 Winter Camp. Other visitors bringing expertise on business, leadership, project management, ethics, and social change – and native English speakers in general – would also be welcome to join training events or to create special programs.
The ENACTUS Director, Albina Yerzhanova, and the staff and students have been very enthusiastic about REI’s contributions to date, and I am thankful, daily, for the chance that REI and ENACTUS have given me to help chart a path forward for Kazakhstan’s young leaders.