Young Social Entrepreneurs Implement Award-winning Projects
Mobilising the enthusiasm and creativity of youth to address social issues through entrepreneurship is an effective way to engage youth in their communities and build critical leadership skills. This was the principle behind the Change the World Around You! competition administered by the University of Central Asia (UCA), in partnership with the Aga Khan Foundation Kyrgyz Republic and The Coca-Cola Foundation and Company.
In a series of workshops held across the Kyrgyz Republic, youth were invited to submit project proposals addressing critical needs in their communities in creative ways. Attended by hundreds of participants between the ages of 16 and 30, the workshops generated a response of 218 proposals.
Meder Usupbekov had been thinking about an idea to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities in his home town of Naryn, but was not sure how to do it. After attending the Change the World Around You! workshop, Meder, 26, was inspired to write a proposal on building wheelchair accessible ramps to major public institutions.
|Coca-Cola grantee, Elena Shilonosova’s Green Bags Production project is presented to Kyrgyz Republic President Almazbek Atambayev (centre). Youth from an orphanage are trained to design and sew eco-bags, which will be sold in prominent supermarkets and shops.
Meder’s proposal was among the 26 most promising that were selected. He and the other winning proposal writers were invited to attend a three-week training on social entrepreneurship facilitated by UCA’s School of Professional and Continuing Education (SPCE) at its Learning Centre in Bishkek.
“SPCE is in the business of providing training that corresponds to community needs. This unique social entrepreneurship training was designed to help these young innovators transform their great ideas into workable realities. SPCE has the experience and flexibility to deliver this kind of training, which will immediately help participants build and apply skills, while enhancing their qualifications for future employment,” said SPCE Director, Gulnara Djunushalieva.
The SPCE course covered basic social entrepreneurial principles, social marketing, business communication and negotiation, information technology and business planning for social projects. The course provided participants with the information and guidance they needed to move to the next step in the competition – refining, strengthening and defending their original proposals.
“This was my first time writing a project proposal, and the training really helped. It was also during this time that I realised the importance of addressing unemployment, especially for youth,” said participant Azamat Akbarov from Naryn town.
After the training, the finalists defended their business plans to an independent selection committee. Nine winners were selected, and each received up to $3,000 to implement their projects. The selected projects are testimony to the range of creativity and enterprise among youth in the Kyrgyz Republic.
Azamat Akbarov’s Our Future in Our Hands initiative in Naryn town created unique opportunities for non-resident students to increase their skills and their income. The project facilitated the creation of employment opportunities at a baby clothing shop for rural students enrolled in the Apparel Design Programme of Naryn Agrarian Technical College at Naryn State University.
Other projects built facilities to improve the quality of life of community members. Mirgul Alimjanova’s Playground Construction project in Batken resulted in a new playground to increase safe outdoor activities for families. Meder Usupbekov’s Access Ramps for People with Disabilities dream is now a reality and ramps are being built to enable wheelchair access to important public services in Naryn town, such as health and education facilities.
|Mirgul Alimjanova’s (right) “Playground Construction” project in Batken is officially inaugurated by local children in the presence of Mayor Dzhalalov Janybek, Vice Mayor Ryskulova Gulsun (left) and Governor Razakov Jenish.
Art and social change are at the heart of two projects. Nadejda Domasheva’s Bride-Kidnapping and Early Marriages is a Crime project in the towns of Kara Kulja, Uzgen, Naukat, Aravan and Osh City is creating awareness of the impact of bride-kidnapping and early marriage using innovative forum theatre performances, in which audiences decide the plot direction. Aisuluu Kudaiberdieva’s Dance for Youth with Disabilities initiative is training youth with physical disabilities to dance and creating dance groups in Bishkek. The project aims to build strength and confidence in these youth while creating social opportunities for them.
Two projects in Bishkek addressed environmental issues with an entrepreneurial spirit. Elena Shilonosova’s Green Bags Production project trained youth from an orphanage to design and sew eco-bags, which will be sold in prominent supermarkets and shops. Marsbek Tezekov’s Recycling Paper project involved implementing waste separation systems in schools and selling paper to local recycling companies to generate income to buy textbooks for students.
Finally, two projects in Bishkek used information technology to create useful tools for families. Shumkarbek Adilbek uulu’s Website for Financial Literacy provides families with educational resources to help them develop and manage their household budget, engage in financial planning and manage their loans. Adilet Murzaliev’s Online Student Assessment Tools include a database and website for parents to track their children’s academic performance, and encourage parental involvement. “Currently I am working with three schools in Bishkek and strongly encourage parents to be involved in the process. My next step is to create a wider audience and encourage the participation of universities in Bishkek,” said Adilet.
In addition to implementing their projects, the Change the World Around You! winners have further engaged with their communities in related activities. For example, Meder Usupbekov’s access ramp project has received support from both state bodies and the national parliament, with parliamentarians attending the opening ceremony and acknowledging the importance of this issue in parliament sessions. Elena Shilonosova developed marketing presentations on eco-bags to potential vendors and Mirgul Alimjanov participated in the opening ceremony for the newly constructed playground. The ceremony was attended by officials, but the guests of honour were the children, said Mirgul, “When the selection committee approved my business plan, I was happy. This playground was really needed in Batken and is dedicated to the children. At the opening, we had many young guests.”
Winner and grant recipient, Meder Usupbekov observed that the project gave him an opportunity to do something that benefits his community. It also made him think differently about social action; “It has made me realise that one person can make a tangible contribution to improve the world around them and positively affect the lives of others.”
The ‘Change the World!’ contest was implemented by the University of Central Asia with support from the Aga Khan Foundation, Kyrgyzstan. The social entrepreneurship contest and projects are funded by The Coca-Cola Foundation and The Coca-Cola Company under the ‘Enhancing Opportunities for Youth in Income-generation, Entrepreneurship and Education in Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan’ project. Launched in July 2012, this one-year project aims to improve socio-economic conditions for youth in these countries.