Transforming Rural Kazakhstan: Corporate Social Responsibility in Action

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altWith its sustained economic growth, Kazakhstan, a country once little known by the international community, is poised to continue its ascent onto the world stage. Kazakhstan has the world’s 11th largest proven oil reserves and a strong mineral extraction industry, but the country’s wealth is not limited to its natural resource sector—the people of Kazakhstan are themselves a key asset to development.

Kazakhstan citizens boast a literacy rate that places them 14th in the world, and in 2009, Kazakhstan was included for the frst time into the UN’s list of countries with a high human development index (HDI). In addition, vulnerable sectors of Kazakhstan society have seen a gradual improvement in their quality of life: while in 1997, almost 50% of the rural population was living in poverty, today that number is closer to 15%. While such gains are the result of a confu-ence of factors, businesses in Kazakhstan have a key role to play in maintaining and accelerating these positive trends. Cognizant of the benefts of continued equitable development in Kazakhstan, some companies have begun to participate in the country’s nascent corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement.
The UN Development Programme (UNDP) has been working in Kazakhstan for 17 years on a variety of initiatives aimed at building a well-governed, widely prosperous society. According to Botagoz Burilkieva, Project Coodinator for the UNDP in Kazakhstan, “to be a ‘socially responsible business’ means to be a sustainable business, ethical in employee relations; a business aimed at long-term successful development and not at short-term gain.”
One company that has taken the lead in social responsibility is Tengizchevroil (TCO). TCO is a partnership between Chevron, Ka-zMunaiGas, ExxonMobil Inc, and LukArco B.V. TCO is currently developing the Ten-giz oil feld in the Zhylyoi district of Atyrau oblast, in western Kazakhstan, and has been in operation since 1993. Then, Kazakhstan citizens made up 50 percent of its workforce. Today, Kazakhstan citizens hold 85 percent of TCO positions. In nearly all of the 15,174 households in the Zhylyoi district, at least one person works for Tengizchevroil or for a TCO contractor.
In order to understand the needs of the rural Zhylyoi district more clearly, TCO initiated a social baseline assessment in 2008. This survey indicated a number of serious social issues in the areas of education, health, youth culture and recreation, and a dearth of community engagement indicated by the absence of active non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
Thus, in 2009, TCO partnered with the Eurasia Foundation Central Asia (EFCA), a local NGO with a wealth of experience supporting local initiatives in community development, private enterprise, education and public administration. Together, they launched the Zhylyoi Community Engagement Program, a long-term program aimed at the sustainable development of the area’s human potential.
The initial stages of the project successfully pursued a multitude of goals, from raising test scores in area schools to training doctors to work more collaboratively with patients. So far, 58 key community leaders have been trained, 10 NGOs created, 48 training sessions provided to the wider community, and 11 youth leadership clubs created at schools. In three years, TCO has invested a total of $830,000 in developing the human potential of the Zhylyoi district, and the positive effects are expected to continue as the program supports the sustained growth of initiatives by both individuals and non-governmental organizations.
For Burilkieva, programs like TCO’s initiative in Atyrau herald a new stage in Kazakhstan’s economic development. “In general, I would like to note that CSR development is inevitable for society. It will be impossible for society to form a loyal relationship with business if business does not participate in addressing social problems. Businesses must build mutually benefcial partnerships with all parts of society in order to ensure their long-term survival.” In all, TCO’s project has reached 4,645 local residents, who have become participants, volunteers and benefciaries. Residents of the region have learned that they do not have to wait for help from somewhere else— they have been empowered to create their own futures.

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