Year: 2024

Opinion: Central Asia is ready for philanthropy

Although NGOs and philanthropic initiatives are burgeoning in the region, Central Asian governments can do more to develop legal infrastructure needed to facilitate giving.

By Marat Aitmagambetov // 26 June 2024

During its three decades of independence, Kazakhstan has seen the number of registered NGOs grow from 5,000 around 15 years ago to over 23,000. Photo by: Andriej Szypilow / Alamy

The rural Kazakh tradition of asar, where a community comes together to help an individual with large tasks,can be considered an ancient form of volunteering in Central Asia. Throughout its history, Kazakhstan has developed customs to alleviate the harsh conditions of life on the steppe. Now, Central Asia is gradually experiencing the rebirth of philanthropy.

For decades, the region had broken away from its civic-led tradition of philanthropic giving. During the Soviet era, the ultimate responsibility for social welfare belonged to the state. Citizens were dependent on the government for their needs, and, as a result, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, philanthropy was neither understood nor trusted. This is changing slowly. In recent years, there has been a visible shift, as citizens and entrepreneurs begin to recognize the importance of philanthropy to fill gaps left by the state or business.

When the Bulat Utemuratov Foundation was established in 2014, the founder’s vision was that the initiatives undertaken by the foundation should not duplicate other projects. We identified problems that nobody was dealing with at the time and sought to find effective ways to solve them and then share our solutions with both society and the government.

This is how we focused on opening autism centers. The understanding of autism not as a disease but, rather, as a condition and the notion that autistic people can lead fulfilling lives was unheard of a few years ago in Kazakhstan. We’ve opened 13 autism centers that provide early intervention services at no cost in 12 cities, changing the perceptions of autism across the country and creating an effective support system for children and their families.

We’re not alone in our efforts. During its three decades of independence, Kazakhstan has seen the number of registered NGOs grow from 5,000 around 15 years ago to over 23,000, some 18,000 of which are currently active. The state is gradually catching up with civil society as well. In 2015, Kazakhstan adopted a law on charity for the first time in its history.

How the state can come in to play

The Kazakh government can still do more to encourage philanthropic activity, such as amending the current legislative framework. It remains significantly more difficult to establish a nonprofit organization than to register a commercial one. It might take over a month to register a nonprofit, while it could take just under a day to register an individual entrepreneur.

The government can also provide tax incentives for philanthropic giving, not only for businesses but for citizens as well. The 1% tax law in Hungary, for example, stipulates that citizens can choose to dedicate 1% of the tax they pay to any cause or institution of their choice that benefits society, such as a school, hospital, nongovernmental organization, etc. This not only encourages giving but also increases the transparency of, and thereby trust in, philanthropy.

Central Asian countries have a huge incentive at the moment to provide the legal infrastructure needed to facilitate giving. The region is quickly developing in terms of its economy and human capital. The economies of both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are set to grow by 5% or more in 2024, according to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. More importantly, Central Asia boasts one of the youngest populations in the world, with the average age being 27.6 years old.

The younger generation is unlike my own, which was brought up with a reliance on the state. Central Asian youth think differently and see the world differently. Many of them have studied and worked in Europe or the United States and have first-hand experience with effective philanthropy. They will be the catalysts for change, but it is still the task of the older generation to provide them with opportunities to learn, clear the path for them to bring their ideas to life, and contribute to the development of a mature civil society.

That’s another reason why, at the Bulat Utemuratov Foundation, we are investing in youth. For instance, we’ve spotted deficits in the public school curriculum and provide free programs for students to learn soft skills and entrepreneurship. We also built a school in the town of Kosshy which we handed over to the state and are now building a community center in the same area, which has never been done before in Kazakhstan. This type of local philanthropy not only invests in the younger generation but also makes philanthropy’s positive impact visible for all to see, therefore increasing societal trust and engagement.

Kazakhstan is the leader in the region when it comes to the scale of financing and philanthropic infrastructure. Our aim now is to encourage regional cooperation with neighboring countries. With its young population, growing economy, and new entrepreneurial class, Central Asia has all the resources needed to create a blossoming philanthropic sphere that can extend beyond borders.

But we still need guidance to improve our legal infrastructure, as well as country-to-county and society-to-state dialogue to identify problems and understand that it is in our hands, and nobody else’s, to solve them.

Editor’s note: The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect the views of the Bulat Utemuratov Foundation.


Mitigating climate change impacts around mines

May 2024 was expected to be the 12th consecutive month with record-high average global air temperatures, highlighting the ongoing impact of global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

The heating of the atmosphere and oceans is triggering extreme weather events worldwide, including extreme heat in Southeast Asia, heavy rains on the Arabian Peninsula and in Brazil, droughts in southern Africa, and more.

In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which UN member states agreed to do by 2050 under the Paris Climate Agreement, it has become increasingly essential to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change. According to the World Bank, about 37% of the necessary mitigation measures needed by 2030 to achieve the Paris Agreement goals can be provided by nature-based solutions.

The Sustainable Kazakhstan Research Institute (SKRI) at Narxoz University, a private university funded by Kazakh businessman and philanthropist Bulat Utemuratov, is developing nature-based solutions aimed at mitigating environmental problems. One such problem is particulate matter, a pollutant which includes soot, dust, and combustion byproducts. The World Health Organization estimates that particulate matter inhaled with air causes 7 million premature deaths annually. Additionally, it contributes to global warming by retaining heat.

SKRI’s director, Dr. Brendan Duprey, has developed and is implementing ‘phytocapture’ technology, which absorbs harmful particles from the air near industrial facilities and cities using a plant barrier. Institute scientists study wind patterns and soil conditions at specific locations and then use the ENVI-met software on a supercomputer to model which types of trees and shrubs need to be planted at what distance from the facility to achieve maximum particle capture.

This spring, the SKRI team began planting trees around the facilities of RG Gold, a major gold producer in Kazakhstan. The first row near RG Gold’s tailings facilities and ore crushing equipment consists of acacia bushes, which capture large dust particles. The next row includes poplars and elms, whose height and dense foliage trap smaller harmful particles carried by the wind. In total, over 20 000 trees and shrubs will be planted around RG Gold’s facilities.

Calculations show that phytocapture can reduce air pollution by up to 40%. This is an important mitigation measure that makes a significant difference. At RG Gold, 800 people work in shifts, and about 2000 people live in the two villages near the company’s mine. Reducing air pollution minimises miners’ and neighbouring residents’ exposure to toxic dust and improves health. This is a significant contribution to Sustainable Development Goal Number 3 – good health and well-being – which is a priority for the global community, including Kazakhstan. Innovations such as phytocapture can be upscaled on the global level to support the achievement of the SDGs which are far behind what is needed to achieve the targets set for 2030.

The SKRI has also commercialised and partnered with other major mining companies in Central Asia, illustrating industry demand for nature-based solutions provided by their expert team.

The SKRI expanded their work portfolio with a grant from Netherlands’ Tauw Foundation. In the context of the grant, the SKRI developed nature-based solutions to treat wastewater of tailings ponds from mining companies in Central Asia, for example the removal of heavy metals so that they do not contaminate the environment.

One possible method of absorbing pollutants is to lay special mats made of biochar and peat at the bottom of tailings ponds and nearby springs. Another option is to plant trees with their root systems surrounded by “wells” of impermeable material, which facilitates the absorption of pollutants from deep groundwater layers.

SKRI’s developments have been recognised as best practices under the UNECE Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents and have been included in the Urban Atlas, the most comprehensive database of nature-based solutions for cities. International mining companies have shown interest in phytocapture and other nature-based technologies developed by the Institute and are exploring its potential use in mines in Canada and Tanzania.


Yulia Putintseva wins her first grass-court singles title at Rothesay Classic Birmingham

Photo Credit: Kazakhstan Tennis Federation

Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva beat Australian Ajla Tomljanovic (ranked 190th) to secure her first-ever grass-court singles title at the WTA-250 Rothesay Classic tournament in Birmingham (Great Britain).

The final match, which lasted for 1 hour and 28 minutes, ended with a score of 6:1, 7:6 (10:8).

In the second set, she came from 5:3 behind and saved two set points.

This became the third champion’s title for Putintseva and first-ever grass title in her career.

On Monday, June 24, Putintseva will climb seven spots up in the world rankings to occupy the 34th line.


The Bulat Utemuratov Foundation Wins the American Chamber of Commerce in Kazakhstan Award for Community Service

ASTANA, Kazakhstan, June 4, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — The Bulat Utemuratov Foundation today announced that it was recognised at the prestigious American Chamber of Commerce (“AmCham”) in Kazakhstan Awards by winning the Community Service award.

The award, which was received at AmCham’s annual Awards Gala, reflects the Foundation’s work over the last decade, with over $210 million allocated to charitable projects benefiting more than 100,000 Kazakhstanis.

Marat Aitmagambetov, Director of the Bulat Utemuratov Foundation, stands with the Award - Photo Credit: Bulat Utemuratov Foundation

Marat Aitmagambetov, Director of the Bulat Utemuratov Foundation, stands with the Award – Photo Credit: Bulat Utemuratov Foundation

AmCham’s judging panel emphasized the Foundation’s contribution to Kazakhstan’s social development in 2023 and 2024, highlighting several major projects, such as the support of Asyl Miras Centers for children with autism in 12 Kazakhstani cities; the Jas Lider Akademiiasy leadership skills program implemented in 124 schools across Kazakhstan; the Jasyl Mektep program aimed at raising environmental awareness among secondary school students with greenhouses built by the Foundation for 36 schools; the construction of a middle school in Kosshy; the Aid Cards project in partnership with the Red Crescent of Kazakhstan and ForteBank which provides financial assistance to victims of natural disasters; and the allocation of funds for flood relief in the Aktobe region.

Doris Bradbury, Executive Director of AmCham in Kazakhstan, commented:

“Our awards are given out not only to businesses, but also to non-profit organizations that make a significant contribution to the country’s development. This year we would like to recognize the efforts of the Bulat Utemuratov Foundation, which has made an outstanding contribution to societal development in Kazakhstan – first and foremost, by helping those most in need. I would also like to acknowledge the Foundation’s numerous other projects aimed at education and support of the young Kazakhstan generation.”

Marat Aitmagambetov, Director of the Bulat Utemuratov Foundation, commented:

“I would like to thank AmCham for recognizing our efforts. This award is both testament to our years of hard work, and an incentive to continue our mission. We are now focused on a number of significant infrastructure projects, including the opening of a new passenger terminal at Kyzylorda Airport, finishing construction on a new school in Issyk, and building Kazakhstan’s first community center in Kosshy. These are exciting times for the Foundation, and we look forward to seeing the results of our efforts.”


Kazakhstan Tennis Federation hosts Asian Tennis Federation Board meeting, aims to boost global dominance of Asian players

ASTANA, Kazakhstan, May 22, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — The Asian Tennis Federation (ATF) held a board of directors meeting in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, which has lately become a paragon of tennis development in the region. This October, the country will host an ATP 250 tournament for the fourth time. To be held in Almaty for the first time, the event is expected to be larger than previous tournaments, gathering players from more than 20 countries as well as around 42 thousand spectators.

Photo Credit: Kazakhstan Tennis Federation

Photo Credit: Kazakhstan Tennis Federation

The board of the ATF, whose primary goal is to make Asian tennis players more competitive on the global stage, discussed the Federation’s development strategy until 2027, the establishment of new Asian tournaments for top players, promotion of the participation of Asian players in high-level international events and the increased construction of clay courts to improve the performance of Asian players on clay surfaces.

One of the key highlights of the meeting was a visit to the Beeline Arena and the Daulet Tennis Centre to observe firsthand the training of children in Kazakhstan and to engage with the coaches.

Representatives from Cambodia, China, India, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, and the United Arab Emirates, among other countries, attended the meeting.

Bulat Utemuratov, who is President of the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation, Vice President of the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and chairman of the ATF’s Development Advisors Group, noted: 

“I’m proud to keep supporting the representation of Asian players at international tournaments. As one of the key first steps, I intend to call on the ITF to increase the number of high-level ITF tournaments held in this region and to ensure that the representation of Asian players in international tournaments matches the share of IPIN (International Player Identification Number) fees paid by them.”

Yuriy Polskiy, President of the Asian Tennis Federation, said:

“We are partnering with the Grand Slam tournaments to elevate Asian tennis players. They will compete for a wild card entry to the French Open through qualifiers in Kazakhstan, China, and Japan. Additionally, young players (14&U) will have the chance to participate in Wimbledon.

“We also seek the ITF’s support to expand junior tournaments in Asia, allowing players to compete in major events without travelling to Europe, thereby conserving financial resources.”


Bulat Utemuratov’s Group donates around $30 million to support post-flood recovery efforts

ALMATY, Kazakhstan, May 21, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — Bulat Utemuratov’s Group has donated around $30 million to support residents of the regions in Kazakhstan affected by some of the worst flooding in a century. The donation, comprising $24.2 million from Bulat Utemuratov’s Foundation, a $4.5 million donation from Beeline Kazakhstan and RG Gold, and a $1.1 million donation from Alidar Utemuratov, will be used to provide financial support, restore vital infrastructure and rehouse local residents who have been left homeless in the Aktobe and Akmola regions.

Photo Credit: Ministry for Emergency Situations of the Republic of Kazakhstan (PRNewsfoto/Bulat Utemuratov Foundation)

Photo Credit: Ministry for Emergency Situations of the Republic of Kazakhstan / PRNewsfoto / Bulat Utemuratov Foundation

Over 440 families displaced by floods in the Aktobe region and 50 families in the Akmola region will receive keys to their new homes in the coming months. Last week, the Bulat Utemuratov Foundation handed over 34 houses to the affected families in towns located in the Aktobe region including Kobda, Uil and Alga. This week 31 families in the Aktobe region and 20 families in the Akmola region will receive keys to their new homes. The whole process of the transfer of houses and apartments in both regions is set to be completed by the end of August 2024.

Bulat Utemuratov commented: “The state is working hard to return thousands of our fellow citizens affected by the flooding to normal life as soon as possible, and our task is to support these efforts in every possible way. I am pleased we are already making a difference, with families in the Aktobe and Akmola regions receiving new homes and more to follow soon.” 

Humanitarian relief is a key tenet to the Foundation’s work and is evidenced across the efforts of its portfolio companies. The Foundation’s Aid Card project continues to provide financial aid to people in areas affected by floods, fires, and dam failures. Last year, the Foundation donated $5 million to victims of the earthquake in Turkey, along with $1 million to support families of victims of the Kostenko mine disaster.


Narxoz University continues academic transformation in 2024

  • New international partnerships signed
  • Delivering on priorities

ALMATY, Kazakhstan, May 15, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — Narxoz University (the “University”), a preeminent non-profit university in Almaty in the Republic of Kazakhstan, today announces strong progress on its academic transformation journey during 2024, with a number of recent partnerships signed with several prestigious international universities helping to deliver on its strategic priorities.

Photo Credit: Narxoz University

Photo Credit: Narxoz University

The University has partnered with a range of leading international universities, including ESMT Berlin, Penn State University and Queen’s University Belfast, with the new relationships establishing new opportunities for Narxoz students and staff to deepen collaboration with fellow institutions. The partnerships additionally enable Narxoz to expand its own global impact and improve research opportunities moving forward.

The partnerships create a strong foundation for the University’s continued academic transformation in the rest of 2024 and beyond, which will be led from June 1st by Kanat Kozhakhmet, who is succeeding Miras Daulenov. Kozhakhmet has extensive experience at leading Kazakhstani universities across teaching, research, and management. His new role will see him responsible for the management of the University, focused on driving academic excellence and developing research initiatives.

Marat Atnashev, Chairman of the Board of Directors said: “I am delighted to announce our strong progress against our strategic priorities so far this year. Mr. Kozhakhmet’s appointment will help to continue our progress. Over the past three years, Narxoz University has rightfully earned its reputation as a dynamic and modern higher education institution across the region, and I am confident that this will continue to go from strength to strength.” 

Miras Daulenov, the President of Narxoz University, commented: “It has been incredibly rewarding to lead the University during a period of rapid development. Last year we entered 7 international ratings, including the prestigious QS World University rating, and rose from 33rd to 5th place in local rankings, and have signed a number of international partnerships this year to ensure this continues to rise further. Our work would not have been possible without the incredible efforts of colleagues, partners, students, and the support of Bulat Utemuratov, for which I am immensely grateful. The groundwork has been laid and I look forward to seeing how the University continues to grow in the future.”

Bulat Utemuratov, Philanthropist and owner of the University said: “The transformation of the University, which began in 2007, is bearing fruit and our results this year underscore this, with our academic excellence beginning to shine through. Our management team comprises some of the leading professionals in the field of education. Miras Daulenov and the team have done an excellent job, and I am grateful to them for their contribution to the University. I am confident Kanat Kozhakhmet will continue to build on this strong foundation.”


Narxoz University announces an agreement with Queen’s University Belfast for a branch at the Almaty campus, with signing ceremony attended by Lord Cameron

ALMATY, Kazakhstan, May 3, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — Narxoz University, a leading private university in Kazakhstan and member of Bulat Utemuratov’s Group, is pleased to announce that it has entered into a ground-breaking partnership with Queen’s University Belfast, a Russell Group university, to еstablish a branch at Narxoz’s new campus. The branch will provide students in Kazakhstan with access to Queen’s University’s academic programs.

Photo Credit: Ministry of Science and Higher Education of the Republic of Kazakhstan

Photo Credit: Ministry of Science and Higher Education of the Republic of Kazakhstan

The agreement, signed at a ceremony attended by Lord David Cameron, British Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, and former UK Prime Minister, marks a significant milestone in Narxoz’s history. Since 2007, the university embarked on a transformation journey, initiated and overseen by Bulat Utemuratov, to develop into a world-class institution through investment into academia, infrastructure and international partnerships. The new partnership strengthens the relationship between Queen’s and Narxoz, building on their double degree agreement which was announced earlier this year.

Sayasat Nurbek, Minister of Science and Higher Education of the Republic of Kazakhstan, said: “In line with the President’s vision to establish branches of international universities in Kazakhstan, it is significant that we are signing a partnership agreement with a Russell Group university at the time of Lord Cameron’s official visit. This signing ceremony is a key moment in Narxoz University’s history and forms part of the wider trend of leading foreign universities actively opening branches in our country. I am confident this partnership will contribute to our continuous efforts to provide world-class education and foster the development of science and innovation in Kazakhstan.”

Nola Hewitt-Dundas, Faculty Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Queen’s University Belfast, outlined: “As an international University, Queen’s University Belfast is delighted to partner with Narxoz University, and this partnership builds on the excellent relationships we have developed with students and university staff. We are confident that Narxoz University students will excel in their studies and through engaging with our staff and other students from across the world, become future leaders across all areas of society in Kazakhstan.”

Miras Daulenov, President of Narxoz University, added: “Our partnership with Queen’s University Belfast is an example of effective collaboration with a top university. I am confident that the partnership between Narxoz and Queen’s University will boost the training of leaders and industry experts, promote cultural exchange, and strengthen the country’s profile as an educational hub in the region.”


Elena Rybakina wins eighth WTA title in her career

Elena Rybakina won the WTA-500 tournament in Stuttgart, Germany.

In the final, the Kazakhstan’s No.1 defeated world’s No. 27 Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk, with confidence, 6:2, 6:2. For 1 hour and 9 minutes of playing time the Kazakh managed to realize four break points out of six.

In the semifinals, Elena defeated world’s No.1 Iga Swiatek and thereby interrupted her potential hat-trick (the Pole won in Stuttgart in 2022 and 2023).

Photo: Kazakhstan Tennis Federation

For winning the WTA Porsche Tennis Grand Prix 2024, Rybakina received 500 ranking points and a Porsche car. At the awards ceremony following the match, Elena thanked her team, coach and President of the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation  Bulat Utemuratov, who flew to Stuttgart to support Rybakina:

President of the Republic of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev congratulated Elena Rybakina on her victory (

Elena won her first title on the WTA Tour in 2019, which was the WTA 250 tournament in Bucharest. In 2020, she won the WTA 250 event in Hobart. In 2022, Rybakina became the Wimbledon champion. The year 2023 brought her two WTA 1000 trophies – Indian Wells and Rome. Earlier this year, Elena won the WTA 500 in Brisbane, followed by the victory in the event in Abu Dhabi a month later.


© Bulat Utemuratov
All rights reserved.