A philanthropist or a forward-minded businessman? Why Bulat Utemuratov promotes social responsibility in telecommunications

The Westerners have long taken corporate social responsibility for granted. This is not the same for the Central Asia region which has fairly recently moved to market relations and set up large businesses. We are late here but do not stand still – thanks to people and teams who are ready to propel the wheel of progress. One of such pioneers is Kazakhstani businessman Bulat Utemuratov who, jointly with Veon, owns two telecommunication operators in Central Asia – KarTel in Kazakhstan and Sky Mobile in Kyrgyzstan. Both work under the Beeline business name. 

Perhaps, telecommunications are the closest to end customers spheres of business in an era when a gadget became a sort of an arm extension.  Any decision instantly impacts lives of hundreds of thousands, and even millions of people. Therefore, it is important to weigh business interests against social interests of people when decisions are being made. This approach made possible cooperation between Beeline co-owner Bulat Utemuratov and Veon – the seventh largest telecommunication company in the world as for the number of subscribers. The Veon’s cumulative subscriber base is over 240 mln users in Russia, Italy, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Algeria, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Search for a balance forces telecommunication giants like Beeline to be in the vanguard of innovation development in the region that is proved by the sixth highest line in the first Rating of Innovative Companies of Kazakhstan for 2017. Its box of merits contains, for example, successful completion of testing the communication standard for the Internet of things, which is a reliable basis for such projects as “Smart Home”, “Smart City” and “Smart Industry”. The first in Kazakhstan and the fifth in the world payment card linked to the subscriber’s balance is in that box too. The card can be used for making purchases, paying for travels and for much more. According to some reports, Beeline transactions already exceed indicators of some banks, and the operator is in the leading position in mobile finance.

By the way, the rating also lists innovations in the HR sector. Beeline is one of the first big companies in Kazakhstan which introduced flexible working in line with the “Beefree” project and provided its employees with the required technical capacity. Besides, Beeline both in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan was repeatedly noticed among the winners of the HR-Brand Award held annually by HeadHunter Kazakhstan. In 2017, Sky Mobile has got an award in the “World” nomination for its “Strategy Execution Engine “Journey 2017” project. Engine develops potential of employees through their engagement in project groups under the Agile system. In 2016 Sky Mobile also won in the “World” nomination, but with another project – “Eurasian Digithon” – corporate hackathon for employees of the VEON group of companies in seven countries of the Eurasia region.

Innovations in the HR sector of all forward-thinking companies go hand in hand with product innovations.

Having transformed from inside, Beeline set a high bar – to become the number one digital company in Kyrgyzstan. This initiative led the management to revise their business philosophy – now the operator does, it seems, strange things: voluntarily changes client tariffs for more beneficial ones, offers its b2b clients the Virtual Automated Telephone Station (ATS) service at the rate several dozens lower than the competitions (70,000 Soms against Beeline’s 1,500 Soms), and opens absolutely free of charge co-working centres for students – one of those was opened in February 2018 at the Iskhak Razzakov Kyrgyz State Technical University. Beeline staff also held there the first master-classes for future professionals, explained how to draw up a good resume and how to get a job with an international company.

The team does not worry that all these and many other social activities will decrease profitability, but to the contrary, they are confident that all this will help building long-term relations with retail and corporate clients and will bring the best talents into the company. The company is set to continuing development, but it should be recognised that just for 10 years of its operations Beeline Kyrgyzstan has supplemented the state budget with 321 mln US dollars as taxes and other mandatory payments, and has invested over 265 mln US dollars to development of the economy and the telecommunications sector.

Beeline Kazakhstan is also famous for its initiatives for people. Just recall their action “Travel for 1 tenge” held by the company in Almaty, Uralsk and Kyzylorda for the “Everything” tariff plan customers: people could travel by public transport paying just 1 tenge off the balance of their mobile phones. The campaign made public transport a bit more popular among residents of the city of Almaty which suffers from traffic jams and environmental problems and allowed saving on transport costs for schoolchildren, students and pensioners who regularly use it.     

In 2012 Beeline, jointly with the Public Foundation «Ulttyk audarma byurosy» became a partner of Google Translate to embed the Kazakh language in the global service. Five year later, the operator helped to improve the service through integration of the Kazakh language in voice translation – the Voice-to-Text technology. Beeline spent 8.5 mln tenge for the «Google+Kazakh» project.

From 2014 Beeline has been providing free of charge high-speed internet and equipment to 25 social institutions in various regions of Kazakhstan, where services are rendered to disabled children and adults. Only in 2016-2017 Beeline invested 8,270,500 tenge to this project and received less 125 mln tenge profits. Besides, Beeline actively supports social entrepreneurship and initiative through grants for the best digital startups in the Enactus national competition (4.5 mln tenge in 2018). The Company is actively engaged in charity through rendering financial assistance (4 mln tenge in 2016-2017) to six Republican and a number of regional foundations, and motivates subscribers to do good using the first in Kazakhstan charity service #ЖанАшу. One can arrange the monthly write-off of a certain amount to support the “Mercy Volunteer Society” foundation by sending just one SMS. Over 1,576 customers have subscribed to this service from May to August 2017 only. Beeline believes one should turn the flashlights on oneself, therefore it launched the «Zhyly Zhurek» programme in which the company employees have already rendered assistance to orphanages and low-income families in the amount of 6 mln tenge apart from individual funds and time spent.    

These are just some social initiatives of the Beeline company. But even they are an illustrative example that orientation to the needs of the society, customer experience and loyalty of employees promoted by Bulat Utemuratov in his companies is a far-sighted step that works in both directions: for the benefit of business and for the benefit of society.  Beeline’s positions in Kazakhstan, as in Kyrgyzstan, are strengthening year by year. In 2017, the telecommunications market of Kazakhstan grew by 5%, and Beeline – by more than 8%. With the abolition of “mobile slavery”, Beeline Kazakhstan contracted 3 times more clients than it lost. Every month 1,500-2,000 b2b subscribers start using the operator’s services.

 

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