Lessons From Entrepreneurs

I have been back in the states for several weeks now, and have had some time to think through my trip to Kazakhstan. I am also going to say a few words about my trip on Friday at the Faculty meeting. Both have motivated me to think about my trip and what I learned.

Also, I am still thinking about the Social Entrepreneur’s competition that just occurred. The winner was a complete surprise to me and the fact that two others tied for second was also a surprise. This too has caused me to think about my trip to Kazakhstan.

What is the ultimate take away from my trip to Ust-Kamenogorsk? What is that one thing that I want to tell my peers on Friday? I have finally come to a conclusion, one that was fermenting while I was walking around with students in Ust. However, to make my point I need to give you some history.

In 1936 Kazakhstan was declared to be Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1991 Kazakhstan was the last of the Soviet countries to declare independence. At this time the country of Kazakhstan emerged. It is not a perfect country, but it has worked to develop its economy. President Nursultan Nazarbayev wants Kazakhstan to be one of the top thirty economies in the world by 2050. A noble endeavor.

According to my research the 1920s and 1930s brought a forced collectivization, and along with that came famine and high fatalities. However, my interviews with people who living during the Soviet days fondly remember the collective lifestyle of the villages. In fact, one person described it as “none of us had anything, so we didn’t know any different. “ The difference may be the era. The person I was interviewing lived in the village in the 1970’s. Others would tell me later that some things were better now and some things were not.

As a result I concluded that Kazakhstan is an economy that is struggling to emerge. It is an economy that is heavily dependent upon oil. Some positive points about Kazakhstan’s economy, prior to 2013 it grew 8% per year, and they were the first country to repay all of its “debt to the International Monetary Fund.” However, falling oil prices have slowed its economy down. The government has had to devalue its currency twice, once in 2014 and again in 2015.

Another positive economic element involves its Natural Resources. The country has an “abundant supply of mineral and fossil fuel resources.” It also has an incredible amount of Zinc, Titanium, Uranium, Chromium, and lead reserves. All of this has led to billions of dollars in outside investment. In Ust-Kamenogorsk there were Zinc, Titanium, and Steal factories in work.

However, with all of the apparent resources I noticed a huge gaping deficiency. A deficiency that can be repaired, and one that I hope never occurs in the West.

In Kazakhstan I saw a hangover from the Soviet era. Maybe I am just reading something into what I saw, but I don’t think so. I saw trams that were built in the 60’s. I saw Stalinkas, Khrushchevkas, and buildings erected by Brezhnev all of which were meant to be temporary, but have never been replaced. This has led me to think there is still a heaviness over the area, a residue from the previous Soviet environment; that can only be replaced by an entrepreneurial spirit.

My three students demonstrated to me the power of an entrepreneurial way of thinking. Too often we think of entrepreneurship as starting a business, it is more than that; it is a way of thinking. Yes, entrepreneurs take risks, but they are creative thinkers who can see how things are and how they can be. This is not something that only applies to business. It applies to all of life.

As children we are taught to be creative, draw pictures, and use our imagination. Somewhere along the line we lose that creative force because we need to work our jobs, or take care of our families. As a young boy we would play games outside where we used our imagination to create solutions to problems we have made up. We even make up rules, and then figure out how to change the rules to meet our own needs.

I can remember as a young man being willing to take a risk. I brought my family to the Pacific Northwest, not knowing what to expect; leaving Southern California, our family, and moving to Vancouver, WA hoping to have a better life.

Being an entrepreneur is being able to see things for what they can be and not just for what they are. It is being able to see low performing activities and know how to make them perform better. This could be in the realm of education, swimwear, studying abroad, or trying to get local businesses to unite.

Or it could be to revolutionize a country. I think Kazakhstan is tired of the old Soviet hangover. I think the young people are ready to take the country in a new direction. I just hope the old leaders are willing to see the oldness of the current ways and support the new ways of the future. The entrepreneurial way!

And that is my thought for the day!


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