Twenty-nine Kazakhstani officials attend weeklong workshop at Cornell

December 12, 2007

The topic for a weeklong international workshop held at the Statler Hotel's Marriott Executive Education Center at Cornell in early December was fairly straightforward: administrative reform. However, the audience was anything but ordinary, with its 29 high-ranking government officials from the Republic of Kazakhstan who attended lectures delivered via simultaneous translation in Russian.

The Kazakh delegates included mayors of major cities, governors and representatives from parliament, the president's office, the Ministry of Finance, the Department of State and the Ministry of Justice.

The workshop was jointly designed and planned by the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs (CIPA) and the Cornell Department of City and Regional Planning (CRP).

Administrative reform is a priority for Kazakhstan, the largest of the former Soviet republics -- four times the size of Texas -- and sandwiched between Russia and China. Kazakhstan's president is advocating for a decentralized government and increased transparency. The Cornell workshop was designed to provide direct practical applications for general reforms.

CIPA and CRP professors -- including Dick Booth, Pete Loucks, Robert Schwarting, Norman Uphoff and Jerome Ziegler -- presented workshop sessions augmented by presentations from outside experts.

"What we did here was special," said Kieran Donaghy, professor of CRP, who assisted CIPA director David Lewis in coordinating the conference. "We had experts on finance, governance, natural resources, the distribution of power and government organization. We also had an expert in e-government ... who talked about taking people from a paper-based to a digital-based system, while increasing efficiency and transparency."

Two Russian-language interpreters served as the official translators throughout the visit to Cornell. Although Kazakh is the official language of the country, Russian receives equal usage in the government and media.

"This workshop was very useful, very productive for us," said Anatoly Sergeyevich Pepenin, head of human resources in Kazakhstan's Office of the Prime Minister. "The topic was extremely relevant. The things we have seen and learned here we will take back with us and try to use in our day-to-day jobs."

Second-year CIPA fellow Dalida Davlyatshina, here at Cornell on a presidential scholarship from Kazakhstan, assisted with the workshop from its inception.

"One of the things that the delegates were very impressed with," she said, "was the presentation done by students from David Lewis' CRP 675 course -- Project Planning in Developing Countries. They were amazed that these students spent their entire semester studying Kazakhstan."

Student representatives from CRP 675 presented their 200-page document "Planning Phase Proposal for Kazakhstan's Transport Strategy," which analyzes two major projects in Kazakhstan: the Eurasia Canal, which would connect the Caspian and Black Seas, and the Northwest Transport Corridor, a major highway linking China with Russia.

"We enjoyed the opportunity to link the coursework that our students were doing here in the classroom at Cornell with real-world needs," Lewis said.

Five Russian-speaking graduate students from the Ukraine, Russia, Moldova, Kazakhstan and Bulgaria served as group facilitators during workshop breakout sessions.

"We tried to see the real America -- to get submersed in the local environment," said Pepenin. "We saw a choir singing on the Commons -- the young people had such energy and were willing to convey their mood to the audience. The lifestyle here [in Ithaca] is very different from big cities, based on what we've seen on the streets. We didn't see harried people."

The conference ended Dec. 7 with a recognition luncheon filled with laughter, toasts and much picture-taking. Kazakhstan delegates received a certificate of completion from Lewis, and Lewis received a traditional Kazakhstani costume, replete with hat. Davlyatshina received a traditional memento from Kazakhstan -- a symbol that there is always a way back home.

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