Gaukhar Nursha works at Almaty Management University as a director of the Center for Teaching Excellence. Besides, she is a program director at the Institute for Education Development.
Her team and she deal with many issues and projects in the education sphere: from assessment and evaluation of teachers’ capacity, their education programs at universities and primary schools. They develop training for teachers, trying to elevate their knowledge and methodology of teaching.
Why did you switch from an NGO to research and what are the core values of every project you handle?
Years ago I worked for the Eurasia Foundation of Central Asia as a project manager. I was leading several projects on NGOs institutional development and capacity building. One of them, supported by the UN Democracy Fund, aimed at strengthening downward accountability. Hundreds of one-time NGOs operate in Kazakhstan. It happens ‘thanks to’ many drawbacks. Among other reasons, it is a lack of well-rounded education for non-profits. Our project designed to teach to one of those basic elements for sustainability. We delivered more than 15 training, which taught them vital tools to become more sustainable. To be more accurate, it sought ways to build better communications between NGOs and their beneficiaries. When an NGO has up-to-date information about her target groups, engages them in planning and assessment – it maximizes impact. These insights and immense practical experience shaped my understanding of NGOs.
After all, I craved upgrading my research skills. Writing reports and working with international donors requested an enormous time commitment for me. That’s why I gave to my Ph.D. life chapter a try. I believed it will strengthen the skills I haven’t already mastered. Once I enrolled in, I decided not to give up an idea to follow the NGO track after completion. Consequently, I had to thoroughly work out a research topic which discussed both International Relations and NGO tracks. This is how I came up with the case study of Confucius Institutes and American Corners. I look at how these public diplomacy institutes work and synthesize in my thesis project their contributions to the overall foreign policy strategy. It is my work in non-profits, and more specifically organizational development background, which helps me to better pave out my research strategy and construct findings. I conducted fieldwork around Central Asia and twice to the US to testify the work they do. I built up my own picture of how these as a matter of fact different in nature institutes function, perceived by their clientele as well as position in the near term.
Tell us about your experience being a curator of the Global Shapers community.
Since 2017 I’ve been a curator in Global Shapers Community Hub and before that, I was a member for one year. It was an exciting experience in developing my understanding and perception of global issues which has to be solved by youth. Before, I knew global societies, but I didn’t know how youth can contribute to that. I’m the person who is into teamwork and always get inspired by people I work with. I didn’t think that youth can do something on their level.
In 2015 I got to know one member from Global Shapers Hub. I was inspired by how much they are doing for society is my own age. I wanted to learn and I was curious how they are bringing so much impact. As soon as I came to the Hub, I learned about the organization, society, members and I started suggesting projects one by one. I found so many people who share my values and opinions on different issues.
What inspired you to organize Lean In Chapter Almaty? What made it special for you and for other women from Kazakhstan? How to bring equality in Kazakhstan?
We handled projects mainly in Gender Equality. One of the big projects we realized was Mom to Mom for single moms who lived in a shelter. It made our team much stronger while arguing and discussing, we nurtured the relationships. After that, we did several other initiatives. One of them is Lean In Society, initiative by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. The idea behind this is the creation of a space where women should lean in and support each other. I believe in this project very much. I think there won’t be any opportunities for women who don’t support other fellows.
Once I noticed that there are many panels organized by women but speakers are mostly male or have only one woman, who is unfortunately ignored. I offered my decision to create more panels with more women. We organized a panel with two topics: Women in IT and Women in International Organizations. Leaders who were grateful for being able to see and listen to women in these spheres. They knew that there were many successful women, but they didn’t have a chance to talk to them and hear their real stories, struggles, and failures.
As the continuation of Gender Equality issues, we did one more project. To make this issue stronger there we relied on raising the power of the social network, I decided to create a movie about women in the periphery. We found a great partner from George Washington University. They funded our project and helped us to film that: to fly to Ust-Kamenogorsk, East Kazakhstan and find the heroes. It’s a 23-year-old young woman and 80 years old lady. We just gave them the opportunities to share. Every day we see success stories, but I wanted to give a voice to those women who live in peripheral Kazakhstan, in suburbs. Now we are expecting the launch of the movie.
What Curatoship in Global Shapers gave to you?
Curatorship in Global Shapers enriches my managerial skills. We develop our recruitment process. It was actually hard to say yes or no to very brilliant people. But in the Global Shapers Society, we can only admit people from 20 to 29 years old. People, who have already shown leadership abilities in current social projects or have skills to implement that project.
Curatorship gave me an understanding of how I can better input our society’s development. I have no words to say how I appreciate my new friendships and amazing people I met on the way.
Now you are actively involved in education development, bringing the change through interaction with professors. What’s the current level of education we have in Kazakhstan and Central Asia? What are the changes we need to make in order to improve the satisfaction rate of professors?
There are no many centers of teaching excellence in Kazakhstan which should work as it should. We are aiming to reflect on the international experience in our center. By cooperating with different countries, researching and figuring out how we can share the practices with others.
Our main mission is to elevate teachers’ status in educational organizations. As far as we can see teachers’ status is quite low from the financial and moral level.
Lack of nurturing new leaders to listen to teachers’ needs. Usually, in every educational entity, there is a counsel, an opportunity to be heard. It’s not the issue to create a platform. But when it comes to implementation of the needs, in that case, teachers are the last to be heard and the last to be satisfied with the implementation. Usually, the administration wants to change the status, but they don’t have resources. They don’t have a proper vision of how to do that. The last and the least they lack the understanding that teachers’ voice is the most important in the educational process. They use mainly a top-down approach. So our center’s main input is to talk more about how it’s really important to include teachers’ voices and make their wishes happen today, not tomorrow.
Status and payment are low, there is no society or community which reflects their needs. There is no professional union. In our culture and mentality, we tend to neglect very hard issues. For example, one teacher in the suburbs was fired because she didn’t give a high score to some influential parent’s kid. What she did it is she sued the director.
Luckily, the Ministry of Education is implementing many reforms. One of them is to make all schools create their board of Trustees, as Advisory and Governing body. In that case, if all schools implement that properly, teachers can directly work with them and find some mediation in certain situations. But for now, teachers don’t have many rights due to a social construct.
Learning points and advice for our readers.
Before joining Eurasia, I have never heard about NGOs. Usually, when you graduate in International Relations, you think you can only work in International Relations or some field close to that. But in reality, it’s not true. You can actually become anyone. After masters, I interned with the UN. I craved working there, but my boss advised me to understand all social issues and to begin with NGOs where you can truly face reality.
You can design your life in so many colors, especially when nowadays many organizations are open and open to discussions. In the NGO sphere, you need to understand what kind of issues you are really interested in. Because in social sphere there are so many problems, starting from orphanages, education to animal rights. That’s why you need to read a lot and understand that you can never solve everything at once. You should choose two or three directions which are close to your heart and filter out the organizations. Working only in NGO won’t give you the full capacity and understanding of what you can do. I think it’s very important to always keep in mind the principle of a revolving door. It’s when you work in different places: for a government, NGO, academia.
This is my way of constructing my life in the future. Knowing the issue from different perspectives much more important and contributes to your understanding and to reforms you are planning to do.
Learning of the needs. If you are working in NGO you have to go to that NGO to ask them what they need to do. In case you want to create your own NGO, you should seek for support and collaboration. It’s much more effective because social issues and advocacy needs time and different opinions. You can never solve issues by yourselves, so that’s why I think working in NGO, it’s a daily person-to-person relation. It’s always about wisdom, empathy, and responsibility. I know many organizations that support orphanages, they provide food and clothing. It’s a very good kind act, but what happens next with children?! I think we should care what happens with the kids next, after leaving orphanages.
So that’s why I think education is the main tool to overcome poverty and other social challenges.