When you hear about Kazakhstan everyone’s thoughts go to Borat, the fictional character who completely mischaracterized this country and region. But the joke is on all of us. Kazakhstan is one of the most interesting and important places in the world. Centered between the voracious giants of Russia and China it plays an important role in the world.
For anyone who studies history, or has any curiosity about geopolitics, Kazakhstan is one of the countries at the center of Eurasia along with Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan & Tajikistan. The old Silk Road connecting Asia with Europe.
It’s not a big country by population with only 19 million people but it is large by mass, just like Canada. And like Canada it has a tremendous amount of valuable natural resources like oil, natural gas and minerals like chromium, lead, zinc, manganese, copper, gold, iron and coal. Maybe more importantly they provide 22% of the world supply of uranium. Which is absolutely critical in the age of nuclear energy.
But what is probably more interesting is the growing tech scene that has been encouraged by the technocratic government that has been investing in infrastructure, education and policy. As the theme of a recent Strategeast conference there said: “knowledge as a new energy.”
I have not been back to Kazakhstan since 2018 and after an almost 6 year hiatus, it’s been really interesting watching the growth of the startup ecosystem. You have the giants of Kaspi and Freedom Securities dominating the Fintech world. These are the serial acquirers and possible exit strategy of many local startups. And we see an emerging venture and startup community.
There is also a generation’s strong experience in aerospace and space. Remember that most of the space launches outside the USA are done in Kazakhstan by international private companies and even other countries like Russia.
It has a growing young population just like in their larger neighbor Uzbekistan, but many more resources to educate and invest in their populace.
Thanks to a decades-long program established in 1993 called the Bolashaq program, promising young graduates have their education in top western universities paid for by the government in return for 3–5 years of service in government agencies or ministries. There have been almost 15,000 young Kazakhs who have gone through the program and it’s a cadre of trained and smart people who end up in the private sector after.
Kazakhstan is an exciting place and unique in the world. I heard a great saying while there. Kazakhstan is WARM. Western oriented, Asia centered & Asian-looking, Russian speaking but Multicultural, Multi-ethnic and Multi religious. Having been there I would say it’s not just warm, but it’s HOT. (If you include the even more populous neighbor Uzbekistan at 35 million people, this region is becoming even more interesting.)
It’s fast becoming a critical geopolitical player as it balances its own interests with those of its big closest neighbors of China, Russia and its far neighbor of the USA. Watch this ecosystem and country. I look forward to returning soon.