The Hidden Entrepreneurs: Disability and Entrepreneurship in Kazakhstan
Associate Professor in Entrepreneurship at Nazarbayev University Graduate School of Business, Shumaila Yousafzai with co-author Dr. Yerken Turganbayev, wrote an article "The Hidden Entrepreneurs: Disability and Entrepreneurship in Kazakhstan". The article will be published as a book chapter in a book called "Women’s Entrepreneurship and Value Creation".
For a disabled person, the most important issue is the social and psychological adaptation to the renewed living conditions in society. While disability is inherent in every society equally, many people are at loss when faced with a person with disabilities, they feel uncomfortable and may even offend them with a careless statement. In public places, disabled people often need help, which, again, unknowingly, ordinary people cannot provide them. Every able person needs to know that people with disabilities are a valuable part of our society, and we must make their difficult life easier. The hardest part is not being able to show your potential in a society with limited opportunities. While I have witnessed the success of my fellow disabled entrepreneurs whose lives have changed and they are living up to their full potential, nevertheless, our society is not yet ready to accept people with disabilities. We need to understand that no illness or accident can take away the kindness and warmth in your heart. There is no greater disability in the world than the cruelty of the human heart. After all, it’s not our disability but the inability of the environment to accommodate our needs and people’s attitudes that make us disabled. We are all members of one society, so we have the right to work, to have access to education, cultural and sports facilities. (Astana Aqsham, 2013; interview with Dina Yerdildinova)
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Born into a large working family in the village of Ushkarasu in the Kostanay region of Kazakhstan, Dina Yerdildinova became an award-winning entrepreneur whose story offers a glimpse into the lives of disabled Kazakh entrepreneurs.
After completing high school in her village, Dina went on to pursue her childhood dream of becoming a teacher. In 1997, a spinal injury resulted in permanent disability and Dina’s having to discontinue her employment. With the aim of raising the status of disabled people like herself, Dina and a group of like-minded people founded an organization, Dos Centre for Independent Living, in 2005. In 2011, she started her first entrepreneurial venture through a limited liability partnership, a wheelchair repair centre called Tauelsizdik-D. Dina’s idea was to use the income from this entrepreneurial venture to further the cause of disabled people, and today the partnership has licenses and its own permanent professional partners. Dina’s journey resonates with optimism and enthusiasm about the potential lying dormant in the disabled population of Kazakhstan. Her journey also describes the need for a changing attitude in Kazakhstan’s non-disabled population, respect for people with disabilities (PWD), and encouragement for them to move away from the margins and become part of mainstream economic activity.
The UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons (UNCRDP), established on 13th December 2006, is recognised as one of the most comprehensive human rights treaties in terms of putting disability back on the international agenda, even if it does not always result in enhancing the lives of PWD (Duell-Piening, 2017; Williams et al., 2018). Article 27 of the UNCRDP, which addresses work and employment, is arguably one of its most impactful components for PWD because the opportunity to earn a living in an environment that is open, inclusive and accessible enriches their independence and participation as valued members of society. Among other things, Article 27 calls for promoting opportunities for self-employment, entrepreneurship and the development of cooperatives for PWD. In addition, the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 8 calls for promoting sustainable and inclusive economic growth, with productive employment and decent work for all.
Constituting one of the world’s largest minority groups, with population assessments surpassing 1 billion people—about 15 percent of the world’s population, PWD are globally disadvantaged both socially and economically, experiencing significantly lower educational attainment than persons without disabilities, along with poorer health conditions, higher rates of unemployment and poverty, and limited opportunities to participate in social and political life (WHO, 2021). Addressing the occupational and social needs of this group is a public policy and managerial concern of global significance.
In the wake of the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Kazakhstan declared itself an independent republic with a goal of progressing towards joining the world’s 30 most developed economies by 2050. Kazakhstan was among the first signatories of the UNCRDP, an expression of its enthusiasm for following the basic principles of international policy on PWD. The UNCRDP enacts for its signatory states a number of commitments to ensure the fulfilment of the rights of PWD. In January 2015, Kazakhstan ratified the UNCRDP as part of Kedergisiz Keleshek (Future without Barriers) programme, which was launched by the ruling Nur Otan party to ensure accessibility and equality for its PWD (The Astana Times, 2013). Since its inception, the constitution of Kazakhstan has ensured that every citizen, including PWD in any disability group, has equitable access to work and the same rights as able citizens do and that no discrimination is imposed on the basis of disability (Ministry of Justice, 2015). Furthermore, since the ratification of the UNCRDP, Kazakhstan’s government and civil society have striven to bring the country’s regulations closer to the required standards and to provide an equitable and inclusive environment for its PWD. According to Birzhan Nurymbetov, Minister of Labor and Social Protection of Population, “Ensuring the rights and social protection of persons with disabilities is one of the most important tasks in the activities of the government” (www.primeminister.kz, 2020). For example, Kazakhstan’s National Plan 2025 aims to ensure the rights of PWD by focusing on seven areas: disability prevention, access to inclusive education opportunities, providing accessible infrastructure and eliminating physical barriers, employment, effective rehabilitation, social services and raising public awareness of and positive attitudes towards PWD.
Nevertheless, ratification and the National Plan 2025 has had little impact so far on the everyday lives of PWD in Kazakhstan. For example, 12.6 percent of Kazakh children with disabilities still lack access to proper education and are home-schooled (The Astana Times, 2018). The UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of PWD, Catalina Devandas, highlighted that the country’s efforts to include PWD in the educational system are still in the pilot stage and need to be scaled up (UN, 2018). Highlighting the need for the civil society and non-governmental organizations to join hands with the government, Zhadrasyn Saduakassov, an expert at the Kazakhstan Confederation of Disabled People, notes:
The realisation of Kedergisiz Keleshek can potentially have a profound impact on the lives of PWD in Kazakhstan. The ratification of UNCRDP can be the start of a new era of real action. In this journey a great deal of onus rests on nongovernmental organizations, including the Confederation of Disabled People. We need new research on disability issues and investments to sustain prevailing initiatives to provide inclusive, equitable and accessible vocational options for PWD. (as cited in Witte, 2017)
This chapter reports on the progress towards inclusion and the challenges faced by entrepreneurs with disability (EWD) in Kazakhstan, a nation that aspires to develop while using expertise from the former Soviet Union period. The chapter provides an analysis of the country’s readiness for an inclusive environment for EWD. The narratives provided suggest that, despite impediments to their full participation, Kazakh EWD not only empower themselves but also extend the benefits of their entrepreneurial activity to the wider society. Therefore, obstacles confronted by PWD are disadvantageous to society as a whole, and equitable inclusion is central to the country’s ability to realize the goal of growth and prosperity for all.