Building Institutions to Build Civil Society: Interview with a Muskie Leader
Muskie Alumna Ainur Nurtay is the CEO of a non-profit organization based in Kazakhstan, the Central Asian Center for Civil Society Research and Development (RDC). With a Masters degree in public administration from Grand Valley State University, Nurtay contributes to civil society development and accountability across Central Asia. She recently took time to reflect on her fellowship, and how her work benefits from the experience.
Tell us a little bit about the RDC.
The RDC is a non-profit, non-partisan, and independent think-tank focusing on civil society development in Central Asia. RDC contributes to democracy, freedom, stability and cooperation in Central Asia through research, publishing, and educational activities, and expertise to strengthen civil society and its key players. It also contributes to policy making in the region.
What is your role and what do you like the most about your job?
After graduating from Grand Valley State University (GVSU) in 2009 and coming back to Kazakhstan, I had two choices: 1) Continue my career at one of the bilateral or UN agencies with a nice office and nicer salary, or 2) Pursue my dream of transferring the knowledge I received at GVSU to Kazakhstani organizations on development, civil society and accountability.
I decided to go with my dream and started to look for partners. Now 15 U.S. government program alumni joined me and established RDC. Its founders appointed me as a CEO. At RDC I am responsible for strategic, administrative and public affairs issues. Moreover, I am supervising research and training on civil society and accountability. My job gives me the independence to match my experience with local needs.
Why did you choose this career path and why is it important to you?
The non-profit sector is a place where I am able to solve social issues with the community. This is the only sector where you have to interact with your beneficiaries and you benefit from it.
What effect has your participation in the Muskie Program had on your career, or life, more generally?
I keep saying that Muskie Program is unique as it makes you a stronger, more confident and independent leader and critical thinker. If you ask people in Kazakhstan about me, whatever they say, it is the result of the Muskie Program, a program that changes lives so its alumni are able to change other lives.
Is there anything else that you want to tell us, to the State Department or to the American people?
I always say that if you have a critical mass of people who think in one direction then there is a possibility of change. American people also changed a lot through the program. They know more about other cultures and countries, and it makes them stronger.
The Edmund S. Muskie Graduate Fellowship Program is administered by IREX and funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State. In 2012, the Muskie Program celebrates 20 years of productive partnerships with leaders of Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Find more stories here.