In the 21st century, SDGs are an important part of the global development agenda. The world is vast – yet with globalization, it is becoming increasingly small. It is becoming more connected and increasingly complex in nature. The global village is constantly expanding to include regional and ethnic diversity amidst rapid urbanization. All these realities exist side by side, and people around the world are having to adapt their ways of thinking about how to tackle the world’s most complicated and seemingly insurmountable problems.
To hear some personal insight into SDGs and their importance in reaching a global standard of development, we arranged an interview with Ardak Kozhatayeva, who is currently pursuing a Masters in Public Management here, at the KDI School.
Thank you for your willingness to speak to KDIS’ students about your thoughts on SDGs. First, we’d like to get to know a little more about you, so please introduce yourself.
My name is Ardak, and I am a government official in my home country of Kazakhstan. I am currently enrolled in the KOICA scholarship program and am pursuing a Masters in Public Management. One little-known fact about me is that I started my career at Deloitte. After gaining some good experience in the tax and legal spheres, I decided to contribute directly to the development of my country. I worked for the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of the National Economy, and then for the Agency of Civil Service Affairs, which is an authorized state body directly under the president. My director encouraged me to apply to the KDI School because Kazakhstan decided to increase its investment in human capital.
Thank you for telling us about your life prior to KDIS. What are you passionate about?
I am passionate about contributing to my country’s development. I chose to come to Korea because of my interest in digital governance and Korea’s leadership in AI and the implementation of digital systems for open government. According to the UN’s 2020 E-Government Development Index, Kazakhstan placed 29th among 193 countries, a great feat for a country that only gained its independence a few decades ago. However, I would like to see digital governance implemented on a wider scale to weed out corruption. After graduation, I will return to the Agency of Civil Service Affairs and join the many others who are working to create a lasting link between Korea and Kazakhstan.
What is a lesson you have learned while at KDIS that you still use or remember today?
There are so many! (chuckles) KDIS is famous for its diversity. Learning extends beyond the classroom, and it is a great experience to connect with people from diverse cultures in all sorts of places, like the kitchen, the library, or the dorm. Having quality conversations with classmates allowed us to learn lessons from each other about similar problems we face in our countries, such as lack of trust or accountability, and other fundamental challenges we must face to achieve development.
How has KDI School influenced you?
It is a great opportunity to grow, and I am able to apply the knowledge I’ve learned in the classroom in a very practical way, even in my non-professional endeavors. I have been influenced in terms of my ability to be more efficient. One of the reasons I believe Korea developed so quickly was due to its great planning. The great planning efforts manifest themselves in the extensive public transport system that I have taken advantage of to explore Korea.
What has been your best moment from your time at KDIS?
I’ll actually share two great moments? Well, my first is the morning prayer session organized on a special day for Muslims called Eid al-Adha. This event was special to me because it gave me a feeling of solidarity and gratitude. I was grateful to the event’s organizers, because they sacrificed time from their busy schedules to write each member a handwritten letter.
Another memorable time was with my KOICA cohort. It was when we met offline for the first time in April 2021 in Ambassador Hall. All of my classmates are people I deeply respect, and listening to presentations about their research was inspiring. I think if they implement what they have researched in their countries, great progress will be made. I’m inspired by my colleagues’ experience, passion to learn and share, and to pioneer the future.
Which professor has helped shape your thinking the most, especially in terms of your country’s development or global development, broadly speaking?
Definitely my advisors, Professor Junesoo Lee and Professor Taejun Lee. I took their Policy Policy Analysis class and ICT for SDGs class. In these classes, I learned about the importance of investing in education and human capital to break the Iron triangle, find windows of opportunities, and focus on a digital transformation for development.
Which global development goals are important to you personally?
All 17 are important and interrelated. The main challenge to achieving these goals for developing countries is corruption. SDG 16 is important because of its focus on peace, justice, and strong institutions. The rule of law and strong institutions are foundational to development and serve as the basis for achieving everything else.
What are some challenges in reaching the targets of the aforementioned goals?
I have done extensive reading of the works by professors engaged in research on Kazakhstan. Research shows that governance is a big issue, as there is a lack of transparency and accountability.
How can we be more inclusive and ensure that everyone works toward the goals?
We now have a great opportunity to learn a lot by following Nelson Mandela’s wise words: “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” As a mid-level government official, I am a facilitator, serving as the bridge between citizens and decision makers. We have a chance to be open, transparent, and practice consensus building between stakeholders. Korea is a great example of engaging effectively in participatory governance using technology as a key tool.
What do you want your personal contribution to be in terms of the development of your country through global development initiatives, such as the SDGs?
We are now readers, we are learning a lot. Hopefully tomorrow, we will be leaders. My aim is to be productive for Kazakhstan and for the world. Only through a high-quality education will I be able to do that. In this way, lifelong learning is important to me, especially now as we adapt to a new, unforeseen “normal.” I want to always be learning, adapting and creatively trying new things that will help people in my country be happy. The fundamental parts of happiness are a good quality education and good healthcare system. Lifelong learning is also about happiness. Doing the same thing daily gets repetitive and boring. We will all feel inspired to do more for the community with continued learning.
Thank you so much for your inspirational words, Ardak, we look forward to following your progress in contributing to your country’s attainment of the SDGs!