Tuesday, July 5, 2011

An American July 4th in Almaty

On Sunday, July 3rd, Anton and I attended the American Chamber of Commerce in Kazakhstan (AmCham) Barbeque at the Intercontinental Hotel in Almaty. Loads of hamburgers, hotdogs and shashlyck, activities for kids, and schmoozing. The US Ambassador to Kazakhstan and the Deputy Chief of Mission were also in attendance. It was a fun, relaxing and (surprisingly) extremely American atmosphere….even in the middle of down-town Almaty.

We met one very impressive woman who owns her own shipping and logistics company. An ethnic Kazakh, she learned English in school and attended university to become a teacher. She then enrolled in a program through Chevron that provided professional training to Kazakh English speakers in the oil and natural gas sector. She enrolled in the program and continued to have a career at Chevron, before starting her own company. After she shared her story, Anton commented, "so often we read how oil companies do not benefit the local community, but I think your story directly contradicts this." Anton could not have been more spot-on in his analysis….what better spin-off effects could a country wish for than to train an entire generation of entrepreneurs who understand the oil and natural gas industry and are able to use that knowledge to build their own enterprises?! Sure, there may not be immediately tangible benefits accrued to the local economy, but no investment project is perfect. The real testament of a great investment is the quality of professionals it produces. After meeting that woman at the AmCham barbeque, I am confident that there are locally accrued benefits from foreign investments.

On Monday, July 4th, I met up with some of the people we met at the AmCham barbeque at Staut, a local brewery. At our table were four Americans (one of whom came with an American flag), five Kazakhs, plenty of drink, and Russo-English conversation about everything from the regional politics to local restaurants and travel adventures. Even without fireworks (there were sub-par fireworks at the AmCham barbeque, but to be honest they were quite disappointing) and the corn-on-the cob, it was a great fourth! :) 

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