Advocacy Training Enables Kazakh Journalist to Successfully Advocate for Improved Public Transportation

July 13, 2023
A close up view of a woman standing in front of a bus, facing away from the camera.

In Kazakhstan, using Kazakh language to disseminate information remains challenging. Russian-language media sources still publish the majority of relevant news. This lack of access to Kazakh-language content is a pressing concern among independent journalists. Through EF’s USAID-funded Social Innovation in Central Asia (SICA) program, the Gumol Public Foundation trained 30 Kazakh-language journalists to enhance their advocacy and fact-checking skills. As a result, one of the awardees, Aigerim Mendibaeva, successfully campaigned for the addition of 40 new public buses to Qyzylorda’s transportation system through a local media outlet.

A group of 26 journalists smile after completing their training. Some kneel in front, while others stand behind.
Gumol Public Foundation’s three-day training workshop for Kazakh-speaking journalists

The Gumol Public Foundation, an organization based in Aqtau, aims to increase the transparency and accountability of government organizations. “We understand that civil journalists play a crucial role in shaping public opinion,” says Gulden, head of Gumol Public Foundation. “Through their work, they can create public pressure that can ultimately lead to improved transparency of government institutions.”

To support the development of Kazakh-language journalism, the organization applied for a SICA grant. SICA supported their three-day advocacy training for 30 Kazakh-language journalists from the southern and western regions of Kazakhstan, where much of the Kazakh-speaking population is concentrated. The training focused on improving journalists’ skills in advocacy, digital rights, and fact-checking. The top seven performers received mini-grants, each worth 150,000 KZT ($330 USD), to support their advocacy campaigns.

Aigerim Mendibaeva, an experienced Kazakh-speaking journalist with 14 years of experience based in Qyzylorda, South Kazakhstan, was one of the awardees. Aigerim has long been deeply concerned about the lack of public transportation in Qyzylorda despite government promises for change since 2021. When she learned about the training opportunity for Kazakh-speaking journalists, Aigerim recognized the opportunity to enhance her skills in advocacy journalism and address this issue. Thanks to the training, Aigerim proposed a detailed plan for her advocacy campaign and won a mini-grant to support her project.

Aigerim stands at an easel that holds a large sheet of paper. She is describing the drawings on the paper, which outline her advocacy project plan.
Aigerim Mendibayeva at Gumol Public Foundation’s workshop for journalists

“One of the key insights I gained during the workshop was the importance of broadening the scope of my campaign to include local stakeholders, such as the local government, the Qyzylorda bus park, civil activists, NGO leaders, and city residents. I realized that relying solely on media advocacy would not be sufficient to achieve this important goal,” Aigerim shares.

As part of her campaign, Aigerim conducted a survey on social media. The results revealed that 88 percent of 300 respondents were dissatisfied with public transportation in Qyzylorda. Based on the results, she produced a series of videos and articles for the popular media outlet, highlighting the lack of public transportation and advocating for additional buses. “We often wait for buses for half an hour, and when they finally arrive, they are overcrowded. In the evenings, buses are scarce, and we have to rely on taxis. As the cold weather approaches, we are desperately hoping for new buses,” expresses Balzhan Arisbay, a city resident and journalist, in one of the interviews uploaded on YouTube.

To highlight the issue to the local government, Aigerim collaborated with local activists to organize a public meeting with the city’s mayor. The meeting initially appeared successful as the activists secured a commitment from the mayor to provide additional buses. However, when the promised date passed without any progress, it became clear that the government would not fulfil its commitment as expected. Undeterred, Aigerim persisted and wrote another article, aptly titled “Why is the city mayor not keeping his promises?” The article reached approximately 6,000 people. About a month after the release of her article, in October 2022, the city administration finally delivered 40 new buses to the terminals.

Aigerim believes her advocacy efforts played a significant role in expediting this process. “The majority of media outlets in Qyzylorda rely heavily on state orders for funding, which often results in positive coverage of government activities,” she notes, referring to the system in Kazakhstan and other post-Soviet countries where the government pays the media directly for a certain amount of coverage. “As such, having independent voices that are willing to cover urgent social issues is crucially important.”

The success of Aigerim’s advocacy campaign underscores the importance of promoting civil journalism and equipping Kazakh-speaking journalists with the necessary skills and knowledge to enhance the quality of information available to the Kazakh-speaking population. The newly delivered buses are now equipped with essential features, including a ramp for people with limited mobility. Moreover, city residents now have access to a mobile application that enables them to track the arrival time of their desired bus.

“I am deeply grateful to SICA and the Gumol Public Foundation for providing such incredible opportunities for independent journalists like myself,” says Aigerim. Adds Gulden: “Initiatives like this one are critical in driving progress and addressing the ongoing challenges faced by Kazakh-speaking communities in Kazakhstan.”