The University of Central Asia (UCA), in partnership with the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat and the Aga Khan Foundation and with support from the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) office in Kyrgyzstan, is implementing an innovative five-year “Naryn Urban Resilience Programme” (NURP) in the mountainous town of Naryn in Kyrgyzstan where UCA’s campus is located. The Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) and AKDN jointly fund NURP.

Through NURP, the AKDN aims to strengthen the resilience of Naryn town against external environmental and economic shocks as well as to enable Naryn authorities to put in place the institutions, knowledge base and systems required for the implementation of resilient infrastructure investments in Naryn that allow sustainable economic growth.

Under the capacity-building component of NURP, UCA has meticulously implemented a comprehensive capacity-building programme for employees of the Naryn Town Municipality. The aim of this initiative is to enhance their proficiency in cutting-edge technologies such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and geospatial technologies. At the request of UCA, the TKN Central Office identified two GIS consultants to take on this assignment. Rahim Dobariya is currently working as Habitat Assessment Lead with the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH) Global Office, based in Mumbai India. Dilshad Bano is currently engaged with AKAH Pakistan as Manager GIS, Data Management and Habitat Planning, based in Islamabad.

Their joint UCA TKN assignment began with the development of a comprehensive training plan, implemented in 2022-23. Together, Dilshad and Rahim brought their expertise to the forefront, leveraging their skills in environment, GIS, Remote Sensing, Hazard and Risk Assessments, and Mapping. They embarked on a mission to equip the staff of the Naryn City Municipality with the tools and skills needed to drive sustainable development through interactive sessions and real-world cases.

Dilshad and Rahim delivered impactful online sessions with great support from UCA’s GIS expert, Evgenii Shibkov. Participants were introduced to the fundamentals of GIS, where they were acquainted with widely used GIS software like ArcGIS Pro and understood its applications in natural hazard and risk mapping, urban planning, utility mapping, and environmental monitoring. Due to language barriers, all the training materials and delivery was in Russian, where Evgenii played a key role in facilitating comprehension and communication.

The overall goal of the learning programme extended beyond merely imparting technical skills; it aimed to cultivate a profound sense of ownership among the trainees to enhance Naryn's development. Although not all selected participants possessed a background in GIS or remote sensing, their enthusiasm and eagerness to learn was evident.

"It was truly inspiring to witness the staff's remarkable motivation to embrace a new technology," remarked Dilshad Bano. "They demonstrated a wealth of ideas that, if applied with genuine understanding, could greatly impact the Naryn Urban Resilience Programme."

As the first phase of the training sessions concluded, the participants returned to their roles at the Naryn Municipality office, armed with new knowledge and enthusiasm. While the participants gained valuable skills, the longer-term impact of its effectiveness will be fully realized when they apply these learnings in their day-to-day work.

"The true measure of success lies not just in what we teach, but in how it transforms lives. The journey of capacity building extends far beyond training sessions; it's a commitment to lasting impact and sustainable growth." said Rahim Dobariya.

In 2024, plans are underway to continue the capacity-building efforts through online training sessions. By engaging with projects that reflect the realities of Naryn, and address the challenges faced by the Naryn community, the participants will have the opportunity to fully leverage GIS as a tool for resilience building.

The journey of empowering Naryn through GIS is a testament to the collaborative spirit of the TKN endeavour. It exemplifies how accomplished TKN volunteers with diverse skillsets can come together to make a meaningful impact on communities in need. Through their exemplary dedication and impressive expertise, Dilshad and Rahim are helping pave the way for an even more resilient future for Naryn.