In October 2019, a technology conference entitled Digital Transformation in Central Asia, became the biggest event of its kind in the history of the region. Hosted by the University of Central Asia (UCA), in partnership with the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic, the three-day event featured 25 speakers from 12 countries and focused on three areas – digital transformation in government, cyber security, and emerging technology in the education sector.

“We wanted to gather the leaders in technology across Central Asia, and give them a platform to discuss current challenges and proposed solutions,” explained Shaukat Khan, UCA’s Chief Information Officer. “To fully explore the possibilities of a digital transformation, leading international experts brought best practices from the developed world and had robust discussions with more than 100 attendees on the ideas that could work in their context.”

This is the first time an AKDN institution has hosted an event of this scope and calibre in Central Asia. In order to ensure the best experience for both attendees and speakers, it was critical to have an Event Manager who could effectively support the local team to bring all the intricate pieces of the plan together and manage the overall execution of the conference.

This TKN assignment was a perfect fit for Aliyyah Nasser, a UK-based entrepreneur with experience in strategy and change management. Aliyyah and Shaukat had both served on the Ismaili Council for the UK and Aliyyah was looking for an opportunity to volunteer with an AKDN institution.

“The timing worked out very well as my responsibilities on the Council ended in July and Shaukat had already assembled a local team that was up and running,” Aliyyah said. “As the event drew closer, I joined team meetings by video conference and worked remotely to bring various elements of the event plan together.”

For many of the speakers, this was their first introduction to Central Asia and to UCA so ensuring an outstanding experience for them, from planning through arrival and delivery, was a priority to enhance UCA’s credibility and reputation. Aliyyah spent the days leading up to the event working closely with the speakers before they arrived onsite and through the conference days.

Aliyyah herself arrived in Bishkek a few days prior to the event and worked closely with the local team to ensure that the conference was executed professionally. She created a minute-by-minute agenda for the three days of the conference, liaising between all the team workstreams, the venue, and leadership from the lead sponsors and co-hosts. Her role evolved during the three days; she summarised key messages after keynote speakers, and even stepped in as an announcer between presentations.

Aliyyah said, “We had a gap of about 15 minutes while we were waiting for a highlight video to be prepared, so we decided to gather feedback from the audience. This turned out to be a positive way to use the time, and was a first for me as I ended up moderating a live Q&A in three different languages - two of which I don’t speak at all!”

A number of senior government officials attended the conference throughout the three days, including the President of the Kyrgyz Republic, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the first Prime Minister, all the Ministers of his Cabinet, as well as the Governors from all seven provinces of the country. During the event, the president announced the formation of a President’s Advisory Council on digitisation to follow up on the outcomes of the conference.

Several segments of the conference were broadcast on local television, and highlights of the event were published in 30 newspapers across Central Asia. Shaukat is optimistic about the many connections made through the event, the spotlight on UCA within Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia, and the doors that have opened to accelerate digital transformation in the region.

For Aliyyah, the exposure to the strategic thinking relating to digital transformation in Central Asia, and also how the Imamat’s vision is coming to life through our institutions, was invaluable. “I benefitted from this TKN assignment both professionally and personally,” Aliyyah noted. “This was a great example of a short project through which I drew inspiration for future volunteer opportunities – I look forward to continuing to work with Shaukat and the UCA team in the coming months. I also had a chance to stay in the country after the conference, travel with my family, and see the work of our institutions first-hand.”

The conference was deemed a resounding success by government and private sector participants. Shaukat added, “TKN is a great blessing for our institutions as we can bring top professionals from around the world to volunteer in support of these projects.”