The Covid-19 pandemic has shaken many educational institutions to their core. Globally, over 1.5 billion students in 165 countries are out of school due to the pandemic, according to estimates by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

For young institutions like the University of Central Asia (UCA), a great and sudden change like the pandemic could not only have been disruptive, but also devastating. UCA campuses are located in the mountain communities of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan, a long way from big cities with stable infrastructure. UCA administration knew that the campuses needed to implement effective procedures to maintain operations or quickly resume them.

“We need to be prepared for any circumstances, so we not only continue our operations but also serve as a role model for other institutions in the region and make sure the people we serve do not lose hope. Our students, faculty and staff, as well as members of the local communities should know – we are there for them no matter what”, said Muzaffar Jorubov, Chief Operating Officer at UCA. “Ensuring uninterrupted operations required a business continuity plan. As it was a new concept for Central Asia, local expertise was extremely hard to find.” 

The solution was delivered by a TKN volunteer from the global Ismaili community when Sohail Khimani, a subject matter expert and certified risk and resilience practitioner and instructor, generously offered his time and expertise. “It can never get better than getting involved in your own community – just to know that you are helping your community become a better place. From picking up different pieces to connecting the dots, it makes a big difference. It is all just one domino in a long domino chain”, stated Sohail.

Work began in September 2020. Sohail organized a baseline assessment to carefully review the documents and procedures that UCA had implemented until that time. As the world was struggling with COVID-19, he could not come to Kyrgyzstan because of pandemic-related travel restrictions. The work therefore had to be organized remotely, which was challenging, as all key communications had to be carried out across multiple time zones. “Working on a TKN project with UCA may have been the best decision I could have made. Although the entire engagement was managed remotely, it still gave a sense of satisfaction and I always experienced this strong feeling of community”, notes Sohail.

Once the baseline analysis was completed, Sohail prepared a detailed form for Business Impact Analysis to help UCA take a more comprehensive look at operations of its schools, departments, and research institutions.  To demonstrate how to use the tool in practice, Sohail organized a series of workshops where, under his systematic guidance, UCA’s relevant staff identified areas that required more attention. This included preparing for potential crises and determining systems, human resources, equipment and infrastructure that must be deployed to mitigate crises at different stages.

The impact analysis revealed that UCA needed to amend its governing structure by introducing a designated Business Continuity Management Oversight Committee. Sohail helped to develop Terms of Reference for the Committee and the group was established in February 2021.  

Sohail was so dedicated to this TKN assignment that he was willing to take a step further and do more than was originally requested of him in his assignment scope. “Good business continuity practices include keeping internal and external stakeholders properly informed about the steps that the organization takes to respond to the crises”, explained Sohail. To help UCA introduce this best practice, Sohail developed a Crisis Communication Plan that provides policies and procedures for coordination of communications within UCA and with other organizations, addresses media relations, establishes procedures for the rapid assessment of potentially harmful situations, and suggests methods for responding to these situations quickly and effectively.

In Spring 2021, the UCA Business Continuity Plan was completed, and Sohail demonstrated another dimension of his talent and dedication – he organized online training sessions for the staff, who are now working with the plan to ensure it is regularly updated and properly implemented.

Reflecting on the time spent together during this assignment, both UCA and Sohail have only good memories. “Overall, it was an amazing and unique experience in working within a cross-cultural environment. I feel my time working with UCA was well spent and will always be cherished”, says Sohail.

UCA is still young, but with the foresight of its governing bodies and the help of generous expert volunteers like Sohail, its mission to provide an internationally recognized standard of higher education that would help propel the social and economic development of Central Asia, particularly its mountain communities, is in good hands. UCA is deeply grateful to Sohail for his exemplary TKN service.