Annual Business Event in Eurasia – XII Astana Economic Forum
- Mr. Zhemkov, the Astana Economic Forum (AEF) is a branded project in Kazakhstan that has become recognisable far beyond the borders of our country. Nobel laureates, business sharks, famous politicians, diplomats and economists from different countries of the world take part in the Forum and the number of delegates over the years has exceeded 50,000 people from 150 countries of the world.
Could you name the main reasons why the AEF has become such a successful international economic event?
- In fact, the foundation of success was laid in distant 2008, when, on the initiative of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the AEF was created. Elbasy's far-sightedness was manifested once again, which confirms the current success of the Forum.
I think there are several components here. These are relevance, competence and practical value – and one implying the other. Our Forum's speakers are not just speakers, but participants of stormy discussions and heated debates, during which practical recommendations are born. We put emphasis on this, transforming monologues into dialogues.
XII Astana Economic Forum. Speakers.
Such world-famous experts as Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde, Nobel Prize in Economics in 2018 and Chief Economist of the World Bank (2016-2018) Paul Romer, CEO and Chairperson of the Board of Sberbank German Gref, Vice Chairperson of the U.S. Federal Reserve (2014-2017) Stanley Fisher, 2007 Nobel Peace Prize winner and honorary professor at Incheon State University (Republic of Korea) Rae Kwon Chung and many others. This evidences that the AEF has established itself as a first-class international platform for the exchange of experience and the development of relations between states.
The AEF is not a place where people talk about something and then depart. Practical decisions are made here and ideas are voiced that form the basis for further changes for sustainable development.
- The theme of XII AEF is “Inspiring growth: people, cities, economies." Its relevance and title cannot be overestimated. Today, more than half of the world's population lives in cities. As the Forum participants said, by 2030, the proportion of the urban population will reach 60 percent. Against this background, high-level human capital becomes the main indicator of the quality of growth of cities and economies and therefore states.
Please tell us about who and what determine the topics and the concept of the forums, which always meets the spirit of the times? Where do ideas come from? When does preparation begin for the next event?
- Yes, the past Forum has shown that the theme chosen this year is relevant to the world community – it holds the key to further development, responding to new economic and political challenges in the international arena.
XII Astana Economic Forum's keynote speakers and guests
For the first time this year, the team of the national company EXPO 2017 was engaged in the organisation of the Forum. We tried to choose a topic that would “open up" all the most burning topics and not only for Kazakhstan, but for the whole world. In this regard, our partner – the Economic Research Institute - provided us with enormous support. The colleagues prepared an analytical review, Kazakhstan and the global world: challenges and opportunities, dedicated to the AEF. This study reveals the importance of the current AEF topic in the modern world. The point is that we are living in a period when major powers set up trade wars, the problem of climate change is becoming increasingly widespread and the fourth industrial revolution is changing labour markets and the development of human capital. In these conditions, it is important to find growth points. This is the purpose of the Forum.
- Journalists and experts call the AEF "Asian Davos." Indeed, Asia has the largest growth points on the world map, whose experience is fresher and closer to Kazakhstan, but still underestimated in our society that is accustomed to aligning itself with Western standards. Do you have plans to strengthen the AEF by the Asian component?
- You are right that the Asian concept of economic development is closer to us. The AEF is a decent successor to the World Economic Forum, which is held in Davos. Perhaps, in the future, it will become a kind of competitor for it in the finest sense of the word. In our part of the world, the so-called Asian tigers — South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong — have shown the world a real economic miracle.
We believe that Kazakhstan can repeat this success; this is evidenced by the adopted programme for entering the top 30 countries with the strongest economies. By holding such a Forum on our territory, we have direct access to the storehouse of knowledge and experience which was brought by the world's leading experts to Nur-Sultan. We also attract a lot of investment into the country – we are talking about tens of billions of dollars. In this sense, our Asian partners will increase their presence in the Forum in the future.
- Continuing the theme of Asian Davos ... Has the AEF organising committee established cooperation with the World Economic Forum? What are uniting points of these two sites and what is their difference?
- Of course, we are in constant contact with the WEF organisers. This is logical, because our concepts are as similar as possible; many topics intersect with each other. This also applies to the speakers; for example, Mrs. Lagarde addressed both Davos and Nur-Sultan.
If we talk about the differences, they are currently more geographical. AEF is one of the largest dialogue platforms in Eurasia. We have occupied our niche, picking up the trend of Eurasian integration. But, in fact, it does not limit us in any way. Look at the topics discussed – they are all global. Recommendations developed on the AEF platform are becoming universal for the whole world, whether it pertains to Eurasian countries or the West.
- How do you think the EXPO site and other infrastructure of Nur-Sultan correspond to world-class events, for example, when compared with the Congress Centre in Davos?
- This venue is ideal for holding such conferences. First, Nur-Sultan and the EXPO site are the hallmark of our country. Their concept gives an understanding of the direction in which Kazakhstan is heading – innovations, modern green technologies. But, despite the fact that the EXPO territory was almost completely ready for such large-scale events, the workload was huge.
We tried to pay special attention to design, aesthetics and ergonomics. You probably noticed that this year the design was brighter and more spectacular. In addition, given the huge number of participants, there was a need to create convenient navigation. The Forum was held at six parallel locations – Congress Centre, Hilton, AIFC, Astana Hub, St. Regis Astana and Rixos President Astana. Shuttles ran constantly between the hotels. Our goal was to make the visit to the Forum as convenient as possible, so that no little things or nuances would distract the participants from the main thing. By the way, none of them left the meeting halls until the end of the sessions. This suggests that we did everything right.
- As the main organiser of the event, how do you assess the results of the XII AEF? Did the expectations of the Forum participants come true? Did you make any surveys after the event?
- I still get a lot of rave reviews from the participants. Many express a desire to visit the Forum next year; we have already begun to form a guest list. As organisers, we know how much work was done during the preparation process. It would be wrong for me to give my assessment, but the guests of the AEF note that it was held at the highest level.
I am particularly pleased that this year we were able to bring something new to the AEF. We thoroughly worked out the format of the Forum and managed to hold more than 50 sessions in two days. For the first time, one-on-one debate was held, as well as AEF Talks for youth and students. But most importantly, I repeat, we managed to get away from monologues and reports, moving toward lively debates and discussions. Perhaps the value of this exchange of views is the main factor for the success of the Forum.
- What are the practical results of the Forum for our Government, citizens, business? Do you consolidate all authoritative assessments and recommendations to transfer them to policy makers?
- As for the “most practical" results, this is the number of signed memorandums and the amount of these agreements. Forty-three agreements were signed totalling $8.7 billion.
If we talk about cooperation with policy makers, then I will say that the recommendations developed are used not only in Kazakhstan. They are voiced from the highest rostrums, such as the UN General Assembly. The AEF sets the agenda for at least a year – until the next Forum. All participants agree that countries who have not managed to restructure in time and pick up the latest trends and adapt to new challenges risk remaining permanently on the list of underdeveloped states.
- Are there any ideas for the next Forum?
- In fact, there are a lot of ideas. It is difficult to implement them in two days, since we already make up the most intensive programme. There are thoughts about the speakers; every year, we try to surprise the guests with big names and the year 2020 will definitely not be an exception. We will also introduce new formats; we will constantly raise the level and status of the Forum. So, for now, I can only say that the next Forum will not leave anyone indifferent either.
- Where do you get the energy and internal resource potential for organising such responsible and large-scale international events?
- Everything is very simple. I am convinced that AEF-level events are the future of Kazakhstan and the world as a whole. They are ahead of their time and create a solid foundation for the new generation. Being involved in this grand process is a huge source of inspiration for me. But, probably the biggest inspiration is my children. I see how they grow and I want everything to be much better in their future, so that they and the whole new generation have the opportunity to realise themselves, so that the whole world is open to them. Such changes require platforms such as the AEF, where leaders of countries and experts from different fields gather and work to do it, sparing no effort.
- Thank you for the interesting and informative interview!
Interviewed by Gulsana Tulepbergenova.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR. Ruslan Zhemkov is the Managing Director of Astana EXPO 2017. He worked as Deputy Director for Client Relations (2004-2005) and Media Director (2005-2006) with the advertising agency Big Idea Group (2005-2006), Executive Director of television network KTK (2006-2007) and General Director of the Eurasian Media Forum International Foundation (2007- February 2019).
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