Elvira Kalmurzaeva is a graduate of the MA in Politics and Security, class of 2015. This year Elvira received the Alumna of the Year 2017 Award for her professional achievements, her enthusiasm and contribution to the development of the youth of the region. During her studies, Elvira was one of the most active students and after the graduation started realizing her ambitions further. Today Elvira is the Executive Director of the International Debate Education Association in Central Asia (IDEA CA), who finds time to run marathons, fight for human rights, and participate in many other projects.
Q.: Elvira, what is IDEA and why do you think it is important to have it in Central Asia?
E.: IDEA Central Asia is a youth-led for youth organization that empowers young people to actively participate in their community's lives. We aim to build an open and inclusive society by developing critical thinking skills in youth, establishing dialogue platforms and increasing sensitivity towards inequality. IDEA CA uses debate technologies and other various methods and actively promotes peer-to-peer approach. For the last three years, we have trained more than 3,000 young people from the CIS countries and implemented about 20 projects. The organization is a part of international network with offices in UK, the Netherlands, Tunis, and Macedonia.
We work in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Recognizing the fact that Central Asia has a vibrant political environment and while youth is a majority of our society, it is important that they are able to contribute to policies and community development processes. I believe that transformation of our societies is possible only when voices of all are heard and every group is represented equally. IDEA is a mission-driven organization that prepares young advocates who use non-violent means to bring positive changes in their communities.
Q.: What is it to be a CEO? Did you face any challenges while managing your organization? And how do you overcome them?
E.: It has been a year since I became the Executive Director and to be honest, it is a constant learning process. There are many things I learned by doing. I am very passionate about the work that we do in IDEA. Stories of our alumni inspire us to keep up our work and feeling that I am part of big changes makes me happy. Since we are youth organization, there is no strict hierarchy in the office. Most of the decisions are taken together with the team. Of course, as a CEO, I have greater responsibilities and make sure that organization is moving in a right direction in terms of achieving our own strategic goals. It is my first experience managing a team of ten - fourteen people.
Challenges become an important part of my everyday life. I don’t see them as a huge problem now, however, I used to panic at the beginning then I realized that it is not the way to handle every situation. At the end of the day, all these issues force me to be more creative. I am a very demanding manager and that’s why sometimes it is not easy to get alone with me. My first two months were the most difficult. I had to make some very serious decisions and work on building own team. When you work with people it is always delicate; one has to be sensitive to the needs and peculiarities of everyone. I realized that when you are a manager you tend to forget that they are humans with own views in the first place, and then that they are your employees. In our organization it is important that every team member shares IDEA’s vision and understands why our work is valuable. Thus, we constantly remind ourselves about big goals we have put on front of us.
In addition, when you are passionate to contribute to your community, it is often hard to prevent burning out. Field work is the best part of our job, however, I got to experience it very little. In times of burnouts or when I run out of ideas for project proposals, I leave my office work and meet with our participants, interview them and hang out with them. They are really an endless source of inspiration.
I also combine my hard work in the office with sport and parties with friends. This year I managed to run a half-marathon and train for another one. It helps me to concentrate on my own thoughts and clear mind.
Q.: Did the OSCE Academy experience help you in this uneasy task?
E.: Certainly! Since we are working in the Central Asian region, the knowledge I received about socio-economic and political contexts helps me to define the causes of existing issues and frame our activities. Thanks to the Academy, I also gained a network of people from all three countries. They help me with recommendations and contacts. I became more sensitive to human rights issues, including gender inequality, while discussing with classmates during our seminars in the Academy. Moreover, my Master life taught me how to multi-task and work hard. These skills definitely help me now to manage the organization.
Q.: In your position, with lots of traveling, you must be a good time-manager. Can you give some hints on how to deal with many issues in a short period of time?
E.: Frankly speaking, I don’t know the answer. I, myself, am trying to find the best way to organize all processes so that we deliver good quality work on time. It sounds so cliché, but I deem that good time management is based on good planning. I make a “to do” list for every day, week, month, quarter and a year, categorize some tasks according to its importance and urgency. I usually start my day with small assignments. Completed tasks encourage me to continue and give more enthusiasm to finish the list.
However, sometimes planning does not prevent some unexpected interventions. I have days when partners want me to have a quick look on an idea and send them feedback right away; donors request to change the event’s concept and update it asap; board members need some information; a staff person asks for help with a training module, etc. Sometimes it is 6 pm and I have not completed any tasks that I gave to myself. If you are a planner freak, it is the most horrible thing that may happen to you. I learned that sometimes it is OK not to control everything and take life easier. Only sometimes though.
Q.: What are you plans for near future?
E.: I love my work and it is a great privilege to manage a team of brilliant young professionals. I hope to continue expanding our work and contributing to the empowerment of youth. Right now, we are working on development of a curriculum for the Ministry of Education that includes interactive methods of teaching and hopefully very soon we will able to integrate it into our school system.
Later I want to try politics; maybe I will join one of the government structures or run for office. This is a good time for me to think about my own gaps and skills I have, as well as analyze where I can be helpful the most.