Public-private partnerships create social impact in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyz lawyer Albina Rakhmidinova is showing how public-private partnerships can build vital infrastructure, like schools and hospitals, to improve people’s lives.

In October 2022, Kyrgyzstan’s government announced a pipeline of 56 new infrastructure projects, which will bring an investment of around US$1.2 billion. These projects will be delivered as public-private partnerships (PPPs) – collaborations between government agencies and private-sector companies. Albina Rakhmidinova, a lawyer and John Smith Trust Fellow (2019), was among the first people to see the potential for these kind of partnerships in Kyrgyzstan. She says: “We don’t have good quality infrastructure with our hospitals, schools and roads. With the help of private businesses, the government can build and restore infrastructure facilities and services, which will improve people’s lives.”

Until recently, Albina worked as a senior lawyer at Kalikova & Associates, one of Kyrgyzstan’s leading law firms. Starting from August 2022, she has been working as an individual consultant to PPP projects, set up her own consultancy business and has been working as an international consultant at Concept Realisation Management Consultancy. This is an advisory company specialising in infrastructure development projects and with a particular focus on PPPs in social infrastructure, UAE. She’s now on a mission to ensure PPPs in Kyrgyzstan are high-quality and create maximum social impact for ordinary people.

New concept in Kyrgyzstan

Albina first became interested in PPPs in 2011 when she and a colleague attended a training session by the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). “At that time, nobody in Kyrgyzstan knew what this meant,” she says.

“After the training, we went to Gulnara Kalikova, the manager partner at our law firm. We explained what benefits PPPs could bring, to both the government and businesses. She said: ‘This is a good concept. We need to develop it in Kyrgyzstan.’”

Gulnara sent Albina on a three-month internship with UNECE in Geneva to study the concept in more detail. When she returned, Kalikova & Associates helped the Kyrgyz government establish a legal and institutional framework for Public-Private Partnership in Kyrgyzstan. In 2014, they started preparing the first-ever PPP project in Kyrgyzstan, a haemodialysis service. This launched in 2017.

John Smith Trust fellowship

When Albina took part in her John Smith Trust fellowship in 2019, her action plan was to support the Kyrgyz government to develop a PPP strategy.

She met Peter Livesey, Head of Operational Policy, at the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA), and Marek Waskiewicz and Akshay Kumar at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). She also met David Lee, partner at law firm Allen & Overy.

“I managed to have a good contact with Peter Livesey at IPA,” she says. “In August 2022 Peter and his colleagues conducted two online pro bono training sessions about how PPPs and private finance initiatives (PFIs) work in the UK for Kyrgyz officials at the Centre for Public-Private Partnerships. I was very grateful to them for devoting their time to Kyrgyzstan and sharing their experience with Kyrgyz officials. In October 2022 a representative from IPA also participated in the International PPP Conference held in Bishkek.”

Albina also kept in touch with the EBRD. She’s keen to involve them in PPP projects in Kyrgyzstan and has connected them with the Centre for Public-Private Partnerships. Albina believes that for preparing good-quality PPP projects, international experience and consultancy is required. The involvement of EBRD in projects in Kyrgyzstan will bring a valuable asset.

A group of young people posing in a large room with pink wall in front of a large painting
John Smith Fellows, Central Asia, 2019

An emerging leader

As well as building supportive networks with UK-based organisations, Albina also keeps in touch with other Fellows. She says: “Having friends across Central Asia gives you valuable insights. I do appreciate that the fellowship gave me the opportunity to meet very interesting, strong leaders from different sectors.”

But the main benefit has been an increased sense of confidence and the desire to take on more responsibility. “The fellowship helped me understand that I am an emerging leader,” she explains. “I understood I could influence people’s opinions. After that, I knew I would be able to manage my own business.”

When she returned to Kyrgyzstan, she began thinking about striking out on her own. Then in 2020 she found out she was expecting her third child. “While I was at home with the baby, on maternity leave, I made my final decision. I decided to go out of my comfort zone and start my business.”

Building trust through quality contracts

While it’s still early days, Albina believes she made the right decision. As well as working on PPP projects in Kyrgyzstan, she’s also a consultant on two projects in the Middle East. “I’m gaining vast international experience,” she says. “I can see how the projects must be structured, from the technical, financial and legal side.”

“The challenge is to prepare good quality infrastructure projects in Kyrgyzstan. My goal in 2023 is to bring highly professional consultants to Kyrgyzstan with whom we can prepare large-scale PPP projects.”

Her plan is to create pilot that can be replicated in other projects. At the same time, she has to convince businesses to come onboard. “Local businesses don’t trust the government,” she says. “That’s because the government system is bureaucratic and corrupt.”

The key to overcoming this is preparing good quality PPP agreements between the business and the government, with guarantees and protective measures. “One of the protective measures is that we we include arbitration in the contract, not the state courts,” she says.

Strong role model

Another challenge Albina faces is misconceptions about women in business. “I can see people looking at me and thinking, ‘Who is this young lady, who knows nothing?’ I explain I have vast experience in PPPs. That I am one of those who started to develop this in Kyrgyzstan. After that, they start to say, ‘This is a woman who knows something.’”

Her self-belief comes in part from a supportive family. Her parents encouraged her to focus on her studies, go to university and find a good job. She also has an influential mentor in Gulnara Kalikova, her former employer, who she meets very often and who inspires her to overcome challenges. “It’s very important to have strong role models in your life,” she says.

Personal and professional challenges

As well as setting up a new business, Albina is training to take part in an IRONMAN triathlon in Italy. She’s teamed up with two other women and each of them will do one sport. Albina chose cycling. “Previously, I didn’t do sport and I didn’t know how to bike. It’s a challenge – but I think people need to set challenges for themselves.

“I’m proud of myself for going out of my comfort zone. I’m also proud that I have a balance – in my career, in my family, in sport. And I am also thankful to my husband, children and parents who support me in my life journey.”

Albina’s work to help create quality PPPs to her country is only just beginning. “For me, it’s not only about money but about social impact,” she says. “I need to make my contribution to Kyrgyzstan. Only after that will I be fully happy.”

Find out about our fellowship programmes.