Farkhat Yussupjanov (MPA '10)
A trip to Japan in 2006 showed Kazakhstan native Farkhat Yussupjanov how societies can successfully support individuals with disabilities. Now, the recent SPEA grad has plans to provide such opportunities by starting a microbank in his home country.
Yussupjanov, 26, was born with severe vision impairment, but had no trouble learning to read or write using Braille in the specialized school he attended throughout his childhood. He had a passion for languages – he now speaks fluent English, Russian, Kazakh, Japanese, and Uyghur –and chose to attend the Kazakh University of International Relations and World Languages to prepare for a career as an interpreter.
It was only when he arrived at college that he began to feel the weight of his disability.
“Before college, everything was fine. I didn’t have any problems. But when I was in college I didn’t really get a lot of the accommodations I needed, so I had to devote more time to my studies than other students,” he says.
His experience sparked an interest in disability policy, which he pursued through a study abroad program in Japan after completing his studies in interpretation. The contrast between the systems in place there and what he’d seen at home inspired him to switch gears professionally and focus on supporting people with disabilities.
“Japan is a very advanced country in terms of human rights,” he says. “I got a taste of how persons with disabilities live in Japan and what the Japanese government does in terms of things like independent living, recreational facilities and rehabilitation centers. That trip really changed my perspective on life. It was transforming to see how far my country is behind Japan. I wanted to learn how to promote the movements that could achieve these equal opportunities.”
Upon return to Kazakhstan in 2007, Yussupjanov teamed up with several colleagues to start an advocacy organization for young people with disabilities. Their first project involved distributing audio books, and they soon began attracting donors and developing international connections. The organization, now in its third year, has already grown in membership from ten to almost 100 people.
Yussupjanov continued with his advocacy efforts, representing his and other organizations at conferences in Korea and the Kyrgyz Republic. He also taught courses on Braille, conducted seminars on social welfare issues, and published articles on disability rights. In 2009, he earned a scholarship from the office of the president of Kazakhstan that would enable him to complete his education in the United States.
The program sent Yussupjanov to the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California, but he quickly decided to transfer to SPEA at IU. He says the decision was an easy one.
“I contacted a lot of schools, but I found out so many good things about SPEA that I decided it would be the best fit. I knew from the rankings and what I learned about the programs that it was a very good school for a master’s in public administration. I also had a friend who studied here and recommended it to me,” he says.
In contrast to his earlier university experience in Kazakhstan, Yussupjanov says that IU could not have been more helpful in terms of his accommodations.
“IU has a very good adaptive technology center and disability services for students,” he says. “They had everything: Braille printing, computers available for loan, and special software. They really work with each individual to give them equal chances to any other student.”
Yussupjanov used his time at SPEA to focus on public financial administration, which he determined would be the best means of facilitating greater opportunities for people with disabilities in Kazakhstan and the greater Asia-Pacific region.
“When I return to Kazakhstan, I’m planning to start up a microfinance project for those people who can’t get loans from banks because of their disabilities,” he explains. “There are many people in such situations who end up sitting at home although they have great talents. I have in mind targeting small businesses that can’t get going without some initial support. It could be a loan to buy a cow for farming, or supplies for a craft, or for a musician who needs equipment.”
His courses at SPEA prepared him well, he says, by educating him on financial policy and giving him a practical understanding of taxes, bonds, and cost-benefit analysis.
He also learned to see the bigger picture of what it would take to get new entrepreneurs up and running. Money is not enough to guarantee success, he says, so he plans to offer leadership courses for potential loan applicants.
“These courses are very important to me because I will not be business owners’ employer or their boss, I will be their partner. If they fail, I also fail. If they are successful, I am also successful.”
Putting together such an ambitious project is daunting, but Yussupjanov has little doubt that he can make it happen. He has already overcome some incredible challenges, and he is certain, he says, that he has adequate preparation.
“SPEA gave me the knowledge I needed,” he says. “I have a solid foundation.”