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Central Asia: Citizens Learning to Take the Initiative

When government agencies and NGOs aren’t available, citizen-led public works are stepping in to help. (Photo: David Trilling)

There’s actually a bright side to government dysfunction in Central Asia: when the state lacks funds to take care of basic necessities, citizens are learning to band together to tackle civic problems.

The concept of citizen-led public works is perhaps strongest these days in Kyrgyzstan, but the idea is also popular in Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and, to a lesser extent, in Uzbekistan. Foreign assistance and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) play key roles in encouraging mutual-assistance initiatives. But the most important element is a spirit of civic volunteerism that has existed in Central Asia for centuries.

Roughly a decade ago, after 10 years of economic upheaval following the Soviet collapse, foreign donors, working through local NGOs, such as Mehr-Shavkat, a non-profit based in the southern Kyrgyzstani village of Aravan, started funneling money to local citizen groups that strive to informally fulfill what are usually considered government responsibilities.

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: Alisher Khamidov is a researcher specializing in Central Asian affairs.

Central Asia: Citizens Learning to Take the Initiative

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