Public Council Member Builds Online Community Engagement

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Wednesday, December 22, 2021
Yelena Berezinskaya-Abilova featured above
A. Popov for USAID

Yelena Berezinskaya-Abilova is one of the 200 Public Council members across Kazakhstan who benefited from the USAID-funded Kazakhstan Rule of Law Program. Today, at the age of 50, she is a proactive businesswoman and co-founder of a social accountability initiative to protect business and counter corruption. She was born and raised in Oskemen, East Kazakhstan and spent her entire life there.

In 2015, the Republic of Kazakhstan adopted a new law on Public Councils, a crucial legal framework for their work. Public councils serve as advisors to government authorities in the process of making and implementing policy decisions. There are over 249 public councils on various social problems with 1,278 members throughout the country. Learning that a public council was being created in East Kazakhstan, Yelena immediately applied and successfully joined. As a Public Council member, Yelena shares her knowledge and practical experience in entrepreneurship and business management and believes her expertise will enable her to help improve the environment for small businesses to thrive.

Despite its extensive activities, the public council in Oskemen had very low social visibility, chiefly due to limited engagement with the media and lack of a presence on social networking platforms. This left the general public with a poor perception of public council activities and undermined people’s confidence in local government. 

To improve visibility of the public council and establish strong relationships with the government and the public, Yelena participated in USAID's capacity-building training for public councils’ members, organized by American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) under the Kazakhstan Rule of Law Program. Through the training Yelena learned helpful tips on how to effectively use social media to communicate with local communities, establish long-lasting partnerships with the government and citizens, and enhance citizen engagement in the development of policies and regulations by the state authorities. 

Soon after the training, Yelena ran a series of surveys on social media to analyze attitudes towards public councils in her region and learned that the majority of respondents had no clue what the public council does. She acknowledged that the regional public council needed to increase its visibility to attract the attention of residents. She committed to having regular communication with citizens and legal entities to solve urgent issues, such as infringement or restrictions of their rights and legitimate interests. Yelena encouraged other members of public councils to follow her example, for instance, she started to inform audiences about planned dates of her upcoming live sessions on social networks, enabling her to reach a larger audience of approximately 3,800 people per month.

These measures enabled the regional public council in Oskemen to gain greater visibility and be accessible to citizens, creating meaningful community connections. There are more than 1,600 people participating in ongoing communication through online chats, enabling the regional public council to stay up to date on the districts’ challenges and efficiently deliver public services. 

Yelena says, “Effective online engagement helps not only to build trust, but also serves as a long-term investment. During the post COVID-19 period, online community engagement helps us to link government authorities with their residents, so the latter do not feel isolated and abandoned.”

The public council now considers citizens’ inquiries virtually on a regular basis, which has resulted in a significant increase in the number of requests. Additionally, the public council has an official social media presence and actively uses online communication tools such as Zoom conferences, Facebook and Instragam live sessions to give local residents the opportunity to fully understand the council’s work and engage them in decision-making processes.

Yelena considers her service as a member of the public council as an intermediary, helping to establish close cooperation between the population and the government,” and at the same time, “to ensure quick response and develop the most constructive solutions to urgent issues that arise among the population.”

ABOUT THIS STORY:

The Kazakhstan Rule of Law Program, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), implemented by ABA ROLI Kazakhstan, will continue to build the capacities of the national and regional public councils and civil society organizations to engage with the local authorities and better represent the interests of people and improve public engagement with the government. 

Last updated: March 25, 2022

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