Darden Alumnus Launches Kyrgyz Leaders Academy
By Courtney Zerrenner
Seyitbek Usmanov (MBA ’15) has launched a new venture, the Kyrgyz Leaders Academy (KLA), in his home country of the Kyrgyz Republic. While he is currently working in the United States as an Associate in the Graduate Development Program at CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, Seyit is also focused on giving other students from Kyrgyz Republic a chance to attend university in the United States and become future leaders of the Kyrgyz Republic through KLA.
- Before Darden, what was your background in terms of career and education? Prior to Darden I had five years of work experience, three in Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic and two in NYC. My career was centered mainly around economic and business research.
- What brought you to business school, specifically to Darden? I fell in love with Darden when I came here for an interview for its Georgetown-like campus, friendly students and delicious food (best bagels!). When I came for the admitted students weekend, I met my future roommate and professors and decided that I want to live here for two years!
- Looking back, what was the most formative part of your two years in residence at Darden? My best memory of Darden is meeting so many talented people (orators, wits, quick thinkers) and realizing that there is so much I don’t know and need to learn. Also, I loved going on a Global Consulting Project that took me and a group of students to Chengdu, China and then Tibet for two weeks.
- You are the founder of the Central Asian Free Market Institute. Can you tell us about the Institute and what inspired you to form it? While visiting the U.S. in 2005, I learned about the relationship between limited government and economic prosperity. The more I learned, the stronger my conviction was that BIG government was the reason Kyrgyz Republic has been poor since independence. I wanted more people – especially the politicians and decision makers – to understand the merits of limited government; therefore, I co-founded the think-tank. I am very thankful to Tom Palmer from the Cato Institute for the mentorship he provided, including advice and start-up funding.
- What motivated you to start the Kyrgyz Leaders Academy? What do many great leaders of developing countries have in common? For example, leaders like Lee Kuan Yew, Mikhail Saakashvili, Mahatma Gandhi. They were all educated in the U.S. or the U.K. at great universities. Kyrgyz Republic needs such a great leader to propel our country from third world to the first world. We have been mired in poverty and corruption for too long! Although we have many talented high school students in Kyrgyz Republic, very few of those students come to study in U.S. Why? It is not that they do not want to achieve or grow. It is that the whole college application process is simply too confusing. Even the smartest students are baffled by the likes of SATs and recommendation letters! Kyrgyz Leaders Academy is the solution. Our short term goal is to prepare students to top U.S. universities with full scholarship. We hope that our student’s potential blossoms in business, technology, or sciences. In the long term, we hope that our students become next generation of Kyrgyz Republic’s leaders.
- What is your goal for Kyrgyz Leaders Academy in the next five years? If we achieve our short term goals- our students getting admitted and winning full scholarships this year and next, within three years we will have the credibility and confidence to open a boarding high school. It will be a compact English language high school that will matriculate about 24 students to top US universities, hopefully at least 1 to UVA on a Jefferson Scholarship.
- How did Darden prepare you for this endeavor? My classmates have been playing a critical role for Kyrgyz Leaders Academy. Principally, Rafe Steinhauer (MBA ’15) has been advising me on strategic (i.e. motivating our staff) and tactical issues (i.e. beating SAT). Also, my affiliation with Darden has allowed me to build a relationship with Parke Muth, former Associate Dean of Admissions at UVA, who is now our students’ mentor-in-chief. In June Parke visited Kyrgyzstan to meet our students and held public presentations at five largest cities to a total 450 students. Finally, studying at Darden I met other Kyrgyz studying at UVA (Emily Bang and Ilgiz Saubanov) who are now core members of our mentorship team.