Go Viral Festival in Almaty – 2022


Finding business partners, mastering new skills, launching own start-up, or getting inspired for creativity and changes – you can do all these things and even more during the Go Viral regional festival that kicked off in Almaty and gathered over a half thousand people on Day 1.

The topic of this year is “Search. Invent. Solve”. The programme is built on the idea that creative inspiration is within us. We need to start cooperating within the region by taking a close look at every country and revising old decisions.

Go Viral Festivals have been held since 2017. Previously, the events had been held in Kazakhstan only, but this year it’s the first time when the festival travels across Central Asia. In May, the Go Viral festival started in Dushanbe, then in Tashkent and Bishkek, and now Almaty has taken up the baton. Then, the festival will be held in Ashgabat.

“For a few weeks, our festival has been gathering community members, and most importantly inviting new friends to be the active member of our community. And I am urging you to use this opportunity! We have three days to use the opportunity to self-develop, make good networking connections, and have a great time here,” said Dastan Akkozha, ambassador of Go Viral in Kazakhstan.

He made the first stitch of the Kazakhstani decoration on the chapan – the symbol of friendship between the members of Go Viral community. It travels along Central Asia together with the festival. All decorations on it make a puzzle, whose fragments are gathered by participants of all five countries.

This year the Go Viral project is being implemented by the Institute for War&Peace Reporting (IWPR) Central Asia. Abakhon Sultonazarov, regional director of IWPR Central Asia, noted that the festival programme is made to meet everyone’s needs.

“Thousands of people meet, unite, communicate, collaborate to find answers to relevant questions and to find likeminded people, to find inspiration and get answers to meet modern challenges. Innovations and non-standard decisions and ideas are born from such collaborations and networking,” he said.

Caroline Savage, U.S. Consul General in Almaty, welcomed the festival participants and said that the Go Viral festival has developed the network of journalists, entrepreneurs, filmmakers, and artists in six years, namely, those who have perceived the power of social media, digital content and technologies.

“The special thing about this festival is that we are not only having fun here, but also trying to cope with today’s complex issues, overcome serious challenges and bring them up for open discussion with participation of most active and innovative minds of the world. I hope we can use your energy, passion and enthusiasm to build a healthier, stronger and inclusive society for all,” she said.

How to kick off a start-up?
Oscar Garcia, founder and CEO of Aspira Consulting in the Silicon Valley, was the special guest of the festival. The company is training and consulting career and leadership programmes. He held a workshop “Bootstrapping for start-ups” for beginner entrepreneurs in Kazakhstan.

Bootstrapping is a way of financing of one’s own start-up without raising others’ investments, using your own funds only. Some work in the supereconomy mode, and others take the risks and sell their assets to use the money for business development.

Oscar Garcia shared his many-year experience and said to young people how to self-develop, develop one’s business, importance of personal brand and one’s business brand. The expert also shared useful recommendations on how to overcome difficulties arising on the entrepreneur’s path.

“I was very excited to hear the answer to the question “how to open your own business at the age of 15?” And he said that it’s not important to reach some age to start your business or kick off the start-up. The most important thing is to start. Any action is better than a perfect inaction,” Iskander, workshop participant, shared his impressions.

Alim Khamitov, managing partner of MOST Ventures, held a master class on venture investments for those who do not want to tighten their belts. He told about the current status of start-up ecosystem in Kazakhstan and upended the assumption that Central Asia has nothing to invest in. The speaker raised the topic of corporate investments and explained the principles of their performance from inside, and also called the beginning start-uppers to collaboration.

“Many people still think that start-upper is a student riding a scooter, holding a smoothie in his hands, and having a lunch at a coffee house. However, this is a stereotype. The mean age of entrepreneurs we invest in is 35 years. In the investment incubator – 28 years. So, the mean age of a start-upper in Kazakhstan is 31 years old. The fact that Brin and Page created Google in the dormitory does not mean that it is a crash that you have reached nothing at your age,” he said.

Green economy projects were discussed as the separate trend at the festival. Civil society activists, who actively develop this sphere, took part in the panel session. The speakers shared their experiences and recommendations on how organisations should become green.

“You don’t have to wait for anything from the state and criticise it. You should start with yourself, your environment, and then more people will be involved in ecology. Everyone must be responsible for their own actions, and green economy in our country will thrive,” said Daniyar Bakimov, founder of green start-up Rocket Plastic.

The next interesting speaker of the festival was Meagan Ward, the activist of female entrepreneurship, brand strategist and founder of Creatively Flawless, Femology, and The Powerful Women. In her speech, she told about personal brand, how to develop it, and what to focus on when shaping it.

“I’ve learned that we need to refine ourselves, take time for yourself, to develop your own skills and spend every day for it, at least one hour. It is important to remember that you are the ship of your business, so you need to have your own time when opening your business,” Amina, participant of the festival, said.

Winning on social media
DBillions, the world-popular children’s music band, held a workshop for festival participants on “how to create viral videos.” The team shared their secrets on how to create interesting videos that would get millions views; told the guests the story of their creation, failures and hardships they encountered at the start, and of their plans to develop their channels.

DBillions publish their content in three languages – Russian, English and Spanish. The total number of their subscribers on YouTube is over 25 million.

“The most important thing that I have got from the workshop is motivation. You should never stop at what you have achieved, and you should always go further, despite all failures. You should turn your failures into your victories, this is what the story of the team is about. DBillions have achieved so much success, they don’t even need to work anymore, but they still keep on developing and scaling, and this is very inspiring,” said Nikolai, participant from Petropavlovsk.

Representatives of JKS Entertainment Agency told about how companies should work with influencers, and how to become influencer yourself. They shared their experience on how to find your niche and audience. They also told that sometimes it takes patience and trials to find your platform and unlock your potential.

“You need to make videos every day. You should make 5, 10, or at least 3 videos a day. It works on social media. Persistence is the point. If you take a break, you can be forgotten. And it’s important to hype. Now a new challenge appears every week,” said Beksultan Kazybek, producer of JKS Entertainment.

Mastering new skills
Digital inequality concerns all, and the coronavirus pandemic has only emphasised this issue in the world. Participants of the panel discussion at the Go Viral discussed the situation in Kazakhstan and how to overcome it. According to Yelzhan Kabyshev, human rights defender and director of Digital Paradigm, over 60 thousand schoolchildren in Kazakhstan did not have access to internet and gadgets during the lockdown, so they had to go to schools and put themselves and their teachers at risk.

However, it’s not only the students who encounter the unequal distribution of technologies. According to Zakhira Begaliyeva, head of ITeachMe, 52 per cent of persons with disabilities do not have basic skills of using gadgets (according to the survey of 700 people). Low level of digital literacy of people poses a risk for personal data security, finances, and fewer perspectives in the digital world.

“Each of us needs to master some digital profession in case of a job loss. We also need to learn to manage finances in the digital world not to be caught in the cheat’s net,” Begaliyeva said.

The first step towards the new profession could be the master class held by Sanzhar Myrzagalym, architect of cloud solutions in Data and AI, Microsoft multi-country CEE. He told future data analysts how to work with Power Bi tool, which allows to analyse bulk data and automate the process of analysis. Participants tried to analyse and create the data model, and then to visualise them.

“I was interested in data analysis before because I am a programmer and want to go into data science and work with artificial intelligence. So, I was interested in such a tool as Power Bi in terms of data analysis and its use in algorithm writing. […] I want to get more involved in data science and I know now that analysis is very useful if you are a programmer,” said Mariya Prikhodko, volunteer and participant of the master class.

Activism and new ethics
Today new ethics dictates new rules of behaviour in the modern world, including the cancel culture. According to participants of the panel discussion, it has yet to be developed in Kazakhstan, despite some available cases. A few high-profile cases were on the agenda: from global ones with Harvey Weinstein to local ones with Nurlan Saburov and Irina Kairatovna.

“Being a progressive man today means to maintain the skill of listening to another person, to formulate your opinion so that to maintain your own values and understand the pain of the other party. We need to learn to vary the form of expression of opinion. It’s not necessary to attack. We can discuss any issue, but people in our society seem to be unprepared for different opinions,” said Gulmira Kusainova, chief of Manshuq online outlet.

Art spaces could become the tool to change people’s consciousness. At the panel discussion, representatives of young Almaty spaces Bult, House at Baribaeva 36, [non]museum of architecture of Almaty, and “Vzletnaya”, shared their stories of creation and objectives. The speakers said that collaboration between art spaces and communities is a mutually beneficial exchange meant to increase capital, including human capital. It is a possibility to draw attention to the history, identity and informal horizontal communications by means of art.

“Our project is not about business, but about lifestyles, about how to unite many smart people in one place. Our project is about art, and we’ve recently opened the branch at Bali. We develop substandard culture, we want to surprise people, and also develop tourism with our creative festivals to show that we are not just a local platform,” said Dauren Shotanov, co-founder of art space “Vzletnaya”.

But the onward progress is also a retrospect. Participants of workshop “How can we find our memory?” said about the significance of historical memory. Participants could demonstrate their creative skills in storytelling and creative writing sessions. And speakers from various spheres said about musical, cultural memory, about decolonial approach, and on how political regimes affect memory destruction and replacement.

They paid much attention to the collection of musical heritage of Kazakhstan, from Aleksandr Zatayevich to Soviet jazz bands.

“In addition to backup, the most important thing is popularisation and heightened interest in information. The classical example is the library of Alexandria, which wasn’t just burned, but went out of date morally – no one was interested in it. It was destroyed because of people’s fecklessness. And we lost a huge layer of culture together with it, which was unique. Now we underestimate our contribution to arts because of political and social events. We lose music, information about it, and our history along with it,” said Ruslan Yakupov, creative producer, co-founder of independent music label ‘qazak indie’.

This year the festival in Almaty was supported by KIMEP, Chevron company, MOST business incubator, Bes Saiman Group, The Batyrkhan Shukenov Fund, 48 Hour Film Race short films contest, Obscura, Bes Saiman Group and Econetwork, as well as Almaty Space and MakerSpace. Media partners: WeProject and Baribar online outlets.