Online, Zaure Rozmat is every inch the Instagram influencer. Snaps of glamorous parties tussle for space with morning workout routines. The cafes and gyms could be in London or LA. But this is Kazakhstan: home to a rapidly developing middle class of educated urbanites. Like Rozmat, at least half of Kazakhstan’s 18 million people are under the age of 30. Too young to remember the Soviet era, they’re rebuilding Kazakhstan in their own image.
“The creative industry in Kazakhstan is booming,” says Rozmat. “We have these talented, creative people. They want to make something.”
If Rozmat plays hard, it’s because she works hard. Three years ago, she founded news site The Steppe. Since then, the site has grown into a Kazakh lifestyle bible, and Rozmat has been named one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30. The site worked because it appealed to a yet untapped market: people like her.
“Back in 2016, we only had very traditional newsrooms,” she says. “There was nothing to cater for lifestyle, and I didn’t want to read the tabloids.”
The Steppe feeds off what Rozmat describes as “positive energy”. With a young, female-dominated team, it has a glossy, aspirational feel. But instead of focusing on fashion or celebrities, must of what The Steppe doles out is practical advice. If young Kazakhs want to create, and make their mark, then The Steppe is there to tell them how to do it, complete with startup success stories and how-to guides. The key to The Steppe’s appeal is giving readers the chance to make their voices heard directly, says Rozmat. “Young people suggest things, but in our culture, they’re usually ignored by their elders. We listen to them and make sure the stories are close to them.”
This powerful strain of positivity and can-do attitude resonates with readers and pulls in investors. Uber and Microsoft are among those who have worked with the team to create sponsored content, eager to get their cut in the country’s growing emerging market. Their backing has helped The Steppe to rise above a crumbling media market. But most importantly, it also allows the site to fly under the radar without attracting public ire.
Rozmat is protective of the team’s “no politics” stance. (“Why waste our time?” she says.) She maintains that empowering young people — as well as The Steppe’s campaigning on social issues — will also change Kazakhstan for the better.
“I think young people are frustrated and unmotivated,” she says. “Kazakhs love their country but they’re distant from a lot of issues. They don’t feel involved. It’s not political as such — there’s just a lack of willingness to participate. I want people to get out there and do something, rather than just write a post on Instagram.”
Rozmat already feels that there’s plenty to be proud of. “We had this guy we wrote about, some young kid. He received a scholarship because of our coverage,” she says. “We are proud of these stories and we have plenty of them.”
For now, all efforts are directed on building up The Steppe to become a brand for the new Kazakhstan — including generations to come.
“I don’t feel like I’ve done a lot yet. It was all with the support of my team,” says Rozmat. “In the future, we want to create more projects, such as The Steppe Youth. We want to give schoolchildren a place to talk about their issues when their parents ignore them. We want to help give them classes on business and media.”
“We’re not there yet, but I’m an entrepreneur. I want to do something huge.”