To Osh and Back Again



Tim Dutton, a long-time leader in the Gulf Coast’s nonprofit sector, spent a bulk of the last year teaching budding philanthropists to run socially minded organizations in the developing nation of Kyrgyzstan. Now that he has returned to his leadership post at Suncoast Community Capital, he has one bold goal in mind. “We’re over here trying to change the world,” he said. 

And he has now seen parts of the world most Americans couldn’t point to on a map. Dutton announced in early 2015 he would go to the former Soviet republic, today the only Democratic nation in Central Asia, and help build a nonprofit sector in a country that only declared its independence from a socialist superpower in 1991. “[The country] was nomadic until 20 years ago, and the previous 75 years it was user the Soviet system,” Dutton said. “There is a fascinating legacy in terms of its geopolitical nature.” In recent years, the country has seen a nonprofit sector evolve, and Dutton went overseas to work specifically with Youth of Osh, an organization in the city of Osh dedicated to connecting young people in different ethnic groups, and with helping other nonprofits develop in a system with accountability.

Kyrgyzstan doesn’t offer the same creature comforts as Sarasota, but Dutton said it boasts better infrastructure than did Haiti, a country where Dutton lived for three years. And he did benefit from a cultural respect for elders in Kyrgyzstan; while the 63-year-old seems a whipper-snapper in these parts, average life expectancy for a man in Kyrgyzstan is 65. “It’s was worthwhile in terms of feeling like the work I was involved in was important, and the people there have a real reverence for the wisdom of the older adult,” Dutton said. “The culture is still family-centric in a really deep way, with multiple generations living together for a long time.” And he heard from young people there who longed to come to the U.S., but only to get a world-class education and bring their knowledge back to their home community in Kyrgyzstan.

Dutton left Asia a couple months ago, primarily to take care of family but also in advance of a likely decision by the government to ask the Peace Corps to leave amid U.S.-Russia diplomatic tension. But he’s anxious to get a number of projects going at Suncoast Community Capital. Here, he focuses on empowering poor groups and addressing income disparity through programs like Build-A-Business, which teaches individuals how to become entrepreneurs. He helps people here by providing computer access and tax assistance, but remains committed to the cause of empowering others to improve their own world.

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