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The BOTA Foundation explained (Part Nine): How effective was BOTA?

The BOTA Foundation surpassed most of the expectations that its founders had for it. BOTA was able to efficiently and effectively return more than $115 million (the original $84 million associated with corruption plus accrued interest frozen Pictet and Cie Swiss bank account) to poor children, youth and their families.    

The proportion of funds spent for grants was higher than expected, while the proportions for direct program costs and administration were lower than expected.

  • Nearly $80 million — about 69 percent of the total funds — was disbursed directly through BOTA’s three programs to poor children, youth and their families.
  • About 15 percent of the funds were spent on direct program costs and only 15.6 percent was spent on operations and overhead (including the costs of an independent evaluation). 

  • While the initial design of BOTA envisioned that the Foundation would help around 75,000 people, by the fall of 2014, more than two and a half times that number, or 208,000 poor children, youth and their families, had been assisted.  

Every dollar spent for BOTA was transparently accounted for, and BOTA’s annual audited financial statements were published on the foundation’s website.

 BOTA’s significant impacts include:

  • Its Conditional Cash Transfer Program (CCT) is serving as the basis for a pilot that could lead to restructuring how social assistance is delivered in Kazakhstan. 
  • The Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) leaves behind hundreds of graduates who are on their way to breaking the cycle of poverty through finding gainful employment. 
  • Through the Social Service Program (SSP) BOTA strengthened hundreds of child welfare NGOs, who in turn provided services to tens of thousands of beneficiaries.  

BOTA’s work was subject to a range of internal and external checks. The World Bank, which supervised the Foundation’s finances and programmatic work for the U.S. Department of Justice, and the Swiss and Kazakhstani governments, was continually satisfied with BOTA’s progress. From 2009 on, BOTA received clean financial audits by a World Bank vetted firm.  

BOTA was independently evaluated by a well respected social research firm called Oxford Policy Management (OPM). The evaluations, which can be found here, “confirmed that the BOTA programs have been implemented across all three activities with high levels of effectiveness for those that receive the benefit, and; BOTA has been having a positive impact on recipients across all three activities.”  

One area where BOTA suffered was in its governance. Its first board chair, Mr. Yevgeniy Zhovtis, a tireless human rights campaigner, was imprisoned by the government of Kazakhstan for two-and-a-half years after a show trial for vehicular manslaughter. Other local Board members were not cooperative. 

And the requirement that the World Bank, BOTA’s board, and three governments approve all major decisions regarding BOTA was bureaucratic overkill.   

These issues will be discussed in the next post — “lessons from BOTA.” 

It is no exaggeration to say that the BOTA Foundation’s experience and lessons provide a model for future asset restitution cases worldwide.

Part One of this series is here, Part Two is here, Part Three is here, Part Four is here, Part Five is here, Part Six is here, Part Seven is here, and Part Eight is here.


Aaron Bornstein was the Executive Director of BOTA Foundation, employed by a Washington, D.C. based NGO called IREX, from 2011 until its close in 2014. He is a foundation and international development professional who has worked in 8 different countries on a variety of civil society strengthening, poverty alleviation, and other projects. Aaron is interested in receiving institutional support for the more extensive documentation of the BOTA experience that he is working on. Please send your suggestions, along with your feedback on the BOTA series, to [email protected].

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